The voices of many highly respected Nigerians across political party lines, ethnic and religious divides have continued to resonate symphonically in calling on the citizenry to rise, pick up their arms and defend themselves. Nigerians know that the state and its police can no longer effectively protect them. The police are overwhelmed by the enormity and sporadic form of crime and insecurity everywhere. Their capacity to contain the challenge suffers further attenuation by a long-standing public antipathy against them, putting a wedge on their intelligence-gathering capabilities. It also further compounds their historically inadequate funding and numerical strength challenges. For instance, as of 2017, the Nigerian police had a personnel gap of 155,000 officers to meet the UN minimum ratio requirement of one police officer to 400 citizens. We incontrovertibly need much more than that personnel figure four years down the line. The police are also severely challenged by grossly low levels of public trust, affecting their ability to leverage their proximity to the public for an effective intelligence operation. Over the years, the image of Nigerian police consistently suffered ugly dents on account of their protuberant level of corruption, human rights abuses and well-established complicity in many crimes compromising their role as authentic law enforcement umpires.
But a much weightier source of its many challenges is its monopoly structure and a severely defective governance arrangement with epileptic strategic partnerships. One of the significant disadvantages of a monopoly is its status as the sole supplier of a public good despite the latter’s unsatisfactory customer service. The Nigerian police have demonstrated exceptional professional weakness in its relationship with the public [its number one client] and its adoption of cutting-edge technology in intelligence gathering and general insecurity containment. Its approach to insecurity management remains traditional, anachronistic, and behind the backwaters of modern threat management, which leverages technology to stay ahead of criminals. On the other hand, the private security sector possesses contemporary security technology proficiency and personnel management techniques, agile and result yielding client relationships driven by competition. Yet, the government would not allow the market to complement the policing efforts even in this era of extreme danger to the population.
Like the proverbial fish that is rotten from its head, the oversight structure for the operational control and governance of the Nigerian police force vested in the Police Service Commission is otiose as the Inspector General of police exercises virtually all the Commission’s powers. For instance, although it has supposed independent oversight of the police and the authority to discipline all officers below the rank of Inspector General of police, the Commission has technically assigned these responsibilities back to the police organization. While the Force Provost Marshal disciplines junior officials representing approximately 90% of the workforce, the Force Disciplinary Committee handles senior officer disciplines and further dispatches disciplinary recommendations for ratification to the Police Service Commission. Therefore, the police investigate itself, discipline itself and merely report its activities to the Police Service Commission for rubberstamping. By so doing, it leaves an apparent hiatus in the police oversight structure, which further aggravates the level of internal indiscipline within.
Yet, in stark contrast to the arrangement where the Inspector General of police bypasses the Police Service Commission and reports only to the president, the state commissioners of police do not take instructions from the state governors but rather from the Inspector General of police. A fundamental weakness of this arrangement is the terrible time lag in police response to the security needs of states. It worsens when the president is not in a good relationship or the same political party as the Executive Governor of the state needing security support. It also reinforces the ugly side effects of the monopolistic structure of the police that rarely permits the effective collaboration of other policing systems such as the state and community police. It is difficult for the police to do it alone. The police must exploit beneficial partnerships. A good relationship with the public enhances its intelligence gathering, while the private policing market will provide robust security technology. Healthy engagements with civil society organizations make good governance possible, while interagency collaborations result in synergistic successes.
The foundational factor making the police a victim is its exclusively vertical reporting line to the president, who alone determines its destiny. Unfortunately, the same Nigerian state paymasters have not made the operational infrastructure for policing adequate. They have also not improved on the remuneration, capacity building and general funding of the police. Sadly, the police cannot resort to any other authority for help. These multitudes of challenges considerably deprecated the psyche of Nigerian police officers who merely perceive themselves as bag carriers for politicians and business people who can afford it. The man who pays the piper dictates the tune. The police’s allegiance also appears to lean more toward the politicians and those in upper-income socioeconomic strata that pay for their VIP services rather than the public, whose taxes sustain them. But typical of trapped preys, these politicians and the presidency have consistently failed to provide for the operational infrastructure they need to excel adequately. It is no secret that despite the capital allocations to the police force, most of their patrol vans and other operating equipment are provided majorly by governors of states where they work. Police officers make up the remaining recurring spending requirements such as fuelling the vans, office generators, and necessary documentation through illegal collections from motorists at checkpoints and the imposition of bail charges.
Police remuneration is also poor, while some officers have not received additional capacity development beyond the initial training before their recruitment. Despite all that, the Nigerian police is also a significant driver of its problems. Wearing two faces, one resembling the government and the other of corruption, inequities, and unfairness, makes the police heighten its self-destructing trust and identity problems. When it wears the face of the government, the expectation is that it will be a loving and impartial mother serving the security needs of its communities. That is the reason for the cliché that ‘the police is your friend’. Awkwardly, while that is the formal identity of the Nigerian police, many Nigerians see the police as an entity deserving of zero trust. They gained for themselves the image of a highly corrupt institution that condemnably leverages its strategic position as the maintainer of law to carry out injustices for its members’ selfish gains and to satisfy the highest bidders against their opponents.
On the roads, they gather not to protect the motorists but to extort bribes from them. They miscarry justice at will and always lean in favour of those who have money to pay. They protect criminals and provide them with convenient corridors to succeed in their satanic trade. They murder innocent people at the slightest provocation and have a reputation for passing and executing sentences without recourse to any formal justice process. Contrary to their professional calling to uphold human rights, they are the vanguard of human rights violations. The recent #end SARS protest was essentially in response to damning heights of Nigerian police brutality and human rights violations. The litany of the sins of the Nigerian police are seemingly inexhaustible and deepen public distaste against them.
Without a doubt, we need a new police force to give Nigerian’s reason to sleep with their two eyes closed and renew their confidence in an umpire for law and order. At least five areas out of several can provide the early transition to the desired new police force. The first is upgrading its external image. The Nigerian police is a good example of the relationship between outward appearance and true personal identity. The stingy professionalism of the police is evident in the way they dress, speak, and the nastiness of their physical environments. Without a doubt, good dressing, composure, communication etiquette, and a clean environment substantially portray a genuinely professional persona. The opposite is the case with our police. Of course, since good soup is a product of reasonable income, the pay package of the police equally needs to support this brand transition. This rebranding effort is only a starting point in a comprehensive package of reforms which should also include the remaking of its current face of bribery and corruption into something reflective of public expectations of a trustworthy promoter of law and order.
However, no matter how our police institution changes, if the capacity to guarantee the safety of the public is lacking, the latter would still consider it not of significant essence. But the police cannot achieve this without constant training and retraining of its personnel, which in turn depends on the willingness of the government to fund its capacity building adequately and put in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure their implementation. Secondly, to expect changes regarding insecurity management, the police must open and satisfactorily adopt artificial intelligence technologies as core to its operations. That is perhaps where, in the short term, private sector involvement is essential. Shifting from a monopolistic police model will require outsourcing many policing activities, particularly intelligence gathering, to the market that is adequately capable of providing such. Security technology and speedy adaptation to changing security environments will best be in the hands of private security operators that are legally supported to do so. The Nigerian security market should go beyond providing guards for offices and homes to develop, implement, and sell technologies that help track and overpower threats. Of course, this process must be thought through and propped by adequate and relevant regulations to minimize abuse.
It is equally evident that none of these reform initiatives will work without a revised and strengthened governance model for the Nigerian police. The disciplining of senior police officers, including the Inspector General of Police, should be adequately domiciled within the Police Service Commission with a window for redress anchored in the presidency and legislature. The police cannot investigate and discipline themselves and expect to have a professionally solid institution. The governance model must be rejigged with graduated layers of independent monitoring and penalizing officers at all levels. Similarly, state commissioners of police should have dual reporting lines to both the governor of the state and the Inspector General of Police. That way, they will have reasonable levels of independence to respond quickly and comprehensively as required to the security needs of the state where they serve.