Road to greatness – The Nation

…Ex-IGP Okiro lists challenges of the police and possible way out

Former Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Sir Mike Okiro, has given insights into why the growth of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has been stunted. Okiro bared his mind in an interview with Daily Sun. He spoke on diverse issues, including policy somersaults and how they have negatively affected not just the police but the nation; the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), inadequate funding, which manifests in the inability of the police to procure arms to effectively maintain internal security, inadequate accommodation, lack of motivation, disdain for the force by Nigerians, the feats that the Nigerian Police performed during external engagements, etc.

In actual fact, Okiro said nothing novel. Most of the issues he canvassed had been raised severally at different fora. But the perspectives, as a cop of about 32 years standing, rising through the ranks to the topmost position of the ladder, are quite instructive. He had seen it all.

One of the takeaways from the interview is that while some of the challenges confronting the police force are self-inflicted, others are systemic and cannot be solved by any individual IGP, no matter how well intended he might be. According to Okiro, a country gets the kind of police it deserves. What do we expect in a situation where the police force is neglected for long? Okiro cited at least two instances when this occurred and the consequences are obvious; indeed, some are still visible today. We’ll make reference to one for space constraints. “During my tenure as Chairman, Police Service Commission (PSC), I discovered to my utter consternation that once again Nigeria Police had not recruited for five years up to 2014 and had lost 59,000 officers due to retirements, death, dismissal, etc.” His request for replacement of the 59,000 yielded only 10,000 men! This has always been the pattern.

Ironically, while the political class is usually reluctant to approve requests for adequate police personnel despite the obvious shortfall in the police-to-citizen ratio of one policeman to every 450 persons approved by the United Nations, it is ever eager to corner sufficient policemen for itself, at the expense of the populace.

Of course, the neglect manifests in diverse other ways. Another is the area of inadequate arms and equipment. Here, Okiro made what seems a startling revelation, or at least a reminder to those who might have known how SARS came about. SARS, as we came to know it as at the time of its disbandment last year, following the #EndSARS campaign, was a child of necessity. It was Okiro’s response to the challenge of lack of arms and equipment in the police force. This became more acute following the proscription of the  use of Mark IV rifles  by armed governments worldwide. “Some police officers were as a consequence posted to beats and posts without arms!” And this at a time when Shina Rambo, the notorious car snatcher who terrified Lagos whenever he came for operations, held sway.

Okiro said he was an assistant commissioner of police in Lagos when he suggested the idea of the squad to the then commissioner of police, with the nitty-gritty of what they needed and their modus operandi. According to him, “The SARS I created were operational, not investigative…They responded to robbery incidents after which they withdrew for the robbery section in the state CID to do the investigation.”

Unfortunately, SARS later became bastardised, leading to its being entangled in all manner of things, including being used for vendetta and in settling personal scores. Its atrocities, particularly against the youths, were to be the last straw that led to its disbandment. Okiro himself regretted creating the squad, seeing the abuses to which it was put by some of the officers who ran it as at last year, who “…were either not born or had not even joined the police by 1991 when SARS came into being. So, they did not know the vision nor the raison detre of SARS; that was why they derailed woefully and disgracefully.”

Apart from laudable ideas such as SARS that actually saw the light of day but were later abused, there were countless others that suffered from what Okiro repeatedly referred to as “policy somersault.” These involved projects started by someone but which, for inexplicable reasons would be discontinued or scrapped by his successors. The force is replete with many examples of such cited by Okiro.

Interestingly, the same Nigeria Police Force that is despised at home is often celebrated abroad during international engagements, a thing which had won it recognition, with some international appointments given some Nigerians, including Okiro himself, as a result of such excellent performances.

One thing the former police boss did not mention, however, is the need for decentralisation of the police force, in spite of the challenges of funding, which he dwelt upon copiously himself. This is understandable. But, if, as it has consistently proved, the Federal Government cannot efficiently fund the police, why not return to the past when regions maintained their police forces? After all, some states, notably Lagos, are already assisting the federal police with huge funds and logistics

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