What comes to mind when you think about the Nigerian Police? Surely not smartly dressed law keepers, making sure the society’s wheels are oiled – well enough to see to the smooth running of things – and the protection of you and yours.
I will not be far from the truth if I state that the image that comes to the average Nigerian’s mind, following questions of this nature, is that of an AK47 toting, ill-fittingly-dressed bugger whose major objective is to collect illegal tolls from commercial drivers.
I will also not be incorrect if I go further to add that what comes to mind when you behold them during crisis is not a feeling of relief, but mind numbing fear that compels you to take off faster than the guilty party, or risk becoming a victim. Little wonder witnesses who would have been instrumental to solving cases seldom turn up when called to do so. Even when they do turn up, or are compelled to do so, accompanying tales of sordid experiences in police cells make it difficult for would be witnesses to toe their path.
These and other more horrifying images have for years remained the general perception of the police, and despite cosmetic attempts by the government and police authorities to change this, it has so far remained thus.
How did the police, an institution that in other climes exude perfection and is many a nation’s pride, get to the sorry state where it is being viewed with the same consternation one does a terrorist organisation? The answer, and consequently, the truth, is the fact that the police in Nigeria has never been a people-centric institution. From its early days as a colonial enforcer, the police have acted as an enemy of the people and a friend to the subjugating authorities.
The Nigerian Police has for years, whether institutionalised or not is a question for another day, maintained the image of brutality that have become synonymous with them by implementing very little attitudinal changes – beyond pasting the slogan “the police is your friend” on the walls of their offices, and cars.
They are more likely to shoot suspects in cold blood, than thoroughly investigate crimes – the present Boko Haram crisis is traceable to this heinous penchant. Even when they arrest suspects, they are apt to dump them in the nation’s equally pathetic prisons, where they add to the number of awaiting trial inmates whose cases stalls for months on account of missing or non-filed case files.
The rot in the Nigerian Police Force touches all strata of the institution. I am personally yet to meet a police officer who would not take a proffered bribe or demand for such. However, this is not to say that they do not exist, it only shows that they are very rare and the practice is in effect, a culture. Furthermore, the professionalism that one would expect is largely absent. Records are still being kept in old style file cabinets – in this age of info technology when seamless coordination is at the beck and call of even secondary school students.
However, the most visible evidence of the state the Nigerian Police Force, as well as the mindset of its leadership and rank and file, is exemplified by the state of their vehicles, which, after a few months of use, look nothing less than moving scraps. A situation that portrays a dearth of maintenance culture, especially when similar vehicles belonging to other security agencies, bought or donated at the same period, remain in prime condition.
The lack of entrenched professionalism in all cadres, unwillingness to adjust to present realities by the police authorities, and the consistent resort to the force attached to their name while dealing with the man on the street, makes the Nigerian Police ill equipped to deal with the realities of the day.
However, like in most problems that afflict the world we live in, there are solutions.
For starters, modernising the Nigerian Police Force; this can be achieved by connecting all police stations in Nigeria to the Internet and providing basic IT knowledge to the men. This will go a long way in addressing the lack of coordination that result from the widespread use of archaic filing methods, which make it impossible to share information between stations at the click of a button.
Another thing that needs urgent and serious checking is the penchant for plain-clothes policemen to be indistinguishable from armed robbers, or how else would one describe men in shoddy tee-shirts and jeans, toting AK47’s?
That brings us to another salient point, manning the police with intelligent, dedicate officers. There are thousands of intelligent, dedicated and resourceful graduates currently walking the streets of Nigeria looking for any job to do; harnessing this ready manpower would go a long way in addressing many of the issues relating to image and intelligence.
I doubt, however, that the police, as presently constituted, is geared for change. If that hunch is infallible, then Nigerians have no option but continue existing in a society where their avowed protectors are already incapacitated by ineptitude.
Wrote this article last year for DailyTimes.com but thought to re-post here after the event described by the picture below culled from Sahara Reporters