At the risk of becoming fatalistic, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has restated the salient points behind the farcical state of the Nigeria Police Force. In his defence of the agency’s 2019 budget proposals before the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs, Adamu laid the blame for the NPF’s wretched state on staff strength deficiency and meagre funding. This is not surprising; certainly not to the National Assembly, which considers the police budget annually or the public that endures the incessant security breaches.
Over time, policing in Nigeria has diminished – in standards and operational competence. In a country close to the 200 million-population mark, the rot sticks out like a sore thumb. The operational strength of its police force is just 301,737 personnel, Adamu affirmed. At that rate, it translates to one police officer to secure about 662 citizens, though the figure may not reflect its true operational strength as some personnel are traffic wardens and civilian staff.
It falls short of the United Nations recommended ratio of 1:400. In contrast to the situation in Nigeria, Singapore has a ratio of 1:137, Egypt 1:186 and South Africa 1:366, statistics by the UN show. These are countries where professionalism is given a pride of place in policing.
The police are also weakened by elite interest. A chunk of the core personnel — close to 200,000 by different accounts — are deployed to secure VIPs and those who can foot the bill. Shamefully, no IG —including the incumbent — has been brave enough to withdraw these officers and properly reassign them.
In addition, the police are miserably under-funded. There is a huge gap between needs and releases. Adamu’s immediate predecessor, Ibrahim Idris, told the National Assembly in 2018 that the force required N1.3 trillion annually for its operations. But in 2016, the NPF received N10.02 billion out of a capital appropriation of N16.1 billion. For overheads, it got N6.34 billion from a vote of N9.25 billion. It had proposed to spend N331 billion and N90.6 billion on capital and overhead costs respectively that year. Adamu told legislators last week that from a capital budget estimate of N342.9 billion for 2018, the force received only N25.2 billion.
This partly accounts for the pathetic situation of the force. Officers are poorly compensated and ill-equipped: Outwardly, they look ragged. Many police stations lack basic tools and weapons to fight crime. In this era of sophisticated crime, this is a recipe for gross failure. Several Nigerian communities are left un-policed: bandits have hijacked states like Zamfara, Katsina, Rivers, Taraba, Kebbi and Sokoto. The Abuja-Kaduna Expressway has become a den of armed robbers and kidnappers. So overwhelming is insecurity that the military have been drafted to 33 states for police duties.
Nonetheless, blaming the rot in the police on funding alone misses the point. For one, many state governments like Lagos (through its Security Trust Fund), Enugu, Borno, Ogun and Cross River allocate huge funds to support the police. Corporate organisations and individuals do the same, but, largely, this has not worked principally because of the flawed centralised policing system.
In this incongruous structure, governors are the “chief security officers” of their states only in name, unable to give simple directives to the police. Allocating massive funds to this dubious structure through the Police Trust Fund Bill passed by the legislature, as the incumbent IG and his predecessor had canvassed, is a futile mission. This will only treat the symptoms of the disease; it will not change anything significantly. The bureaucracy will only get bigger and swallow scarce funds.
The police system is rather in need of a major overhaul. The deployment of technology is paramount. The United Kingdom has between 4.2 and 5.9 million CCTV cameras, or one camera for every 14 Britons, says the British Security Industry Association. It is unfortunate that a $470 million Chinese CCTV project for Abuja and Lagos conceived in 2010 failed. The federal and state governments have to establish forensic operations, automatic registration number recognition systems and adequately fund the police. The current recruitment process that allows criminals to become police officers has to be swiftly reformed in line with the aspiration to promote efficiency.
In all this, the biggest issue bedevilling policing is the subsisting single agency structure. Some elite interest groups have resisted all attempts to review this anomaly. Ideally, a federal political entity like Nigeria ought to have several layers of policing: Policing must be devolved as a first major step. This is the practice in the United States (with a federal, state, county, community, schools policing system), Belgium, Germany and Australia.
On its part, the United Kingdom, though a unitary entity has devolved policing to 43 constituent forces. There, even the appointment of the police chief is anchored on merit. It is based on rigorous interviews, not seniority and loyalty to the president or ethnic considerations. Nigeria will continue to be a hostage to criminals until a policing system that is appropriate for a large and divergent society is established. According to the late statesman, Obafemi Awolowo, “police is a residual subject, because the immediate problem of maintaining law and order can only be properly and more effectively tackled by the state governments.”
Meanwhile, state governors should stop being indifferent to insecurity and creatively take charge of security in their domains. Without constitutional amendment, states in the North operate religious police outfits. Nothing stops other states from operating their own mini- security forces. Governors should boldly test the limit of the constitution on state police.