Entrapped by decades of corruption and human rights abuses, the trajectory of the Nigeria Police Force is not enviable, to say the least, obnoxious. But a former member of the Police Service Commission and Co-founder, Newswatch Publications, Mr. Ray Ekpu, sheds more light on the various challenges besetting the Police and the way forward for the force to rebuild public trust. He spoke to Chiemelie Ezeobi. Excerpts:
What is the purpose of government?
There are two purposes and mandates of government – protection of lives and property of the people and welfare of the people. There are others, but those are the two principal purposes.
What are some of the anomalies that have dogged the police?
If you talk to some of the younger policemen, they’ll tell you that their seniors tell them to share their salaries with them, tell them to go and buy their uniform and their boots. In those days, they used to have police tailors and then of course, police shops, warehouses, where you’ll be issued uniforms, boots, belts, raincoats and sweaters and so on.
But I think things have deteriorated and those things are done differently now and then a lot of lobbying. That is why the IG doesn’t want to yield powers to the police service commission. You can see them tussling over the recruitment of 10,000 people.
But it’s something the IG can agree and have a certain number given to the top hierarchy of police. You say okay we give you five per cent or two per cent of the vacancies to fill. So the police feel that they’re taking from them the job they used to do from which they’ll benefit and then given to the police commission that wants to do things properly and rectify the process.
Why does the police still exhibit colonial tendencies?
Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the committee on Police Service Commission (PSC), of which I was adopted as a member, was charged to reform the police holistically.
They wanted us to turn the police into a civil force so that they can best take care of policing in a manner that is civil, merciful, tolerable and acceptable in a democratic setting. It was a very tall order and we tried to set standards for the police, because we discovered that they didn’t have order that respects merit. There wasn’t sufficient interest in meritocracy and not much respect for human lives and civil policing.
I attribute this to a long era of military rule whereby force was the determining factor of everything in Nigeria. The police also became militarised and lost its ability to be a civil organisation and the human rights committee thought part of the problem was because it was called Nigeria Police Force and every attempt to amend the constitution to remove the word force didn’t work and it’s still Nigeria Police Force.
Secondly, they are trained to act like soldiers. They are trained for few weeks and given arms. That’s not the role of the police. They are trained like they are going for military operations. Yes, the police use arms to go after criminals but they ought to be trained to use arms differently in a civil manner and manner that respects human rights.
At that time, there were no human rights desks in the police and we set that up. Till now, they are still making that transition from a military-minded to a civil-minded police force. That transition is not easy to make and because the police enjoy the power they have had over the years, they don’t want to come under the civil authority of the PSC.
There is a struggle between the Inspector General of Police (IG) and the PSC and it has reached a point of the abnormal that made them go to court, which the PSC has won against the recruitment of policemen. The IG said it’s his duty but the PSC said it’s theirs. The PSC won but the IG appealed whereas the constitution is explicit on this – it gives the PSC powers to appoint, discipline and dismiss all policemen (from constable to the deputy inspector general of police) in Nigeria except the IG.
It goes back to the era before the Shagari government – the police and military were competing. The discussion among the NPN people then was that they would arm the police well under Chief Adewusi to ensure the police can withstand the military if it wants to take over the government. And when Buhari and his group took over on December 31, 1983, the first thing was to deal with the police and Adewusi was removed. The military that took over from Shagari disciplined the police.
But that is part of the failure by the police to accept their position as a police system that ought to operate in a civilian democracy. They are pretending to be military and the military are acting as if they are policemen with force. It’s an anomalous situation.
You have the regular and mobile police. Regular police is for regular duties while mobile police are for quelling riots and similar situations. They even have women in the mobile police. During our time, we suggested to Tafa Balogun, who was the IG then to recruit women so that if women are coming out for protests and the regular police cannot handle them, we will send out the female mobile police to handle with them with decency and compassion.
But now, everyone wants mobile policemen as protection and that has depleted the ranks of the policemen that were trained specifically to deal with riot system. The army has been misused in Nigeria. They are the last line of defence. The army can be used internally when there are issues beyond police capability.
What are your thoughts on the militarisation of internal security?
You are not expected to see the military doing Crocodile Smile. It’s entirely outside their normal and regular setting. The police are responsible for cyber crimes and other crimes. You find the anomaly is that the army gets involved in ways it shouldn’t and it arrests people and hands over to the police. It means it recognises that what they are doing is police duty.
Why don’t we allow the army do army duties and deal with terrorism and banditry? It’s a misconception of roles and misuse of the army, thereby competing with the police. That is the dilemma that Nigeria has and that has complicated our democracy. You can’t militarise the entire country and call it a democracy.
Why they do that is because Nigeria has no respect for human life. Human life is very cheap in Nigeria. The Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu have been in captivity for how many years now? The government and society have forgotten about them. Those are Nigerians. You saw what American did to rescue one American recently.
They moved forces to Nigeria and Niger Republic – hardware and software – to rescue one American. If you were an American you would be very proud but if you are a Nigerian, you will be sad, because your country can’t do that and we are talking about hundreds in captivity and instead of tackling that, the army is busy with Crocodile Smile in a society, where we have regular and mobile policemen.
We have bandits in some states and governors are negotiating with bandits and giving them money to leave them alone. In Sokoto, citizens called Niger Republic soldiers to come rescue them. Niger is the handkerchief size of Nigeria. It should be the other way round. Niger should be calling Nigeria for help. That says something about our security architecture.
And that’s why people like Ministers of Information, Defence and National Security Adviser said they should ban social media, because that’s what happens in China. My answer to that is, are we a democracy? The irony of it is that the president has an official twitter account, even governors have social media practitioners working for them, which means they understand the benefits of having social media in the communication mix and not depending on regular mainstream media like newspaper, television and radio.
Do you think that the training and re-training of policemen are central to their reform?
If you’re just taking school certificate holders as policemen and you’re not training them just to carry arms and shoot people, you need a higher level of education to use the computer and internet for better training for today. You don’t need school certificate holders except you train them and my minimum qualification will be OND (Ordinary National Diploma).
And then the orientation itself, the philosophy of policing must be policing for a better society, policing for a sane society, policing for a Democratic society. So, they can build trust in government not just trust in the police but build trust in the government.
Some of the policemen are rude. The training has to change. They are to be civil, polite, well behaved and treat people as decent human beings until they prove otherwise but now, they treat people as criminals until you prove otherwise, which is against our legal system that says everyone is innocent even if you are caught in a crime scene until you are proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. But by the way they treat Nigerians they have reversed them.
Is funding a crucial factor?
The Police Trust Fund must be pushed through so that there’ll be enough to fund the police. The Nigerian Police is not modern. I don’t know what equipment they have today, if you don’t have equipment today you can’t function properly.
Modern technology has reformed the way security is done. Look at how that guy was killed by drones sent by the Americans in this country, who was killed last year. In a car, he was just arriving from somewhere in a car and the Americans sent drones to him and they dealt with him. You must use drones to gather information.
Two American Universities are now teaching Drone Journalism, so journalist can use drones to gather information. How much more security. Security has to be moved forward. All these we have not completed the process of having National Identity Card. Everybody must have it, everybody must be in the system and the database is wired to your PVC and every other bit of information.
If you do that, you will get it right. To your telephone, the telephone must be used properly, the registration, people are still selling unregistered sim card and that is wrong. That cannot help our security and the people, who should be taking charge, are not taking charge. They’re doing other things.
Yes MTN was fined, what has happened to other people after that? People are using unregistered sim card, if all of these are put in a database, you will have a way of identifying criminals. See the way criminals are caught in America within hours or days. They are punching the computer and getting information.
How do we tackle the lopsided promotions?
When we were in the Police Service Commission, we did the first promotion and we had criteria – three years appraisal – such that if you’re through with three years appraisal and no complaints, you pass the first test. Also, if you don’t have disciplinary complaints against you, that’s number two in the criteria and finally, if there are positions in the next post, you can get promoted.
The police promote in batches and before, they just put names and approve it. What we did was to be sure that there was fairness, merit and equity in it. We said give us the master list of everybody in the police force, indicate the name, the year of recruitment, the last promotion and other details. So, when you send a list for promotion we get people to check through that list to be sure that you haven’t skipped some people, who should be promoted and have no disciplinary case.
In the process we discovered so many discrepancies, which means that is how they’ve been doing it. They pick and choose whomever they wanted and then when we did the first promotion, we had some policemen assigned to work with us in commission and they were angry that we promoted people without collecting Ghana must go (kickbacks). It was a big shock to those of us, who are not used to such stories. We tried to rectify things in the police so that all can enjoy and have the benefit of being treated properly, equally and fairly.
Are corruption and bribery endemic in the police?
Yes there is corruption but on bribery, I don’t know. I don’t have information but I mean I’ve told you my personal experience. If a policeman can come and try to give me money, because he was promoted, you can imagine and he knows I’m a journalist, not just a member of the police force. I was shocked.
In the police, cases of extra-judicial killings are rife, how best can this be tackled?
Arms are for very severe situations, when other alternative means didn’t work. That’s a philosophy that has not been driven into our security forces. The fact you have a gun doesn’t mean you can just shoot and kill, even if it’s an armed robber at the scene of armed robbery.
Instead of exchanging gunfire, the first thing is to get him down and shoot where he won’t be able to run. It’s not just to shoot and kill but if in an exchange of gunfire he does, that’s fine. But the normal thing is to wound him, and get him to extract information instead of shooting to kill. Why they do that is because Nigeria has no respect for human life. Human life is very cheap in Nigeria.
It’s there in the papers everyday. That’s the mentality of the police. They have the arms and the power; the power is in the arms. If you take the arms from a soldier or policeman, he is as cowardly as the rest of us. So, that is why I was saying earlier that arms should be given only to more senior people to hold, not constables, because they don’t understand that when you pull the trigger you’re going to kill somebody and that life you’re taking is irreplaceable.
So, you have to give it to somebody, who is senior, mature; has a family, worries about the prospect of killing somebody, what that would mean to the family and what that would mean to the police in terms of reputation and laws. It’s not everybody in the police force, who should carry arms. In other countries, they give the younger people batons, tear gas, non-harmful equipment. The gun should be held by senior, responsible and well trained people, who are civilised and know the meaning of what a gun can do.
There is urgent need to tackle police welfare in order to boost the morale of the officers. What are the steps to be taken?
The police must be well taken care of. Police welfare is absolutely important. But the police are not well taken care of, sometimes they are not paid their salaries in time and the police salaries, I don’t know whether they have improved them now. But in our time, Obasanjo set up a committee for us to look at police welfare amongst others.
We visited one or two countries to see what happens, how they treat their police and we came back and wrote a report. I don’t know what happened to that report whether they ever implemented those things we suggested. But, you see, you have to raise the entry qualification of people into the force to be able to substantially improve the welfare of the policemen.
Right now we have the constables, you can’t pay them as university graduates but if you have OND as your minimum level, you can pay them as HND people or university graduates and it won’t make substantial difference for the risk that they are taking. People will accept it. In a society, where there should be some level of comparability, even if you’re doing a risky job like that of the police, there are other people, who are doing risky jobs, so, there must not be too wide a gap.
You’re talking about N30,000 minimum wage that’s very low and that defines the level of economy that we are operating. The economy is not strong. I know the private sector of Nigeria depends largely on the government. Everybody gets something from the oil money. We haven’t been able to stimulate the private sector. Most private sector organisations still have a relationship with the government. ‘They chop from there, they chop from there’ and because everybody looks for government contracts, the bank puts the governors on their payroll. When the federal government started this TSA, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth for the banks that have had all kinds of contracts lined up. They now run to state governments.
Nobody says state government should not patronise banks or other institutions but if we stimulate the economy and it grows, people will not be depending entirely and solely on federal government. The federal government itself depends almost entirely and solely on oil money. This is the only country that I know, where oil money determines the budget. That shows you that we really don’t have a budget, depending on the volatile industry like the oil industry that the President of America can make one statement and the price of oil falls, because he’s a powerful man or there can be a little riot in Saudi Arabia and the price of oil falls. So, you depend on that to take decision for your country? That is wrong.
You are an unapologetic advocate of state policing, why is that?
We need to have state police. I was a member of the 2014 National Conference and I was a member of the committee that proposed state police. I was the chief proponent of state police and I did my own homework. The day I made a presentation, there were two opponents of state police in our committee, one was a governor and senator from the North, while the other was a military governor from the South.
When I made the presentation, it was an issue, because these two people said we couldn’t have state police. When I finished making the presentation Professor Jerry Gana, who was the chairman that day, asked for their counter presentation next week since he was convinced from my presentation. So, I went back that weekend, I did some more research and I made my presentation pushing for state police even before they had chance to make their own statement.
At the end, I was able to convince them all and that was how state police came into being and was adopted. Even the committee set up specifically for security did not recommend state police but when we submitted our own report first at the plenary and state police was approved even when the other report came from the security did not advocate for state police. Even though APC people said they didn’t want to look at it, their own committee headed by El-Rufai recommended state police.
Do you think #EndSARS protest was a legitimate demand?
The protest was fair, orderly and the president even said he heard them loud and clear and that he has approved all of their five demands. That is evidence that there was nothing untoward about the protest. But the escalation came when those soldiers went to the tollgate and started shooting innocent people, who were sitting on the floor; holding Nigerian flag; sitting; singing the National Anthem. You couldn’t hold yourself back.
You know some days before then, I argued with some young people who said they read something on the internet, a senior officer said that once you’re holding the Nigerian flag no soldier or policeman will shoot you. I said to him, are you kidding me? You’re talking about Nigeria. Do they respect such things? And it happened exactly the way I said it, because those people have no interest or respect for flag or anthem. What flag? What anthem?
So in the escalation, they decided to burn police stations and kill some policemen. It’s something that should never have happened, you don’t go burning police stations, as they are for the public good. If you’re quarreling with the government, you’re not quarreling with the police, even if you’re quarreling with the police, you go to the police.
I hope government would find the money to build new police stations but the police stations ought to be better protected now. If they are not protected, they showed the fragility of the police in terms of organisation. It shows the police are not well prepared for such eventualities, why are they running around pursuing innocent people they should take care of. But you see, I think the federal government is stretched beyond its own financial limits.
This is why a secondary police force is important: state police. The government may be dribbling, dodging but state police is a viable answer to our situation now. Why do I say so? Firstly, the federal government would never have enough money to recruit the number of policemen that you need to police this big country.
Secondly is that in this political system, one should have the federal government at the central control. If it is owned by one party, you’re going to have issues in some states. One of the states, I think Rivers State, got six commissioners of police within one year. That shows you that there are some crises. It happens in several other states like that, so you need a secondary police, you need the state government to put their money for security into the policing system.
Look at the anomaly of the federal government starting what they call community police, where they recruit but say that state government would pay. That doesn’t make sense. That’s an anomalous situation. You are recruiting people for your police force and you want the state government to pay?
Right now, the state governments support the federal police. They spend a lot of money buying equipment, give them allowances and fuel their vehicles. That’s voluntary and fine. But you can’t recruit your own police and say state governments pay. State police is needed and if you read the El-Rufai Committee report, which is an APC report, they went round the country talked to Nigerian citizens. The same APC government has not looked at that paper; it has not implemented it. It’s gathering dust somewhere.
Look at what is happening now, the government says to the #EndSARS people, ‘we’ve heard you loud and clear, we’ve accepted your five demands, we will implement them’. Then riots occurred, they now said okay you are criminals and terrorists, we block your account; you can’t travel or do this. Come on, is that sensible? Is that reasonable? Is that how democracy ought to be run? If there are people among them, who committed crimes, take them to court. If the court convicts them, fine, but you become the accuser, prosecutor and the judge all at once? You go to a court and tell them these people did this, court says okay, without hearing from those people.
You think that is fair? You can’t influence society to be like that. Nobody wants anarchy. I don’t want anarchy, but we will have to have due process, fair hearing, and have things done properly the way it’s done in democracy.
How should the police rebuild public trust since years of police brutality have eroded that?
We must start from the training. They must be trained to be civil and use arms properly. I think that Constables should not be given arms, because they are too low in class and too immature. Arms are to be used sparingly and wisely. The fact that you have a gun doesn’t mean you cock the gun and kill him. It happens all the time. We keep hearing accidental discharge. If it’s not that, you will hear ‘we will waste your life and nothing will happen’. That has happened to me even though I conducted myself properly.
In some countries, they are opposed to the death penalty and there are reasons for that. They don’t think the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime. Secondly, they think death penalty reduces the state to the cruel nature of the criminal, when the state should be better than the criminal. Thirdly, when you kill someone, you can’t replace. When you don’t have the power to create life, you shouldn’t have the power to take it.
Fourthly, there might be a mistake in the criminal and judicial system, and an innocent person is killed, can he be brought back to life? No. We need to be careful that people are not killed aimlessly, whether you are trying to prevent or solve a crime and that is at the core of policing and administration of justice. If they bear in mind that human life is irreplaceable, they have to be a lot more careful in taking lives.