By Olawale Fapohunda, SAN
A Tragedy of Limited or No Police Reforms
D riving through Ikeja Airport Road last week, I could not but notice the dilapidated buildings that serves as the official accommodation of our Police officers. Simply disgraceful, were the words that immediately came to my mind. How does anyone living in these ramshackle buildings, be expected to serve Nigeria with the sense of professionalism that is required for effective policing? Are these not the same buildings that were subject of much national discourse during the Jonathan administration? Whatever happened to all the assurances of immediate attention etc? These buildings vividly describe all that is wrong with our Police Force. It is evidence of the continuous failure of government and the governed, to pay attention to the gradual decline of the working conditions of our Police Officers. Rather than focus on practical measures to achieve Police reform, successive governments have been engaged in a theoretical analysis of Police reform. Neither the theories nor the analysis have resulted in any significant improvement in the situation of Police officers, or the policing of our communities.
The promise of the Buhari administration, of a radical overhaul of the Nigeria Police has not been met either. So far, we have seen a tragic combination of limited reforms or no reforms, in making the Police relevant to the security needs of Nigerians. And so, we all wallow in the misery of our insecurity. Terrorist attacks on our major cities and villages, including rampaging herdsmen, kidnappers, violent armed robberies, have all become our every day reality.
Citizens-Police United in Bribe Acceptance
Today, our citizens are victims of a sad combination of rampaging criminal elements in our communities, and a Police Force whose officers are largely ill motivated and ill-equipped. Many who see ordinary citizens, whether in distress or not, as ATMs. Bribery and corruption in all its ramifications, has become the culture of our Police. Perhaps, more worrisome is the effect of this state of affairs on our collective psyche. We express surprise when a Police Officer actually does his job, and when a Police Officer is caught taking bribes, we show indifference. What is there to be different about?
On issues of bribery, there is a dichotomy on the rationale of police and citizens. We demand an honest, impartial and professional Police; yet, not many of us are prepared to insist on these values in our dealings with the Police. We stoically accept giving bribes as an everyday inconvenience, rather than fuming against it. Some of our eggheads gleefully, even if annoyingly, put forth arguments such as Police is a mirror of the image of our society; insinuating that we deserve the bribe taking Police officers that appear to be in the majority in our Police Force. For the Police, it has been a case of ‘speak only when you see evil’. They constantly deny that the culture of bribe taking within the Force, is not endemic, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Chastity Must Begin with the Police
The recent episode of a Police Officer on duty caught on video justifying bribery, is a case in point. I was amused at the several comments made on a Whatsapp platform on Police reform, that I moderate. Many were more sympathetic to the situation of the hapless Police Officer. Not a few of us saw him as a guinea pig, for a flawed attempt by the Police to show intolerance for corrupt behaviour within its ranks. In the words of one of the contributors, “the public show of dismissing the said Police Officer would be laughable, were it not a serious matter. The Inspector General of Police himself knows that all his men on our roads are either taking bribes, or are accessory after the fact of bribe-taking. Yet, the hierarchy of the Police remain steadfast in their self-deceit. Rather than address the issues raised by the errant Police Officer, the Police decided to kill the messenger. The message lives on”. Strong words.
I agree that beyond the soap opera of undressing a corrupt Police Officer on television, the IGP must acknowledge and develop a realistic approach towards endemic corruption in our Police. Irrespective of citizens’ tolerance for Police bribe- taking, there is an urgent need for firm steps to eliminate corruption in the Force. Chastity must begin with the Police. The process of cleansing has to start at the top echelons, which should not only be honest, but should ensure honesty at the lower levels. In a supposedly disciplined organisation like the Police, the basic responsibility of curbing corruption vests with the senior officers. A culture that attaches no stigma to corruption, is an ingredient for inefficiency and corruption.
Is Police reform too late for President Buhari?
Police reform cannot solely start and stop with the Police leadership. I am also disappointed with the inability of the Buhari administration and those before him, to make rapid progress with Police reform. To be fair, if successive administrations had set and implemented a realistic, achievable agenda for Police reform, the force would not be where it is today. So as it was in 1999, at the onset of democracy, it is in 2022, more than two decades later.
Public perception of corruption, impunity, absence of accountability, incompetence, and failure to control the law and order situation, plague the Police Force. With less than a year to end of the Buhari administration, I don’t agree with the view of many Police reformists, that it is too late to make any appreciable difference. There is time. What is needed, is the political will to, at the very least, begin the implementation of a series of interventions aimed at transforming the Nigeria Police into a true public servant capable of elevating the sense of security of Nigerians. The building blocks for such transformation, have already been laid.
Firstly, the enactment of the Police Act in 2020 is an important intervention. The 2020 Act replaced the out-dated Police Act. The new Act seeks to achieve public service delivery, respect for human rights, transparency, pro-poor policing and enhancement of community policing, among others.
Secondly, Mr President’s approval of the upward review of Police salaries and allowances, is also an important intervention. Both interventions recognise that the key resource available to the Police to fulfil its mandate, is the human resources at its disposal. This law page has been consistent in several of its editorials, calling for a holistic review of the conditions of service of Police officers to undercut the incentive for corrupt behaviour.
An Agenda for Reform
Aside from salaries and allowances, other reform interventions should include, improvement of Police medical facilities, improved housing, Police schools to be refurbished and upgraded to enable them cater for the children of Police Officers, Police insurance and pension benefits to be improved, and made easily accessible to next of kin. I must confess that I have not found one Police Officer, who will readily admit to receiving this improved salary. It is either the approved increase is in the pipeline, or our Police Officers have been sworn to secrecy, never to disclose this increase.
Furthermore, it is also not too late to set and enforce an agenda on modalities for the recruitment of persons into the Police Force. Salient questions need to be asked. Who are the persons that the Police Force recruits? Answering these basic questions, involves determining whether the Police Service Commission has procedures to do adequate background checks on recruits, psychological tests that accurately measure their suitability for police work. These are the areas of weakness of our present recruitment process. The daily discovery of Police Officers with dangerous criminal tendencies that undermine confidence in law enforcement, is no coincidence. It would appear that, the Nigeria Police has unwittingly let too many unsavoury characters enter their ranks. It is also not too late to radically review the training curriculum of Police Officers, including at the entrance level. Training can theoretically mitigate some of the errors in recruitment, and provide some important safeguards against corruption. It should give officers basic lessons in integrity, such as respect for citizens’ rights, a sense of civic duty and self-control. It should also instill a desire in officers to protect their integrity, not because they fear apprehension, but because they know corruption is wrong. Poor training methods only serve to exacerbate the blunders in recruitment that preceded them.
In broad terms, it is not too late to commence the implementation of existing recommendations of the various inter-ministerial- committees on Police reform. It will be a matter of much regret, if, at the end of the Buhari administration, progress with Police reforms is limited. President Buhari should set the Nigeria Police, on an irreversible course towards the establishment of a Police which is efficient, honest and professional to the core.
Meanwhile, will someone do me a favour and call the attention of the Inspector General of Police, to the ‘about to fall apart’ buildings that accommodate Police Officers and Recruits within the Police College, Ikeja.