Seeking to win over a deeply-sceptical public, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered the withdrawal of the officers attached to very important personalities. Adamu’s directive hints at a wider police reform: 10 days before this, he had disbanded the notorious tactical squad, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, and replaced it with the Special Weapons and Tactical team. The IG warned, “Any protect personnel found escorting or guarding any VIP with or without a firearm is deemed to be deployed by the commander and the commander will be sanctioned.” The question is: Will the IG not buckle under intense pressure to reverse the order like his predecessors did?
Understandably, the order is enmeshed in a pall of pessimism on the controversial taxpayer-funded police protection for VIPs. Although Nigeria is grossly under-policed, over 40 per cent of its police is attached to VIPs and unauthorised persons. Additionally, there are several ills bedevilling the Nigeria Police Force that make it so ineffective in discharging its core duty of maintaining law and order. It is shorthanded and the workforce poorly trained. With between 350,000 and 370,000 personnel for a population of 200 million, it cannot meet the United Nations recommendation of 340:100,000 police-to-citizen ratio, rendering it grossly ineffective in fighting crime. In 2016, the International Police Science Association and the Institute for Economics and Peace based on their assessment of 127 countries, ranked the Nigeria Police the worst in the world. Over the past three weeks, the country has been in turmoil primarily because of police brutality and harassment of the youth.
Despite being a federal state, the NPF operates a centralised structure, which does not take into account the peculiarities and the needs of the country’s disparate communities. Unlike other federal states, policing is on the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution. Nevertheless, crime, like nature, abhors a vacuum. With the police all at sea, insecurity has assumed monstrous dimensions around the country. Nigerians are groaning under the yoke of kidnapping and armed robbery. These days, there is little difference between Fulani herdsmen atrocities and those of bandits in the North-West and Boko Haram Islamists in the North-East. In its 2019 report, the Global Terrorism Index rated Nigeria the third most terrorised country in the world behind Afghanistan and Iraq respectively.
Despite lacking adequate workforce, feeble attempts have been made to withdraw police officers from VIPs in the past by successive IGs. None worked. Before the October 21 directive, the incumbent IG made a similar withdrawal order in February 2019, which suggests that though the directive is desirable to achieve better security nationwide, the IGs lack the political mettle to implement it. There are several pertinent issues.
First is the influence of the elite. Although a majority of them are not entitled legally to police details, they wield undue influence in police circles. More than the threat perception, having a police officer around for security has become a status symbol for many. Second, there are allegations of the huge funds that flow into the coffers of the police through the racket. Isa Misau, a former police officer elected as a senator in the Eighth National Assembly, alleged that billions of naira exchanged hands monthly to sustain the practice. With the public suffering greatly from the insecurity plaguing the country, these IGs have no cogent reasons to keep making orders repeatedly without enforcing them. They are just robbing Peter to pay defenceless Paul.
Because of the withdrawal charade, there are few officers left for core police duties like investigations and patrols. As such, most Nigerian communities are at the mercy of criminals. Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, lamented recently that only 30 officers were available to patrol the state’s rural communities, where banditry has taken a bloody turn. Indeed, a former IG and Police Service Commission chairman, Mike Okiro, lamented that about 150,000 of the police force are engaged in guarding VIPs.
In other countries, the favoured practice is for VIPs to retain the services of private security guards. From India to China and Europe to North America, the use of private security is gaining momentum. In 2017, the Freedonia Group, a global market-research firm, reported that the private security industry was growing at 6.0 per cent annually. It put the industry value in the United States at $54.5 billion. In the United Kingdom, the British Security Industry Association estimated the private security industry at more than £6 billion in 2015. Globally, it was $180 billion, more than the GDP of 100 countries, with a projection of $240 billion in 2020. The world’s largest private security company, G4S, had more than half a million employees around the world, and reported revenues of £6.8 billion in 2016, and profits of £454m, Freedonia added.
By 2013, India had seven million private security guards, outstripping the police, which had 1.7 million officers. The US Department of Labour statistics said the industry employed 1.1 million persons in contrast to the 666,000 police officers. In Britain, 232,000 private guards were employed in 2015, compared with 151,000 police. In China, with 2.7 million police, another five million are engaged as private guards. In all, the report said 19.5 million are employed globally in the private security industry.
This pragmatic approach offers Buhari and the IG a way out of the dilemma. Not only will it provide employment and boost GDP, it will free the police of the encumbrance of not having enough officers to carry out their primary duties. Since the ex-governors, former ministers, businessmen, politicians, entertainers and clerics desirous of extra protection can afford this service, they should be made to get it without putting undue pressure on the fragile police system.