It is gratifying to note that again, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris, the other day ordered men of the Nigeria police to dismantle all roadblocks nationwide. The order was worthwhile except that it was not fully carried out for free flow of traffic during the festive period of Christmas and New Year. There were roadblocks everywhere as if the order was not communicated to some jurisdictions within the nation.
A general observation is that the police chiefs routinely issue directives that are not meant to be enforced. This is typical of the police force and it has become a perception challenge for the internal security authorities – the police.
The same failure of enforcement of order on roadblocks applies to IGP’s directive on the withdrawal of mobile policemen serving as personal guards. Has that directive been enforced? While roadblocks have generally reduced on the country’s highways, some unscrupulous policemen still mount illegal barricades to harass and extort money from motorists and road users in various parts of the country. These policemen ask for all manner of documents from motorists including tinted glass permit (long relaxed) just to fleece motorists.
Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, who announced the IG’s directive at a press briefing in Abuja also directed assistant inspector general (AIGs) and commissioners of police (CPs), to ensure compliance, including roadblocks established by revenue agencies, which are prohibited by law.
According to him, the move became necessary not to obstruct any road or highway, under the guise of collecting revenue, throughout the period of Christmas and New Year celebrations.
The PPRO said that the IGP also directed CPs and AIGs to ensure visibility and crime prevention patrols in their area of responsibilities (AOR) throughout the country.
He enjoined commissioners of police and their supervisory assistant inspectors general of police to be on ground to ensure adequate safety of lives and property of all Nigerians, during and after the period.
Notwithstanding that the country has serious security challenges, which make roadblocks seem necessary, experience shows that the roadblocks have been grossly abused by some unscrupulous policemen, with the result that the barricades don’t necessarily stop criminals from operating. Instead, police patrols on highways have been more effective.
We recall that the order against roadblocks and use of policemen as personal guards were not necessarily police policy but issued by the Federal Executive Council in March 2009. Sadly enough, ever since then, these orders have not been fully enforced. The police chiefs routinely re-issue the order as they please and no enforcement thereafter.
The job of enforcing the directive rests with the heads of commands and formations if instruction is passed down the line. It is only then that those who fail would be held responsible. But there is nothing to show that the police high command has issued such directive since no officer has been punished for non-compliance.
There have been insinuations that the police chiefs are just playing to the gallery, which explains why there has been no enforcement. If that is the case, the IGP’s directive is unnecessary and so should not be repeated henceforth.
We have noted here several times that the police should learn how to make security announcements that have implications for the country. The dismantling of roadblocks and or withdrawal of police guards could be done seamlessly by using police channels of communication without public notice.
Why should movement and withdrawal of security operatives be on any notice board?
It is wrong to announce to the world that roadblocks or security details attached to some VIPs were to be dismantled or withdrawn, thereby, exposing those concerned and the general public to avoidable danger. There is no doubt that some form of security barricades is needed in some areas to checkmate criminality and insurgency. This should be separated from the illegal police roadblocks. There are military roadblocks in some places, which may not be covered by the IG’s order.
The state of insecurity in the country is really frightening. Armed robbers are on the prowl. Kidnappers, ritual killers and fraudsters have become bolder in perpetrating crime. More policemen should be deployed to the flashpoints to tackle these problems. But the country is curiously under-policed, while most of the experienced operatives are attached to public officers, power and business elite, leaving the masses helpless, in this regard. It is the statutory duty of the police to provide security for all citizens.
Having said that, authorities in Nigeria need to migrate from rhetoric to action on police reform. There have been various reports on what to do to have a police force the nation of this stature deserves. There is no doubt that the Nigerian police officers work under squalid condition. They lack adequate and modern equipment to confront the sophistication of criminals and insurgents. The poor condition of service forces the rank and file to engage in untoward acts including mounting of roadblocks to extort money just to make ends meet. Even a recent ad-hoc arrangement the president announced recently about enhanced remuneration package is not significant.
However, the most critical reform that will change the fortune, structure, profile and efficiency of the police force is decentralisation of its operations. This should be done within the context of the restructuring of the federation we have repeatedly advocated. In fact, 36 states and Abuja cannot carry out directives and orders issued by an IGP in Abuja. That too has been part of the trouble with enforcement of orders from Abuja to all police formations in the 774 local government councils in the country. There is no federation within the Forum of Federations in the world that operates a centralised police force as we have in Nigeria. This is the first challenge the leadership should address as part of nation building in the context of national security.