Thursday, 8 June 2017

Reforming Nigeria Police for Efficiency - Punch Editorial

Rising insecurity across the country in recent times and the response of the Nigeria Police require a thorough review and overhaul of the security system.
In Lagos, criminal gangs struck in Epe and Ikorodu, kidnapping six children in one instance and wiping out an entire family in the other, underscoring the seeming helplessness of law enforcement. For the police leadership, the solution lies primarily in recruiting additional personnel. But today’s security challenges demand much more creative thinking than mere increase in numbers.

Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector-General of Police, has restated the need for massive recruitment of new hands to fill what he and his team regard as an under-staffed force. To meet the United Nations recommended ratio of one policeman to 400 persons, the Force has forwarded a proposal to the Federal Government to recruit 155,000 new hands over the next five years at the rate of 31,000 per year.

Taken at face value, the need for more policemen for a population estimated at 167 million and beset with serious security problems is not debatable. A 2006 report cited the UN recommending about 300 police officers to every 100,000 persons. According to figures published by INTERPOL − the International Police − for 2012, Nigeria had about 187 policemen for every 100,000 persons. Malaysia had 320 for every 100,000 persons, Bahamas 793, France 340, Russia 515, Singapore 713 and Turkey 524.

Moreover, the scope of security challenges has widened over the years. Police now have to contend with kidnapping and robberies staged by heavily armed criminals; street gangs and transport union mobsters that double as thugs of influential political figures; militants posing as self-determination activists; AK-47-wielding Fulani herdsmen pillaging and wiping out entire villages; cattle rustlers, pirates and increasingly sophisticated, internet-savvy fraudsters. The country is deluged with illegal arms and the state no longer has a monopoly on sophisticated weaponry. At the last count, the military had troops in 33 out of the 36 states on internal security operations in the face of an overwhelmed police.

We assert, however, that beyond the issue of numbers, poor funding and inadequate equipment, the Nigeria Police needs fundamental restructuring to align it to a democratising polity. According to an article in the Encyclopaedia of Democracy, “Police are a central element of a democratic society.” It identifies three features of a police force in a democracy: it must be subject always to the rule of law rather than the wishes of an individual; it can intervene in the life of citizens only under limited and carefully-controlled circumstances; and third, it must be publicly accountable.

It is obvious that our police often fail to pass these critical tests of a people-centred crime-fighting outfit. The challenge successive administrations have failed to confront is how to remake the Nigeria Police, wean it off its colonial and military era heritage of oppression, to become true servants of the people. President Muhammadu Buhari and Idris are allowing the opportunity of initiating fundamental reforms to slip by. The ideal in a federal polity is to have state, regional and local police forces. Our legislators at the federal and state levels should work to amend the 1999 Constitution to erase the absurdity of a single police force for a federation of over 250 ethnic nationalities and sub-nationalities.

In spite of the constitutional constraints, however, Idris has much he can do. First, on the issue of personnel, he should work towards the optimal deployment of available hands, destroy corruption and indiscipline. Idris and the state commissioners of police should creatively deploy personnel. Regular patrols, prudent use of equipment and zero tolerance for corruption will go a long way. Nigerians are confronted daily with the corruption and indiscipline of policemen. The high command should vigorously tackle these first. Recruiting 155,000 persons, some of whom will extort, rob and kill the people they are paid to protect, makes little sense.

A former IG once admitted that 100,000 or more of his estimated 370,000 personnel were guarding individuals and organisations. Hiring out policemen for guard duties has become a lucrative illegal income stream for police commanders. This should stop; it is humiliating to see policemen reduced to bag boys and domestic servants of public officials and private citizens.

The IG and legislators should look into the issue of pay, allowances and pensions of policemen and end endemic corruption that sees cops denied their benefits and made to provide their own kits. The National Assembly should pass the Police Social Security Bill submitted to it in 2008 to formalise the funding currently provided by states and local governments.

Policing should be decentralised immediately. The United Kingdom has 43 police forces with emphasis on community policing. The Netherlands police is organised into 25 regional constabularies and staffing is in accordance with population and crime rate in each region, just as Japan allows its prefectural (regional) forces considerable autonomy. In every federal polity, component states and LGs organise their own policing. Nigeria has to give full support today to community policing.

Ultimately, however, there is no alternative to state police and efforts should be stepped up towards realising this goal.

Culled from: Punch Newspaper