During the colonial era, the Nigerian police was decentralized. It was called the Native Police Authority and the recruits lived amongst the people. The former were well familiar with the areas that their policing operations covered and in most cases were indigenes of the areas they policed. They were very familiar with the residents of the area and they could detect the strangers in their midst. They were able to effectively carry out intelligence gathering because they to use Nigerian English — Sons and daughters of the soil.
The first republic retained the native policing authority and it worked well until the military took over in 1966. The unitary structure of government introduced by Major-General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi adversely affected the police force. The military greatly undermined the police force as police barracks far away from where their beat was were built for the policemen. Many policemen were then transferred to states other than their states of origin and places where they were largely unfamiliar with. Intelligence gathering suffered a major setback as the policemen struggled to be well familiar with their new places of posting.
The military eventually usurped the powers of the policemen as they interfered in settling disputes amongst citizens.
The end of the civil war saw an exponential upsurge in the rate of crime as weapons found their way into the hands of armed robbers. The mismanagement of the economy made crime a more attractive option especially as materialism crept into national consciousness. The military viewed the cops as threats and so they undeveloped them by ensuring that their welfare was poor and they didn’t get sophisticated weapons to effectively tackle the criminals.
The return to democracy in 1999 didn’t improve much the fate of the policemen. Many VIPS — politicians, top flight businessmen use the police as escorts and errand boys for their personal affairs. It was so bad that they went on strike on February 1, 2002 during the Olusegun Obasanjo led Presidency.
Efforts have been made to have better policing in the country. The uniform for the top brass was changed from black to blue which hasn’t made much of a difference because they hood doesn’t make the monk goes the age-long aphorism. During the administration of Babatunde Raji Fashola as Lagos State Governor, he inaugurated the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF). It was a public-private partnership which had the best of minds from both sectors and was able to attract some funding for the Lagos State Police Command. Despite the laudable initiative, crime still remains a permanent feature of the nation’s economic nerve centre.
One way to improve policing is to decentralize it. Let’s go back to how it used to be before the military incursion of 1966. A decentralized police force will be more effective in tackling crime as the cops are well acquainted with the terrain as opposed to the current practice where many policemen grope in the dark as to navigating the routes in unfamiliar areas. The 1999 constitution makes a mockery of the powers of the state governor who is supposed to be the chief security officer of the state. The governor cannot summon the commissioner of police in his state as the latter has to await instructions from his boss in Abuja, the nation’s capital — The Inspector-General of Police. Decentralization or a state police will correct the constitutional anomaly.
There is also the need for an improved welfare for these men and woman who risk their lives to keep the nation safe and crime free. There should be comprehensive insurance schemes to take care of them while still in the force and in case they die in active duty, their families should be well taken care of.
Police barracks nationwide should be shut down as it makes better sense for them to live amongst the members of the community. This way their efforts will yield better results as they aren’t isolated from the communities they are meant to be protecting.
There must be the availability of the latest sophisticated weapons for them to effectively tackle the malaise of crime. The guns that most of them I see on the roads reminds one of what the colonial police officers used during the time of Lord Frederick Lugard. They are that antiquated to put it mildly. They must match up to the superior weapons of their adversaries who spare no mercy for their victims the policemen inclusive.
There is also the need for the members of the public to communicate more effectively with the police. There should be a toll free hotline where concerned members of the public can swiftly reach out to the men in black to either report crime or to report suspicious activities wherever they are.
The policemen and women should also make more efforts to be friendlier with the public as their salaries and allowances are paid by the latter. The practice of torturing of suspects sometimes to their deaths should be stopped forthwith. The law that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty should be strictly followed. Erring policemen should be tried and incarcerated if found guilty.
There should be regular reviews of the wages they earn keeping the mind the vagaries of the economy due to inflation. The best of minds and most altruistic of Nigerians should be attracted into the force. It should stop being the dumping ground for the second eleven. Trainings in all forms should be done so that they are kept abreast of the latest changes in combating crime.
Promotions should be done on merit even though for reasons of expediency, we still use the federal character system. Despite this challenge, merit should still be factored into the quota system.
Nefarious politicians should also stop using policemen to perpetrate electoral evils like snatching ballot boxes, intimidating voters and looking the other way when thugs perform the aforementioned acts. There should be zero tolerance for such behaviour and culprits should be fished out and severely sanctioned to serve as a deterrent.
We hope to see a more equipped and better police force in no distant time. The police should live up to their name of being our friend.
Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com