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Imperative of a return to policing Nigeria

This week, one of the main stories is the declaration by the Nigerian Police Force that Senator Isah Hamman Misau is not a Senator but…

This week, one of the main stories is the declaration by the Nigerian Police Force that Senator Isah Hamman Misau is not a Senator but a serving police officer that absconded while on active service. In consequence, the Police Service Commission has invited Misau to appear before the Special Investigations Panel with his letter of retirement, which he claimed was genuinely issued to him for authentication. From repeated public comments by police officers in the media, they have essentially declared him to be a dangerous criminal even before the investigation begins.

The Senator has been a very public official and over the years, the police never declared him a wanted person until he made accusations of corruption against its leadership. It is the very worst way of responding to allegations that appear to be very credible. He reaction confirms what people have been saying that if you try to expose police corruption, their immediate visceral reaction is to counter attack you with a criminal offence to blackmail and shut you up. 

One of the allegations that Misau made is that the police charge VIPs and others for services and this money is “chopped” by “Oga at the top”. I heard the police PRO claiming on radio that it is a lie that they charge for their services. Almost everybody knows however that about 130,000 out of the 370,000 police personnel in Nigeria are on VIP guard duty and most of them work on the basis of payment made to their bosses. By the time you add those on commercial guard duty to those legitimately guarding public officials. There are no more police officers available to carry out routine security, law and order work. It is for this reason that the army is deployed to 32 States in Nigeria to carry out security work that the police are not available to do. We must address this core problem of the lack of policing Nigeria by recreating a functional police force.

In early August, I participated in a seminar organised by the State Security Service on the theme – Unity in Diversity: Security and National Development. In his contribution, former Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase lamented the absence of a comprehensive threat analysis to peaceful coexistence and called for more proactive responses that would nip threats in the bud rather than wait for the threats to overwhelm us. 

He reminded the Seminar about the disfunctionality of the Nigerian Police Force, which he admitted was not fit for purpose. He recalled that the Danmadami Police Reform Committee had made extensive recommendations that would have made the police more efficient and functional. Government in its Whitepaper had accepted the key recommendations but nothing has happened in terms of implementation. He was quite forthright in his comments that the role of the Inspector General of Police is standards and quality control but as more operational duties are centred in the police headquarters, we cannot expect things to work efficiently. The available resources of the police are largely consumed in the office of the IGP and very little is left for operations in the States. It is because State Governors know this to be true that they all invest massively to fund minimal police functions in their States.

With the numerous security challenges Nigeria is facing today, ranging from resurgent secessionists, Niger Delta militants, religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram terrorists and so on, Nigeria desperately needs a functional police and the first step in that direction is to reduce corruption from the Police Force.

The Nigeria Police, under normal circumstances, has the primary responsibility of maintaining law and order in Nigeria. It is expected that before trouble rears its head, the police would have nipped it in the bud. No operation within the civil population should be conducted without the involvement of the Police. The Police investigation department should be aware of all nefarious activities of individuals and or groups in the society. The police have not recovered from the cannibalisation of its investigation department to establish the National Security Organisation and subsequently, the State Security Service. If kidnappers can act with impunity on certain roads for years, its precisely because that capacity for intelligence gathering and investigation has been lost for a long time,

I had the privilege of serving on the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the clash between the Nigerian Army and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). We heard a series of complaints of the seeming helplessness of the Nigeria Police Force, which for years simply did not police the activities of the group. For example, we received a memorandum from the Gyallesu Community in Zaria where they highlighted the refusal or inability of the Police to arrest the members of the IMN even in situations where serious cases of breach of peace or commission of crime, such as murder, arson and destruction of property were committed. The Police were reported to have severally sent back the complainants with the advice that they should go and defend themselves. 

The Nigeria Police were aware of the many excesses of the IMN including cases of murder, which were reported to them but they failed to effect arrests and prosecution of perpetrators before the Courts of Law. The Police acknowledged that members of the IMN have no regard for constituted authority, do not respond to Police invitations and resist arrest; yet they failed to take any measure such as to protect innocent members of the public. In addition, the Police deliberately stayed clear of engaging the members of the IMN even when there were brazen violations of the Law, such as blockages of public roads to the detriment of other road users and illegal occupation of roads, schools, mosques etc. The army gets called in to intervene in matters of breakdown of law and order precisely because the police are unable to do their work.

Moving forward, the Government should ensure the presence of the Nigerian Police in every community and other flash point areas for effective maintenance of law and order. The army is not trained for dealing with civil tensions so an immediate effort is required to make the Police Authorities to revisit the system of Nigeria Mobile Police Force Unit, as it was in the yesteryears, so that involvement of the Military in the management of civil disorder would be minimized. Currently, there is a recruitment process into the police and there are concerns that the process has been compromised by massive corruption. The Police Authority should ensure that recruitment into the Force should be done on merit, suitability and character as the Nigeria Police of today contains all manner of shady characters. In line with the above, it should ensue professionalizing the Nigeria Police through capacity building, procurement of civil disorder management equipment and improved welfare for ordinary police men and women.


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