With his focus on the benefits associated with robust policing, the newly appointed chairman of the Police Service Commission, Musiliu Smith, has reopened the old debate about how to clear the rot in the Nigeria Police Force. The PSC boss wants to sanitise the system by flushing out “unruly, incompetent officers.” Bearing in mind the well-entrenched mess in the force, Smith’s avowal resonates with the public, who have suffered untold police oppression.
The police in Nigeria cut a pitiable image: some officers look tattered or dirty. They extort money from the public, lock up innocent people and lack respect for basic human rights. Following persistent outcry against the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, the acting President Yemi Osinbajo, on Tuesday, ordered the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to overhaul the unit. The SARS was established with the noble intention of fighting violent crimes. But it has woefully derailed, and has become a tool for terrorising innocent Nigerians.
For Osinbajo’s belated intervention to be meaningful, the acting President has to cut to the chase. This is because there is a serious leadership deficit in the NPF. Following serial human rights abuses, torture and extra-judicial killings, aggrieved Nigerians, in December 2016, formed the #EndSARS movement to scrap the unit. In the aftermath, the IG promised to reform SARS, but his avowal collapsed within a short time. On its own, it is apparent that the police leadership lacks the will to implement the much-desired administrative reforms.
Although the NPF boasts staff strength of about 300,000, over 100,000 officers are attached to VIPs. As a result, the ordinary citizen lacks police protection. This is outrageous. In April, the IG promised to withdraw these officers. But, as was the case with his predecessors, Idris was making an empty boast. In August 2017, a senator, Isah Misau, alleged that the police hierarchy made N10 billion a month by attaching officers to VIPs. This template is made for graft to thrive, which should not be.
Security is a priority for a responsive constitutional government; all citizens are to be protected, not a few VIPs. Osinbajo and Buhari need to get serious to save the system. We urge the President and his deputy to implement the immediate withdrawal of police officers from those not recognised in the 1999 Constitution as deserving of police detail.
Apart from the deficient leadership, the other issues bedevilling the police bear repeating. Among them are the recruitment and promotion of officers. Shockingly, a former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, once said that armed robbers were being recruited into the force. These officers compromise the system. In 2017, an America-based Nigerian said he bought three pump-action rifles and cartridges at the Lagos State Police Command. “Each of these guns cost me N150,000, but I can’t remember how much I paid for the cartridges,” he said. The ball is in the PSC chairman’s court, having been an IG before.
Promotion and welfare constitute another invidious debacle. There was a protest in Jos, Plateau State, early this month by a group representing 2,226 graduate officers, who alleged that their promotion, having been delayed for three years, had been politicised.
Protests have also occurred, including the one last July in Maiduguri, Borno State, over unpaid entitlements and underpayment.
Mobile police officers barricaded a road in the capital and shot indiscriminately, alleging that their allowances had not been paid for six months. Officers reportedly buy their own uniforms and other accoutrements like tear gas, torches, whistles, batons, lanyard and handcuffs – in the open market. Procurement of these items is the responsibility of the NPF. By treating officers this way, the government injects corruption into the system.
Perhaps, this is partly why bribery and extortion are the order of the day in the force. This comes with tragic consequences for the citizens. Chinonso Onyeme, 30, and a father of four, was a victim of this on August 7 in Agulu, Anambra State, when an officer shot him dead for refusing to part with a bribe. In July, officers in the anti-kidnapping unit of the Edo State Command extorted N100,000 from a businessman, Emmanuel Alabede, through mobile transfer. Thankfully, the Edo Commissioner of Police, Johnson Kokumo, has refunded Alabede’s money after he rounded up the errant officers. In June, a mobile police officer, based in Lagos, absconded from his post. In Ekiti, where he resurfaced, he went berserk and shot Opeyemi Bamidele, an All Progressives Congress stalwart in the state and five others, at a rally.
In truth, conventional reforms might not make much difference in the current miasma. Institutional reforms are better. Therefore, the entire rotten structure has to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch, not just SARS alone. First, the current recruitment system has to go. Officers should be hired after they might have undergone stringent background and competence checks. Politics will not give Nigeria a capable force; it should be given a short shrift. Promotion should be based purely on merit, not the much-abused quota system.
Notably, the United Nations has substantial experience in implementing police reforms, having collaborated with several countries, including Namibia and Afghanistan, to rebuild their police forces. It carried out this onerous task in conjunction with the European Union Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the country emerged from conflict in 1995. For Nigeria to move to a modern era, the Buhari government should institutionalise reforms in collaboration with the multilateral agencies, drive change with technology and prosecute complicit officers. Failure to do so can only prolong the tyranny Nigerians are being subjected to by unruly, unconscionable and ill-trained police predators.