By Innocent Chukwuma
The #ENDSARS protests in October 2020 have brought to the fore, in ways that have not been seen in recent history of Nigeria, the issues of Police violence against residents of Nigeria, community counter-violence against the Police, and the larger question about the type of Police and policing reforms that need to be embarked upon to enthrone effective, efficient and accountable policing service in Nigeria. At the heart of the challenge is the troubling colonial history of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF); the failure of post-independence governments to reorient and transform the NPF, from a colonial occupation force to protectors of the security and liberty of the Nigerian people; and decades of military dictatorship that eroded Police civility. The other challenge and perhaps, most importantly, is the fact that improving safety and security in Nigeria has been looked upon by the government as something that is achievable by merely increasing the capacity of the NPF and other State security forces, without seriously addressing underlying socio-economic triggers of insecurity/violence, and effective integration of other providers of security, such as private and social sectors in a nodal policing arrangement.
In the last twenty-one years of elected civilian government, there have been no less than five presidential panels established by successive governments to exclusively focus on deliberating and making recommendations for the reform of the NPF. Each of these panels worked tirelessly to complete its assignment, submitted reports and recommendations to the government. Years and months after completion of their assignments, most of the reports have neither been made public, nor significantly acted upon. The notable exceptions are the ongoing implementation of community policing program under the current Inspector General of Police, Muhammadu Adamu, and the enactment of the Nigeria Police Force (Establishment) Act, which was signed into law by President Buhari on September 16, 2020.
A critical examination of why these apparently well-intentioned reform efforts appear to have failed in either improving the perception of safety and security by residents, or made the Police more accountable indicate that the reform panels rarely consulted the citizens in concerted ways that prioritise their inputs, and the fact that they were dominated by people with Keynesian thinking about the role of the Police as a State dominated enterprise. Therefore, they failed to ask and answer the fundamental question about whether the Nigerian economy, currently dominated by export of crude oil as the main source of foreign exchange, can afford or support a modern State-centric policing, without integrating other policing service providers. The unintended consequence is that these reform efforts appear to be moving policing backwards in Nigeria, because they have been seeking to monopolise policing at precisely the time that Police organisations around the world have begun to recognise this as an impossible aspiration. A sought of mission impossible.
My suggestion to the government and the NPF, is that they should give up on this mission and jump directly to the front of the international Police reform movement. An analogy here would be the telecommunication industry in Africa, which in the last two decades has been very wise in recognising that the world of telephones is a mobile world, and have leapfrogged straight there rather than trying to build elaborate landline network first. A similar jump is needed in policing in Nigeria, through a framework known in the literature as nodal policing or nexus policing. Under it, the NPF rather than see itself as a monopoly service provider, would act as a network coordinator in a framework of policing that includes private security and community initiatives for safety and security. Once the Police see themselves as Nodal Police whose role it is to encourage the development of effective, legitimate and integrated policing networks, the current competition or antagonism between it and private security and community initiatives on crime prevention will dissipate. Private security and community initiatives now become important players in a total policing landscape, rather than a threatening competitor to State Police.
This would obviously require national discussion, research, organising and lobbying, to agree on broadly acceptable framework; amendment of the Police Act and the Constitution to provide defined roles for private security and civic organisations in the public safety and security provisioning; attitudinal change on the part of the Police, from monopoly service provider to network or nodal coordinator; effective regulation of private security industry and civic policing at community levels; and piloting, demonstration and national rollout. Let the real debate about the type of policing framework that would best serve Nigeria and Nigerians, begin.