THE URGENCY OF POLICE REFORM

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The police must be adequately provided for

Following the protests provoked by abuse of power by men and officers of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), victims and relations of victims are now appearing before the judicial commissions in the states to demand justice. Some of the testimonies at the hearing bear the hallmark of horrors and treatment best reserved for the medieval era. Okoye Agu, one of the witnesses who testified before the Lagos State Panel of Inquiry headed by Justice Doris Okuwobi recounted how he was tortured in 2014 and had two of his teeth extracted by the disbanded SARS. Agu who claimed to have been detained at the instance of his boss said his mother and wife were also assaulted in his presence at the police station.

In several other states across the country, families seeking closure for their loved ones have also been coming forward to state how the experience has changed their lives. Allegations of suspects being detained for several days without facing court charges are rife. And in some cases, they are beaten and killed without their corpses returned to their families for burial rites. A woman narrated how all her three sons were killed by SARS operatives. Indeed, it is worrying that before the youths decided to hit the streets to protest and call for disbandment of SARS, policemen involved in torture, extra-judicial killings and other abuses were never punished and held to account for the atrocities they committed.

In truth, the challenges hampering the police from effectively discharging its constitutional responsibility to the public will continue to inhibit it until they are addressed. Key of all the considerations is the proper vetting of prospective recruits, in ensuring that criminals are not enlisted into the police service. The police force is not an institution for dropouts and societal misfit. There should be a central database to ensure that criminals are screened out.

Another encumbrance is the lack of independence for the Police Service Commission that plays oversight role over personnel. Besides, the over centralised structure of the police is one of the reasons why policing is ineffective. There is an urgent need to review this structural weakness. But over and above all, policemen should be properly equipped and motivated to meet the obligations that go with modern policing. The country is in need of an ethical police that respects and protects civil rights. This requires proper training and adequate funding as well as improving the living condition of police personnel.

The consequences of executing deficient policies for decades in key areas of recruitment, welfare, training and equipment are evident everywhere. When in April last year the federal government mooted the idea of recruiting part-time special constables, we admonished thoroughness in the crucial stages of conceptualisation, implementation and sustenance. The duties of these constables were to be restricted to administrative matters, crowd control, alternative dispute resolution, emergency management, and other less risky or sensitive services. More than one and half years after, nothing has been done to implement the idea. We hope this will not be the same with the proposed reform.

Meanwhile, we sympathise with the police over the loss of no fewer than 23 personnel to the recent EndSARS protests that were hijacked by hoodlums. It is all the more depressing that aside the dead, more than 200 police stations were razed. We condole with the families of the deceased with the hope that they will be well compensated. We also hope that appropriate lessons have been learnt by all concerned.