By Tokunbo Adedoja
At no time in Nigeria’s history was the call for police reform more deafening than now – thanks to #EndSARS protests. Since early October when the agitation for the reform of the police came to the front burner of national discourse following spontaneous protests by youths against police brutality, several impulsive actions had been taken by police authorities to address the issue. From the disbandment of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and the promise to sanction indicted officers to the creation of the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) and the subsequent approval of new salaries for police personnel, government’s response had been more of policies of appeasement rather than an articulated programme of action to reposition the police.
Many are however not oblivious of the fact that the nation has travelled through this same road in the past when similar calls led to popular pronouncements by authorities, including setting up of panels on police reform. But as soon as the agitations subsided, the reports of the panels were flung into government shelves where they gathered dust and were never implemented.
The most plausible explanation for this could be that rather than a genuine need for effective policing, most of the past attempts to reform the police were mostly inspired by the need for regime survival and protection. No wonder the police grew rapidly from a relatively effective and efficient force inherited from the colonial era to a brutal, grossly inefficient, ridiculously ineffective and deeply corrupt state institution.
Like in all nations, the role of the police in maintaining internal peace and security cannot be overemphasized. Section 4 of the Nigeria Police Act saddles the police with the responsibility of detection and prevention of crime, apprehension of offenders, preservation of law and order, protection of life and property, enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and performance of such military duties as may be required of them. How well the police have performed these statutory functions is an open report card that neither the police nor the nation is proud of.
Apart from the worsening security situation in all parts of the country due largely to structural deficiency, inadequate funding, poor intelligence gathering, lack of modern policing equipment, low morale of officers and corruption, cases of human rights violations by policemen are rising with the affected officers rarely held accountable.
With the renewed call for an efficient, effective, responsive and accountable police, here are ten (10) steps to take in reforming the police.
1. Rebranding and Community Engagement
Despite the age-long mantra – Police is Your Friend – public trust in this vital state institution for the maintenance of law and order is almost nil. This is because the Nigeria police have a notorious reputation for inefficiency, bribery, brutality and rights abuses. In other climes, police stations are havens of safety and the go-to institution when citizens face security challenges. In fact, police are part of the emergency responders. That is not the case in Nigeria where citizens avoid police stations like plague and some would even seek help from non-state actors like thugs rather than seek help from the police, all because of their notorious reputation.
One of the key steps to reform the police is to rebrand the institution. Attempts had been made in the past to achieve this, as seen in the change of uniform and mantra. But rebranding goes beyond changing uniform and police mantra, it is about rebuilding their reputation by changing the perception of the citizens about the police. It’s about rebuilding citizens’ trust in the police, making them see the police as their friend. This can be done through proper engagement with the communities, by building a civil police which respect the rights of the citizens, including suspects, and by ensuring that the police perform their statutory functions efficiently, effectively and with dignity.
How successful the rebranding of the police would be is a function of other steps listed below.
A major problem of the Nigeria police is inadequate funding. This has been the bane of policing in Nigeria. The poor funding of such a critical state institution saddled with maintaining law and order, which is a precondition for internal peace and security, has contributed hugely to the notorious reputation of the police. Due to inadequate funding, police are grossly ill-equipped to carry out their statutory functions, they are inadequately remunerated for the hazardous duties they perform and poorly trained for modern policing. Even with a proposed 2021 budget of N447.6 billion and a progressive increase in budgetary allocation in the past four years, it is still not adequate for a key institution with almost 400,000 workforce, as about 96.4 per cent of the budget goes to recurrent expenditure, while 3.6 per cent is for capital expenditure. That explains the parlous state of police infrastructure and logistics like stations, barracks, training schools; equipment and operation vehicles. To address this funding deficit a special intervention fund should be created to urgently tackle the challenges of infrastructure and logistics. Alternative source of funding by the private sector and communities should also be encouraged. Adequate checks that will ensure transparency and accountability in the application of funds should be put in place.
3. Recruitment & Promotion
Recruitment into the police and subsequent promotion should be based on merit rather than extraneous considerations. There should be a minimum standard for recruitment of police constable which should be a minimum of O’Level certificate, including credit passes in English and Mathematics. In addition, prospective recruits must also be computer literate. For recruitment of police inspector and cadet ASP, the minimum qualification should be national diploma with lower credit and first degree with a minimum of second class lower respectively. Both categories must also satisfy the computer literacy criteria. Promotion should also be based on merit, training attended, performance and track record. The application of quota system for promotion should be jettisoned, as it has succeeded in dampening the morale of officers and creating bad blood within the force.
4. Training and Reorientation
Police authorities should come up with a comprehensive training and reorientation package for their personnel so that they can be in tune with modern policing. Training curricula should be reviewed and syllabus that will focus on police ethics and conduct, human rights, gender issues, intelligence-driven policing, community policing and difference between civil and criminal laws should be designed. Also, the various training colleges should be rehabilitated and properly equipped, while the teaching staff should be drawn from experienced and qualified police officers and from university faculties.
5. Welfare and Condition of Service
Police welfare and condition of service are major issues that successive governments have not been able to sufficiently address. Not only are the salaries of police personnel not commensurate with the hazardous duties they perform, they also work and live in structures that are not fit for decent human beings. Widows of fallen police officers also spend months demanding for their husbands’ entitlements, while police officers injured in the line of duty are often left to their fate. As part of the reform, police salaries scale should be reviewed to be proportional to the risk they take to keep other citizens safe and life insurance packages should be purchased for all personnel. Urgent steps should be taken to rehabilitate all police barracks to a standard that will be fit for human habitation. New barracks should also be built to address the accommodation challenges faced by personnel, especially in major cities. Widows or next of kin of fallen officers should be paid their entitlements and promptly, while medical bills of officers injured in the line of duty should be paid by the police.
6. Strengthening of Internal Disciplinary Processes
Ordinarily, the police should be a disciplined institution, but Nigerians were enraged when they learnt that police operatives indicted for various human rights abuses, including extra judicial killings, were still serving in the force several months after a presidential panel submitted the report that indicted them. This was brought to the fore during #EndSARS protests, prompting government to order states to set up judicial panels of inquiry to look into rights abuses by the police. Nothing emboldens anyone that wields power more than when there are no consequences for actions or inactions. One of the key steps that must be taken to reform the police is to hold to account indicted officers for their actions. But it shouldn’t be a one-off exercise. The existing internal disciplinary processes in the force should be strengthened in all commands and divisions for thorough and prompt delivery of justice.
7. Performance Evaluation
This is another key step to reposition the Nigeria police. Any institution, which does not evaluate the performance of its personnel regularly, will continue to degenerate in all key performance indices. The reward and sanction system of any organization should be based on performance evaluation. For the police, the performance evaluation should target the personnel, as well as the commands, divisions and posts. For example, why should a commissioner of police whose command witnessed a rise in crime rate and unresolved murder or robbery cases be promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police? Or why should a Divisional Police Officer whose division has become a den of criminals in the state be retained in that position or made an Area Commander? Or why should the head of a Criminal Investigation Department who has not been able to resolve any major kidnap, rape or robbery case continue to head that department?
8. Insulation from Partisan Control
For the police to serve citizens effectively and without bias, there is an urgent need to insulate the institution from partisan control. As it is now, the Inspector General of Police is appointed by the president and serves at his pleasure. All police commands are also under the control of the Inspector General. If there is an overbearing president who places partisan interest above security consideration, then the impact would be felt, especially during electioneering. This would further have negative impact on the reputation of the police. This could be checked by a review of the provision for the appointment of IG in such a way that it would be the police service commission that would screen and nominate five officers of the rank of AIG or DIG to the president who will then pick a nominee among the recommended five officers and send to the National Assembly for confirmation by two-thirds of members. The office of the Inspector General should also be tenured just like those of anti corruption agencies, but in this case a maximum of three years to enable junior personnel to have the prospect of reaching the peak of their career.
The Nigeria police operates a centralised command structure whereby all state commands take directives from the Inspector General of Police. Even, though the constitution makes state governors Chief Security Officers of their respective states, the commissioner of police are however not answerable to them. They are answerable to the Inspector General of Police, who is answerable to the president. Ironically, an IG who may not have visited the state in his career as police officer gives directives on security strategies for remote communities that are hundreds of kilometres away from his office in Abuja.
Another factor militating against effective policing in Nigeria is the lack of modern equipment such as well equipped operation vehicles, inadequate and outdated weaponry, lack of body armour, lack of modern communication devices, lack of central registry for criminals that can be accessed realtime from all state commands, modern finger print detecting devices and biometric database of suspects and criminals. Reforming the police to make it effective and efficient will require addressing all these inadequacies.