As a copycat species of humans, our police adopted the slogan “the police is your friend”, already in use in several other countries. Unarguably, an efficient policing system naturally endears the citizens to itself. Such friendship compares with the relationship between a security dog owner and his dutiful dog. The police efforts to ensure that citizens live together in peace and safety and that every person is subject to the law should make them friends of everyone. Their supposed impartiality is the friendship-unlocking joker. But the experiences of many Nigerians with the police testify eloquently against their fit to adopt the slogan. While it is natural for good friends to trust each other, a substantial proportion of Nigerians considers the police as a gathering of corrupt, bribe-taking, crime abetting persons empowered by law to function as a government institution. Many police personnel surely do not fall within this classification. But these professional bunches are in the minority.
Over several decades the Nigerian public seemed to have consistently scrutinized and benchmarked the police’s performance against these expected ideals. The intensity of public antipathy against the Nigerian police peaked with the 2020 #end SARS riotous campaign. It was a quasi-declaration of war on the police for consistently failing to address and live within the ambience of what matters most to the public, which is fairness. Within a week, twenty-two police officers lost their lives, and more than thirty-six others were critically injured. Demonstrators burned no fewer than two hundred and five police stations. Public resentment during the demonstration became even worse because of the combination of the shooting of protesters at Lekki tollgate and the frustrations from the alleged hoarding of millions of naira worth of COVID-19 palliatives by several state governments. In all of this, ending police brutality remained the singsong. It also opened the enormity of the flawed police and citizens relationship. Although the #end SARS demonstration aimed at advocating for the scrapping of the intensely high-handed special anti-robbery squad, many of those who participated seem to have done so principally to retaliate or avenge the evils previously perpetrated upon them by the police.
Unfortunately, the paradox of policing in Nigeria is that the police’s successes continuously fail to attract higher public trust levels. Even powerful performances by the police receive commendations, albeit with suspicion. The natural legitimacy of acceptance appropriate for an above-average performance by the police in protecting the citizens, maintaining the law, and the peace is glaringly missing even in places where these are obvious. A significant reason for this is that the public expects the police to be a proper judge who conducts his activities with high equity and fairness levels. The police are unarguably the face of civil government, reminding citizens of their duty to subject themselves to the law’s supremacy. It is the symbol of the rule of law, a sign of fairness. Most of the Nigerian police officers appear not only to have consistently failed in this respect but have attracted for that institution the semblance of insensitivity to this all-important public concern. That insensitivity to the public’s concerns has continuously turned many of the police’s laudable accomplishments into questionable and suspicious triumphs.
The public expects the police to prevent and minimize the occurrence of crime. Traditionally police performance appears to be heavily skewed in favour of this factor. More recently, public satisfaction with its other activities is increasingly receiving attention. Some of these other activities include the quality of mediation in disputes, traffic control, intelligence gathering, the efficient and fair use of force and authority, calling offenders to account, enhancing civility in public spaces, and reducing fear and anxiety among the citizens. Admitted that the Nigerian police face numerous challenges just like every other government agency, it is evident that it has consistently underperformed in crime control and management. It is also widely alleged that its undoing is its internal fiscal management, which mostly dishonestly favours its top hierarchy. How can the Nigerian police effectively contain crime when police vehicles’ fuelling is only possible with monies collected from the commercial bus and taxi drivers at checkpoints? Worse still, even such work tools as patrol vans must be provided by the state governments. While there is nothing wrong with state governments contributing to efficient policing in their domains, the proportion of work tools [patrol vans in particular] provided by state governments in most states exceed 90% of the entire crime management infrastructure. Budgeted federal government’s contributions allegedly liquefy into private pockets of the top hierarchy. The resulting inefficiencies manifest in a series of shoddy intelligence gathering that facilitates the miscarriage of justice, thus making many innocent people pay for what they have not done.
Nigeria is poorly policed and has one of the most inefficient police institutions in the world. While many studies have shown that countries need between 300 and 500 police officers per 100,000 persons for efficient policing, Nigeria has maintained an average of about 200 police officers per 100,000 persons. This police-citizen ratio is even more appalling given the increasingly worsening security conditions in the country requiring more officers per person. Admitted that Nigeria’s police per capita is not among the worst in Africa, it is far from the index median of 300 and a sub-Saharan average of 268. It is also distantly far from the impressive records of other African countries like Mauritius, Algeria, Botswana, Kenya, Gambia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. As of 2016, the World Internal Security and Police Index WISPI ranking for Nigeria in policing effectiveness was 127th out of the 127 countries of the world. Evidence on the ground does not indicate that there have been significant improvements since then. The WISPI measures police efficiency and effectiveness along four dimensions: capacity, process, legitimacy, and outcomes. The capacity dimension gauges performance on police per capita, while the process dimension assesses performance on corruption. The legitimacy dimension considers public confidence issues in the police and police compliance with due process of law. The outcomes dimension sets performance on containing crime and public perceptions of safety. Nigeria was at the bottom of the performance rankings globally in all four dimensions.
The Nigerian police are the symbol of bribery, falsehood, and undermining compliance with the same law they manage. The police brazenly and in the public glare routinely collect bribes from motorists and other categories of traffic offenders. It is only strangers or newcomers to the country that shudder at these awful acts. To some extent, too, many people consider it a usual and customary practice of the Nigerian police. Again, while for civil cases, bailing someone is constitutionally free of charge, the police have costs for various offences. And because of its financial attractiveness, it has been severally alleged that police officers will routinely round up some people on trumped-up charges, commandeer them to the police station and extract bailing fees from them. Even the reporting of an incident requiring police attention ordinarily attracts some form of payment or inducement from the complainant or reporter before the police can act. The centrality of illicit financial incentive to facilitate the police’s effective discharge of their constitutional duty is in the heart of the absence of fairness that the citizens seem to hold against the institution. For instance, if I initiate trumped-up charges against someone and sufficiently financially induce the police to go against the person, I can be reasonably sure of its execution. But that might not be the case even if there have been gross violations of my rights if I cannot financially galvanize the police to act. Corruption is imprinted everywhere on the clothes and faces of the Nigerian police. Despite all the claims of institutional reforms, the Nigerian police require high doses of hyssop to look cleaner and acceptable to the public.
Notwithstanding the several good works and the outstanding reputation of many of them who are authentically professional, the Nigerian police’s evils are legion. For instance, the police have gained a terrible reputation for assisting offenders to escape justice. There are several factual allegations of how bribed officers aid criminals to flee from police custody. Regrettably, not much consequence is suffered by those caught in the act. Sometimes, these issues can die out. Related to that is the illicit police closure of criminal case files after reasonable financial inducements and consequently abetting suspects escape from justice. It is also the police officers that smugglers and other criminals mostly hire to facilitate easy passage of either smuggled vehicles or those loaded with contraband and stolen items. Several cases of officers leasing stolen arms and munitions in police custody to criminals for operations equally abound.
Regardless, there appears to be a substantial consensus that much of the police’s problems are resolvable with that institution’s proper funding. The comparative analysis of the paychecks of police corporals and inspectors for South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria as of 2020 shows that Nigerian police officers are the least paid. A police corporal in South Africa earns approximately $7000 per annum, and the Ghanaian counterpart earns roughly $3000 per annum; Nigerian officers of equal ranking earns about $1600 per annum. Similarly, police inspectors in South Africa make nearly $9000 per annum; their Ghanaian counterparts go home with $4000 per annum, the Egyptian inspectors of police go home with $3000 per annum, the Nigerian equivalents receive approximately $2600 per annum. In 2017, the then Inspector General of police pointed out the painful chasm of the N1.1 trillion that the Nigerian police institution require annually and the approximately N200 billion effectively allocated. He also pointed out that these budgets are usually merely on paper. He cited the 2014 instance where the police’s capital proposal and overheads were N218 billion and N56.6 billion, respectively while the government, appropriated a mere N7.3 billion and N8.4 billion and cash-backed only N3.4 billion and N5.2 billion, respectively. Again, in 2016 against the police budget of N200 billion for functional movements, it received just N368 million. But a counter-argument is that the police generate so much unaccounted-for income from several other sources. According to a 2019 study by dataphyte.com, the Nigerian police realizes approximately N135 billion annually by attaching police officers to VIPs, banks, and other corporate organizations. Unfortunately, these earnings are not accounted for publicly.
Finally, while it is without a doubt that Nigeria needs to fund police more adequately to enable them to function effectively, the mind reorientation of the average police officer in Nigeria is critical. Hunger may lead to frustrations, but it need not lead one to questionable behaviour. Likewise, police officers’ low salaries and income also need not legitimize their long-standing brand of a corrupt institution. Low wages cannot justifiably explain the culture of bribe-taking that is synonymous with the Nigerian police. It cannot justify many of the dirty things that are associated with the Nigerian police institution. More than funding, and without neglecting police income improvement, substantially improving officer’s professionalism, police and citizens relationship, and fairness is vital.