WEDNESDAY COLUMN BY USSIJU MEDANER
There have been mixed reactions since the appointment of the new Acting Inspector General of Police by the President. The expectation from the new leader is high; praises on the rise, and very many Nigerians are of the opinion that he could be the change the nation needs to revamp the Nigeria Police Force and to begin the process of curtailing internal crimes, unrest, and other insecurity in the country. How feasible this would be, only time will tell; but as the adage goes: man is the architect of his own fortune. Ag. IGP Usman Baba is the officer with the choices to make and saddled with such an avalanche of responsibility.
There is no gainsaying that the Nigerian Police Force is an institution with a strong mandate critical to the nation’s survival but with relatively small resources, internal challenges, and political interference as bottlenecks to meeting its constitutional mandate. The officers of the Force, on the street are regularly a sorry sight, but for few, when you compare them to what is obtainable in other climes globally. The composure, in terms of their adorned gears speaks volume of the seriousness of the institution. And then, the abandoned recklessness with which the Force, the bad eggs among, carry out their self-chosen style of extortions on the street, the extent some of some unprincipled officers were always willing to go to extort their victims, and then the eventual lack of regards for the Force and its officers across the country, have been major precipitating factors for the increasing crimes and criminality in Nigeria. The content and structure of the Force overtime has become both burdensome and worrisome, and the need for a holistic transformation cogently needed for the country to have the slightest chance to respond to its many internal security challenges from points of advantages.
It is also a fact that all attempts at addressing the nation’s insecurity without addressing the current challenges facing the nation’s Police Force and other security outfits will be tantamount to beating about the bush. Also, creating alternative states and regional security for the nation would not present a resolution to the problem but a future security danger to the country. It is time we understood what exactly the problems are and be ready to sincerely proffer and implement workable solutions accordingly. While leadership change normal, the operational policy agenda of the new security leadership must go out of the normal to address the core of the challenges that have over the years incapacitated the institution from delivering its mandate to the country and its citizens.
Repeatedly spoken, written and known by all and sundry, across the country and overseas, is the fact that the most conspicuous and affective problem of the Nigerian nation currently is insecurity. While we mostly look out for the outright physical incidents of kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry, insurgency, and many more elements of insecurity in the country, which constitute the direct consequences of the insecurity, on the bases of the fear, physical harms and deaths they bring to their victims, and the society at large, the nature, structure and content of our responses will bear little to no result, until we recognise the full details and extent of the indirect consequences of these increasing social ailments on our body system as a nation.
In the last few years, the capacity of the country to produce food crops has been seriously hampered; farmers no longer enjoy the natural freedom to engage in their vocation, as the combination of bandits attacks, Boko Haram attacks, and kidnapping, armed and criminal herders attacks, become a recurring problem to the farming communities across most of the food producing states and settlements across the country. Ultimately, the prices of staples have been on the increase without any respite ever since; food crop related inflation has become the highest in the country; rising to as much as 350 percent per unofficial – the realities of current market prices compared to what they used to be a few years ago.
The increase in prices of food items at a time when the country is faced with several other economic militating factors has continued to drive more citizens to the extreme and increasing the propensity of taking the wrong decisions and reaction pathways out of the untold hardship melted on all the citizens in the lower and middle economic classes. It then becomes the case of insecurity breeding insecurity; on a daily basis, as it now appears, more Nigerians are taking up arms against the country and their fellow citizens, thereby widening the national frame of insecurity and making fighting the social menace a more difficult task by the day.
The country’s distribution of its meager income has become too skewed to servicing the nation’s security machineries as part of the responses to the continuous and intimidating security challenges over the country; other sectors have to bear the brunt. Government’s attention, public discussion and debates, have all been shifted to the same direction; the government actions and inactions, performance and non-performance, are altogether parsed and judged by the concerned public over insecurity across the country. We have altogether lost sight of several other cogent sectors and elements of our national development, while worrying and fighting insecurity.
And that is not all: respect for the nation’s internal security apparatus gradually weakened to the point that except for the general thought of the legal consequences of maltreating the officers, the latter would not have a space in the country any longer. The disregard and general repugnance for the officers and the institution they represent is not limited to the citizens, who have legitimately concluded the Nigerian Police, represented by its officers in every corner of the country, without exception do not care about citizens security; but also by leaders at other levels of government outside the federal administration.
That is why today, we are seeing the bold response, in the form of widespread distrust in the capacity of the Police Force to protect the citizens, in the proliferations of regional security outfits across the country. What is the purpose of Amotekun? What is the duty of Hisbah in the North? And why create the new South East EbubeAgu, if not to do the job of the Police Force that has been literally considered a failed institution. Unfortunately, while the states and regional interests thought these outfits would effectively replace the Police force in their respective domains, the opposite would be the reality that would soon be dawn on the nation as per what the negative consideration of setting up, such, low profile, ill-trained and sectional security network on a delicate system like Nigeria.
Because of the degradation of the Force over time, we have created a greater security challenge for the country going into the future. Security outfits under the direct control of politicians in a politically polarised and over-conscious nation like ours is a time bomb in waiting. Would a time come when disbanding these ill-created outfits become necessary? What would become of them after then? Now that they are operational, we would soon begin to see the unholy use politicians can put them into; and if they are disbanded anytime, we would likely see the unbundling of a new set of domesticated terrorists on the nation.
How did we get here? For decades, the argument of a Police Force that is terrorising the society they should protect has been on the burner, but we did nothing about it. The atrocities of the officers on the road; collecting bribe with reckless abandon until they lost all form of regards from the citizens; the Police stations that despite the slogan “Police is your friend” has become a place of terror and agony for many citizens who have experienced unholy usage of influences by the officers of the Force to intimidate and, as much as they choose freely, miscarry the law and justice for the slightest financial gains.
So, what do we do from here now? For the country, this time presents the best of opportunities for revolutionising the nation’s Police Force; the change of leadership baton, bringing in a new Inspector General of Police, must extend beyond the normal rhetoric of leadership change as we have witnessed in the past.
There have been suggestions and myriad of advice pouring in for the newly appointed Inspector General of Police; but, while I definitely share the sentiments of most of the writers and advisers, I cannot but deviate from the regular and theoretical rhetoric. What exactly is the problem of the Nigeria police Force? what is the fulcrum on which all other deficiencies of the institution lay? From the outset, we have been more conscious of increasing the population of the Force; that, we did not achieve, as we failed in the process to consciously and efficiently discuss the more critical need of building quality into the institution and system of the nation’s Police Force.
Every police officer on the street is a product of the nation’s police recruitment process. But what quality control and quality assurance measures do we have in place to guarantee the country’s quality outputs – that is, well trained, psychologically, physically, legally and civil relationship wise. If there must be a new revolutionised Nigeria police Force, then it must begin with the conscious effort of the new leadership to overhaul its Force recruitment and training system and facilities to come into consonance with international best practices in civil security training.
You do not give guns and the supposedly respected uniforms to men who only see them as tools of exercising authority on the streets, suppressing the citizens and taking advantage to illegally and immorally enrich themselves at the expense of the very Nigerians they are to protect. We would not get the desirable change from the Force until the men in the uniform are re-orientated via the instrumentality of associated and normal prerequisite training for the job they do. In some of the developed societies we look up to, the police officers first hold themselves in the highest esteem from the way they dress and present themselves, unlike here where officers could be seen wearing close to rags and make-shift gears everywhere on the street of the country. That must be addressed until the officers accord their office the best of regard from the inside.
Also, policing in the twenty-first century has adopted technology; it is time the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force has a thought in this direction too. From the police vehicles to an effective communication and response equipment, to build-in control systems in the form of body cams for officers and digitalised documentation of crimes and criminality; that should be the new direction of a serious policing system in every serious country. And this is quite implementable in our country if only we will develop the will to go in that direction. This is the way to build quality into the system of the policing institution.
And then, we must talk about the remuneration of the officers of the Force; except we hope to deceive ourselves, the take home pay of police officers as it currently stands is an embarrassment to the country. How do we expect individuals with personal and aspirational responsibilities to concentrate on serving a country that does not put food on the table for their families or send their children and wards to school or have a designed guarantee program for their families in the eventuality of on-the-job casualties or death? The officers, though wrong and immoral, have for decades resulted in helping themselves out with the authority of the office and power of the guns they carry, to bridge the economic gaps created by the meager salaries they receive. To show the slightest sign of seriousness to reposition the Force, the new leadership must be willing to review the take home pay, welfare, and insurance packages of its officers at all cadres, as part of the complex package for repositioning the Force.
One other critical factor that must be taken into consideration by the new policeleadership is the perennial abuse of the Force by the political elites. A Police Force at the whims, beck and call of politicians cannot simultaneously serve the populace. It is a gory sight seeing Nigeria Police officers carrying bags and running petty errands for politicians and their family while serving as their domestic security across the country, nowhere exempted. Would the new Police leadership have the will to stand up to the politicians and regain the integrity of the Force? It is indeed a tough one, given the prevalence of the nation’s politicians with uncontrollable use of power and force for personal use; but nonetheless it is the way to go, a problem-space to address.
There is so much that needs to be done; so much that we cannot expect all to be done by a single leadership over a paltry few years. But we want to see the willingness backed up with some actions in the direction of desirable changes from the new Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba. It is our hope that he will be different in a whole new, radical ways from his predecessors.
At this junction, I have also suddenly recognised the near impossibility of achieving most of the grandeur issues raised here; not because they are beyond us but because they are out of the pack of the things those who dictate the tune would want to see happen to the country. The Inspector General of Police, whoever he may be, in the prevailing Nigeria arrangement, would face the Nigerian underground political leviathans, the high and strong who wield powerful influence even over the seat of police authority where he sits. Would the Police Commission, the Ministry of Police Affair, the National Assembly oversight committee on the Police, and even the state governors give up on the undue benefits they have regularly appropriated over the decades from the decay in the Police Force? This yet another thesis level question for us to deliberate upon.
Finally, I do hope this last yet brief point would serve as a motivation to the new police leader: the nation is at the point of collapsing and Nigerians, regardless of their differences are hoping someone could have the strong will to create the change that will give them some deserving rest from the barrage of insecurity that has become the most constant occurrence in their lives and the consequences of the same that has been making life unbearable for all. Could you, Mr. IGP be that man for the people of Nigeria?
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA