The security forces in Nigeria – police, army, navy, air force, and paramilitary agencies – act with reckless abandon, impunity, and abuse of citizens’ dignity, more as agents of repression, instead of those given the powers and privileges of securing the general populace from internal criminal elements and external aggressors.
Data sourced from published reports in the media has shown that between January 2021 and January 2022, not less than 300 persons were shot dead by trigger-happy operatives of our security forces. The victims were not convicted to death by any court of law; they were extra-judicially murdered either individually or as groups, apparently to demonstrate how derogatorily the operatives look down on the lives of Nigerian civilians.
- Time to decolonize our security forces
- Nigeria: I can’t see light at the end of the tunnel – Prof Umar
Security agents in Nigeria act with impunity because the country’s post-colonial security infrastructure has not been exorcised of the ghost of its colonial lords. The primary objective of colonial rule, beyond polite rhetoric about ‘civilizing mission’, was to subdue and dehumanize the locals, both physically and culturally. Security forces such as the police and the army were essential instruments in the realization of these objectives. And these forces are still being influenced by the autocratic philosophy bequeathed Africa by the colonial administration characterized by incivility, brutality, emphasis on order rather than security and safety of citizens.
The mindset of security forces in Nigeria today is not different from those employed by security forces in 1929 to quell the Aba Women’s riot, or local soldiers who helped colonial masters to overthrow the various traditional institutions across the length and breadth of the country as European colonialists imposed imperial rule. Our security forces still do not see or regard Nigerians as citizens who have rights they must respect, but as ‘subjects’ that they must subjugate, just as in the old days.
As the late Innocent Chukwuma, a civil society activist, puts it in a paper entitled ‘Police Transformation in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects’, a paper which we urge all police officers to read, “the primary purpose of the police during this time [colonial era] was to advance the economic and political agenda of the colonizers. In many areas, the police engaged in the brutal subjugation of communities and the suppression of resistance to colonial rule. The use of violence and repression from the beginning of the colonial era, marked a dislocation in the relationship between the police and local communities, which has characterized law enforcement practices in Nigeria ever since.”
Unfortunately, political independence has not altered this disposition in the Nigeria Police. One reason is because the curriculum used in training our security forces has not changed over the years. Nor have the training drills and practices themselves. Consider the practice carried over from colonial days whereby new rank and file police recruits would have their heads shaved during training in order, as the story goes, to cleanse them, body and soul perhaps, of being proper to serve in the force.
What can be more humiliating and dehumanizing than that? But the point is that such training practices were meant not just to humiliate the police recruits but to make them hostile towards fellow citizens they supposedly trained to protect. It is high time this is altered.
Ideally, police should protect citizens from criminal elements, not only those in authority. The reverse is the case in Nigeria, as many police personnel serve as guards to politicians, top businessmen, and other rich and influential personalities who can pay, instead of being deployed to protect the people. This is not standard policing practice in metropolitan Britain, through the colonial origins of it are also easy to discern. Since colonial rule lacked popular legitimacy in the first place, a major goal of the police was to protect the men and women of colonial administration, rather than the general populace.
Unfortunately, such practices are still with us six decades after the end of formal colonial rule. As it seems in the current dispensation, the ambition of many security operatives is to be posted to such “juicy beats” – to protect the high and mighty in order to access easy cash. By so doing, the police especially, have failed to meet the safety and security needs of local communities and are easily overpowered by well-armed and often violent criminals. This is totally unacceptable in a post-colonial Nigeria, and in the face of the serious security challenges being experienced by citizens throughout the country.
In developed societies, the police protect citizens, therefore, in the United Kingdom, for instance, the phrase “policing by consent” has evolved, meaning, “the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.” This kind of ‘consent’ is lacking in Nigeria, as the police are seen, more as ‘enemies’ of the people than protectors of citizens.
We call for the immediate re-orientation of the police in Nigeria, from a system of patronage where individuals are favored by the government in return for their support. The security forces must not be tools of the ruling party in government or the rich. As it is applicable in all aspects of the Nigerian society – polity, economy, social system – our security forces need to be decolonized to make them relevant to the people, not abusers of human rights.