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Sunday, June 16, 2024

How NPF destroy their brand

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Yesterday which was Children’s Day, I was in a WhatsApp discussion with a friend who is from Nigeria but has lived all his life in Canada. Our topic of discussion was the unilateral, unconstitutional and illegal decision of the Nigerian Army to blockade and prevent traders from accessing their shops located within the imposing Banex plaza in the Wuse 2 area of Abuja metropolis.

The reason adduced by the Army for this disgraceful conduct that lasted the whole of 10 days, was that three of their junior operatives who were at the complex to buy handsets, had a confrontation with some persons who successfully beat them blue and black.

I and my friend concluded that the action of the Nigerian Army was such an ugly illegality that wouldn’t even happen in the advanced democracies like Canada, USA, UK, if the Nigeria Police Force were up and doing with their statutory function as the primary law enforcement agents in Nigeria. In those climes, when crime related incidents occur, the police statutorily take charge of the investigative processes connected to such incident(s). In places such as the USA, UK and many other Western countries, their armies are hardly seen on their streets roaming around like members of the boys scouts movement. But Nigeria is just an exceptional place whereby stranger things happen. Nigeria is a place whereby due to crass incompetence of the Nigerian police Force,  the military are constantly deployed for law enforcement related issues that ought to have been handled by the police. That was the same thing that happened at the Banex Plaza in Wuse two Abuja.

It is such a crying shame that even when the police intervened, the soldiers overwhelmed the police and took the law into their hands by preventing nearly 5,000 innocent traders from accessing their places of legitimate businesses for a whole of ten days.

To even put salt to injury, senior military officers defended this show of shame on public television and even a military general who retired as the defence chief was seen arguing the illogicality that any attack on any uniform wearing personnel of the Army is an attack on the Nigerian state. What a fallacy. This is wrong on all fronts because all citizens are equal before the law and no single citizen can be equated to the Sovereignty of Nigeria.  So any confrontation between civilians and the military operatives is not so different from the case of two fighting. What ought to be done is for the Army to investigate their men whilst the police come in to investigate what actually happened  and not for the Army to resort to self help measures.

We seemed to over exaggerate the significance of this uniform worn by soldiers as if they are not the same uniforms that the taxpayers procured for the soldiers.

This is why when soldiers see someone wearing a discarded foreign made military fatigue which are even sold in bend-down select open shops in places like London or any European nations, the person is subjected to military brutality by the soldiers in Nigeria as if to say that the person has committed a big offence, whereas these military fatigues are sold two for one kobo in a place like Liverpool Street market in Central london and these wears are not even related to the military uniforms worn by soldiers in Nigeria but are discarded military styled fatigue probably worn many years ago by the British Army and is no longer being worn by them.

Nigerian soldiers averagely worship their uniforms like they are worshipping a higher being which shouldn’t be. However, I’m not here to justify the actions of either the street hoodlums that beat up those three soldiers nor what triggered the free for all fight when the soldiers allegedly went to a shop to return a phone they alleged was bought but wasn’t functioning optimally. Anyway, before we deviate from the theme of this reflection which is on how the police in Nigeria are gradually destroying their brand and creating the impression that contradicts the statement by the police that ‘the police is your friend’, let me remind my readers that we are talking about the Nigerian police Force.

Suffice it therefore to affirm that the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) is legally set out to play a crucial role within the governmental framework of Nigeria, with primary responsibilities that include safeguarding the lives and properties of citizens and upholding the constitution.

These constitutional and statutory duties include maintaining law and order, preventing and detecting crime, and ensuring the overall safety and security of the public. The effectiveness and integrity of the police force are essential for the stability and proper functioning of the state. This understanding highlights the trust and authority vested in the police by the Constitution and the citizens they serve.

Sadly, the NPF has long been plagued by a myriad of issues that have eroded public trust and undermined its effectiveness. From rampant indiscipline and lack of professionalism to widespread bribery and misuse of power, the NPF is in dire need of comprehensive reform. The situation is so dire that the military now performs about 75% of policing activities across Nigeria, highlighting the collapse of effective civil policing.

Indiscipline and lack of professionalism are rampant within the NPF. Officers often act with impunity, disregarding the law they are sworn to uphold. This behavior is exemplified by frequent reports of police brutality, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial killings. The infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was disbanded in 2020 following nationwide protests against its human rights abuses, yet similar issues persist throughout the force. The root of this indiscipline lies in poor training, inadequate supervision, and a lack of accountability mechanisms.

The recruitment process itself is flawed, with instances of nepotism and favoritism resulting in unqualified individuals joining the force. Training programs are outdated and insufficient, failing to instill the necessary discipline and professional standards. Furthermore, the absence of effective oversight and disciplinary measures allows misconduct to go unchecked, fostering a culture of impunity.

Bribery is endemic within the NPF. Many officers see their positions as opportunities to extract money from the public rather than serve and protect. This corruption is not limited to lower-ranking officers but extends to the highest echelons of the force. Routine interactions with the police often involve demands for bribes, whether to avoid false charges or to receive basic services. This culture of corruption severely undermines the rule of law and public confidence in the police.

Corruption is perpetuated by low salaries and poor working conditions, which leave officers feeling justified in supplementing their income through illicit means. Additionally, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the handling of funds allocated for police operations and welfare, further exacerbating the problem.

The NPF is frequently used by the wealthy and powerful as a tool to suppress dissent and target critics. Under the guise of enforcing the Cybercrimes Act, which is often interpreted in a broad and draconian manner, the police have harassed and detained bloggers, journalists, and activists. This misuse of power not only stifles free speech but also diverts police resources away from addressing genuine criminal activities.

High-profile cases, such as the arrest of journalists and social media influencers for criticizing government officials, illustrate how the police can be co-opted to serve the interests of the elite. This misuse of authority erodes public trust and reinforces the perception that the police are more interested in protecting the powerful than serving justice.

The collapse of effective policing has necessitated the involvement of the military in civilian law enforcement. Soldiers now perform tasks that should be the responsibility of the police, such as maintaining order, combating armed robbery, and responding to civil unrest. This militarization of policing is problematic for several reasons. Military personnel are trained for combat, not community policing, which requires different skills and approaches. Their involvement often leads to excessive use of force and further erosion of civil liberties.

The presence of the military in policing roles also signals a failure of the state to provide adequate civil security, contributing to a sense of instability and fear among the populace. It is imperative to rebuild the capacity and credibility of the police force to restore normalcy and reduce the reliance on military intervention.

One potential solution to these issues is the establishment of state police forces. State police, if properly structured, could be more attuned to the specific needs and conditions of their communities. However, there are legitimate concerns about the potential for governors to misuse state police as instruments of political repression. To mitigate this risk, state police forces should be established with robust checks and balances. These could include independent oversight bodies, transparent recruitment processes, and clear delineations of powers to prevent abuse.

State police forces could also be structured to encourage community involvement and oversight. Community policing models, where officers work closely with local residents to identify and address specific safety concerns, have proven effective in other parts of the world. This approach fosters trust and cooperation between the police and the communities they serve.

Countries like the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia offer valuable lessons in effective policing. In the UK, the emphasis on community policing and building trust with the public has been key to maintaining order. Police officers are trained to engage with the community, understand local issues, and work collaboratively to find solutions. The use of technology and data-driven approaches has also enhanced efficiency and accountability. For example, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) uses advanced data analytics to track and combat organized crime.

In the USA, despite its own set of challenges, the integration of forensic science and advanced investigative techniques has significantly improved crime-solving capabilities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) employs cutting-edge forensic technology to solve complex cases. Moreover, body cameras have been widely adopted to increase transparency and accountability, helping to rebuild public trust.

Canada’s police forces are known for their emphasis on human rights and professionalism. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has a strong focus on ethics and community engagement. Training programs are comprehensive and include rigorous ethical and professional standards. Additionally, the use of technology and forensic science has greatly enhanced the RCMP’s investigative capabilities.

Australia’s police benefit from extensive training and well-developed infrastructure. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is renowned for its professionalism and effectiveness. The AFP uses a combination of community policing, advanced technology, and rigorous training to maintain law and order. The integration of forensic science, data analytics, and community engagement has made the AFP a model for effective policing.

Technology can play a critical role in transforming the NPF. Implementing body cameras for officers, for instance, can increase transparency and accountability, as evidenced by their use in many Western countries. The adoption of modern forensic techniques can greatly enhance the investigative capabilities of the police. Establishing centralized databases for criminal records, using geographic information systems (GIS) for crime mapping, and employing data analytics to predict and prevent crimes are other ways technology can be harnessed.

Digital platforms for reporting crimes and tracking case progress can also improve transparency and efficiency. Mobile applications and online portals can make it easier for citizens to report crimes, access police services, and provide feedback. Such platforms can help bridge the gap between the police and the public, fostering trust and cooperation.

Furthermore, for the police to function effectively, their welfare must be prioritized. This includes providing adequate and clean housing, ensuring proper healthcare, and offering competitive salaries. Training facilities must be upgraded to provide comprehensive and continuous professional development. The current state of many police barracks and training schools in Nigeria is deplorable, often lacking basic amenities. Addressing these issues requires a commitment to reducing corruption and ensuring that funds allocated for police welfare and infrastructure are used appropriately.

Investing in the welfare of police officers will not only boost their morale but also reduce the temptation to engage in corrupt practices. Adequate compensation, decent living conditions, and access to healthcare are fundamental to building a motivated and professional police force. Additionally, continuous training and development programs are essential to keep officers updated with the latest policing techniques and ethical standards.

In conclusion, the many ‘sins’ of the Nigerian police are well-documented, but solutions are within reach. A combination of establishing state police with proper safeguards, learning from international best practices, leveraging technology, and improving police welfare can set the NPF on a path to reform. The goal should be to create a police force that is professional, accountable, and dedicated to serving the public. Only then can the Nigerian police regain the trust of the people and effectively maintain law and order.

By addressing these issues head-on and implementing comprehensive reforms, Nigeria can build a police force that truly serves and protects its citizens, paving the way for a safer and more just society. Implementing these reforms requires political will, transparency, and a commitment to upholding the rule of law. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards—a more secure, just, and prosperous Nigeria—are well worth the effort.

To achieve these reforms, stakeholders at all levels must collaborate and take decisive action. The government must prioritize police reform as a national agenda, while civil society organizations and the media play a crucial role in advocating for change and holding authorities accountable. International partners can also provide technical assistance and support to strengthen Nigeria’s policing infrastructure.

Ultimately, the success of police reform in Nigeria hinges on the collective efforts of the government, the police force, and the citizens. By working together, we can create a policing system that embodies the values of justice, accountability, and respect for human rights. It is time to transform the Nigerian police from a source of fear and distrust into a pillar of security and trust for all Nigerians.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria and was National Commissioner Of The National Human Rights Commission Of Nigeria.

 

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