Pay them – The Nation

  • Volunteer-constables will only work if the officials are recognised and remunerated

When the Federal Government finally announced that the long-sought-for community policing would soon take off, many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief. At last, many said, the voice of reason may be prevailing. As we have contended many times, it is obvious that a security system controlled and directed solely from the centre is doomed to fail in a plural political, cultural and religious setting like Nigeria.

It is impracticable for a police commissioner from a state in the South South to effectively take charge of men and territory in the tip of the North West. The language, culture, religious beliefs and collective aspirations of the people may be so strange to him and his men assembled from various parts of the country and that would stand in the way of devising appropriate strategies for combating conflicts and crimes.

Since the military took over governance structure in 1966, the command system has been foisted on the country politically, fiscally and security wise. This is the time to begin a meaningful and effective decentralisation as was, indeed, the situation in the First Republic when the Native Authorities had their own policemen. Recent security challenges have pointed at policing as one area to start the decentralisation. The community policing strategy of the Nigeria Police Force is an acknowledgement of this fact, even if it does not fully address the problem that has become hydra-headed.

While the operational details have not been fully unfolded, it has been announced that the special constables to be recruited will not be paid salaries. Police spokesman Frank Mba, a deputy commissioner, said it’s a volunteer job for professionals. This might have emanated from the fact that funding has been a tough challenge for the force over the years. Mr. Mba said it is an opportunity for Nigerians to demonstrate their patriotism. Indeed, it could be argued that it’s a way of getting the people, who understand their terrain, involved in securing lives and properties in the various communities across the country.

While this may be correct, we are concerned that this decision could imperil the initiative before it is ever given the chance to take off. Volunteerism is well established in affluent societies but it may not be suitable for a poverty- stricken country like Nigeria where every kobo counts for the average citizen. It must, in the first place, be understood that the rural communities- villages, hamlets, farmsteads –  outnumber the urban centres where the professionals congregate. Second, this is a task that would bring participants in harm’s way. It therefore is appropriate that they be remunerated somewhat. It should be taken into consideration that Nigeria cannot be compared to advanced societies where people freely and readily volunteer their services in the national interest, as the patriotic spirit has not taken root here. Nigerians are wont to take exception to the inequity in the distribution of wealth, and blame their poverty on a rapacious ruling elite that has cornered the common wealth.

Going on with the scheme as being conceived could introduce a new tier of corruption as those recruited are likely to use their authority to extort hapless citizens. Corruption is already endemic in the country; we cannot afford to deepen it through a haphazard policing system at the grassroots level.

Community policing is a good initiative of the federal police authority that, if well funded and complemented by similar initiatives by the federating units, will make Nigerians living in the cities and the farmsteads more secure. But no one should see it as an opportunity to render initiatives such as Amotekun in the South West needless. All hands must be on deck and, when a new security architecture fully emerges, the military can then be withdrawn to the barracks to face their primary task of defending the country’s territorial integrity while the police take over internal security.

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