A majority of Nigerians have always suspected a very high level of corruption in the Nigeria Police Force. But when the allegation comes from the very top echelon of the police it is indeed a serious matter. Mr. Musiliu Smith, a former Inspector General of Police, now chairman of the Police Service Commission, told the Senate last Wednesday that corruption in the force had worsened to the extent that dealers in illicit drugs and other criminals give gifts of houses to serving police officers. He spoke during a public hearing on a bill to repeal the Police Act CAP 19, 2004.
Mr. Smith appeared to attribute the cause of this endemic corruption to poor funding of the force. This, according to him, is responsible for its inability “to discharge its constitutional responsibility of maintaining law and order and protecting life and property”. He compared the police of his time with the force of today. “We met a police when all the training schools were working. We met a police where you could not be promoted without writing an examination. We met a police where every policeman lived in the barracks”. The situation today, however, is different, such that “policemen are given houses by criminals and hard drug bandits. That needs to change. We should think of additional funding source for the police.
“In Lagos State, a governor came into office. He didn’t like what he met on the ground. He invited some of us to change what was on the ground. That was what gave birth to Lagos State Police Trust Fund. We can’t tackle insecurity without this. Let us think of that. The annual yearly budget ritual can’t help. It will not take us anywhere. If you want a highly motivated Police Force, we should adequately fund it”.
Firstly, we commend Mr. Smith forthrightness and courage to admit what others before had been reluctant to confess. It is also instructive that the present Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris did not attempt to contradict Smith on the rot in the police. This said, we wish to agree again with Smith that the force’s annual budget is indeed inadequate to enable it meet the nation’s expectations. We also accept other sources of funding to be explored. However, what we want to say is that even the little the force receives from the government is not used judiciously. Much of it is pocketed by top officers of the force.
It is not uncommon to see pot-bellied officers these days. Contrast this picture with that of the rank and file in torn uniform and worn out boots. Men and women of the force go without salary for months. There have been cases of officers posted to fight the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east deserting their duty posts, complaining of poor welfare and lack of equipment. This is not because funding of the force is inadequate though, as we said, it is a problem. The main reason is that senior officers often pocket a huge chunk of funds the force gets from what Smith described as the “ritual of annual budgeting”. Unless that orientation is changed, giving the force more funds will not improve its performance significantly. The money will still go into the private pockets of those thieving top officers. Some time this year, a very senior officer was accused of owning several mansions in Dubai in the United Arab Emirate. He admitted he had property in that part of the world but claimed it belonged to his wife. The matter has not been investigated and the officer is still on his seat.
We now consider the implications of Smith’s admission that armed bandits and drug barons give “gifts of houses” to police officers. It means that such officers are badly compromised. It makes the transition from a crime fighter to a criminal very likely. We heard of officers who have put away their uniform to rob on highways. The number may be small but we are unaware of the adage that a soiled finger passes the dirt to the other fingers. That finger must be quickly washed before it spreads the dirt. Unfortunately, in the case of police officers who accept “gifts of houses” from criminals Smith did not say what is being done about them. We dare suggest the obvious: they should be found and taken out of the force.