FEATURE ARTICLE

Olumide OgunleyeWednesday, July 13, 2005
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CAN AN OUTSIDER REFORM NIGERIAN POLICE?


he Nigerian Police (NP) grew from a few thousand men regiment in pre-independence years to a force of hundreds of thousands men today. They now consist of the mobile force, anti-robbery teams, under-cover criminal investigators, detectives and regular cops. There are now police training colleges scattered across the country.


In the colonial up till immediate post independence era the NP grew from accepting a few tubers of yams, bags of gari, a few chickens and absolutely no cash to a current force imbued with incredible culture of bribery and corrupt practices unheard of in the history of Nigeria. Bribes requested and accepted are now in the millions of Naira. Let us forget about the pervasive twenty naira collections at police check points which will also run into millions of Naira when collected from hundreds or thousands of check points across the nation.

Let us focus on the bribes received for drugs cases covered up, extra-judicial murders and assassinations covered up and massive electoral frauds perpetrated by politicians in connivance with the police. Of course money usually changed hands for the cover up to succeed. There is also internal corruption within the NP where contracts are inflated, contracts awarded are not implemented at all or under-implemented, funds allocated to specific police welfare programs disappear into private accounts of top level police officers. There are also cases of evidence tampering, disappearance of crime exhibits, planting of evidence, substitution of criminals with innocent persons, summary execution of suspects the list is endless.

At various time in the checkered history of the NP attempts have been made to reform the police with no success. The attempt has been at best half-hearted and not thorough. The focus of the reforms has always been changing the inspector general of police (IGP). This is like a man who had headache and the recommended treatment was for him to get a new hair cut and wear a new hat. In all cases where the IGP was changed for purposes of reform, he is replaced with another IGP who rose through the ranks, went through the same training, totally acculturated in the NP norms and practices. I have heard it said that a thief knows how to catch another thief but I have never heard it said that a thief can reform another thief better.

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I am trying to make a case for reforming the NP using the instrumentality of outside resources. Over the years we have tried to use the members of the police force to reform the police but have failed for obvious reason mentioned above. I say may be it is time to try something else!

The problems of the NP as enumerated by successive IGP and other observers include among others shortage of manpower, poor salary and benefits, use of outdated weapons, lack of adequate and modern telecommunication equipment, no vehicles, shortage of funds for operation, poor training, corruption among the rank and file, political interference, poor recruitment practices, poor accommodation and so on. I am comfortable to say that most if not all the issues listed are human resources management problems; others are administrative while few are operational. In other words it is conceivable to conclude that these problems bedeviling the NP can be addressed by any individual that is equipped with the education, experience and intelligence of a committed manager of men and material resources.

I am trying to convince my reader that the chief of police or IGP does not have to be a police officer for him or her to be effective. As a matter of fact the IGP of the NP has to be appointed from outside the police hierarchy for his reforms to be effective and far reaching. The problem is who is progressive or radical enough to try this novel approach? Please do not forget that the NP will not willingly agree to this reform.

It is also important to look at the outside resources available to the government in search of an IGP. The job of the IGP with such far reaching powers as to decide the outcome of presidential elections is too important to the nation to be left in the hands of the president alone. There are highly professional lawyers, accountants, administrators, human resources professionals, state security and military intelligence personnel that could be cross-posted to administer reforms at the NP. The NP has shown over the years that it can not reform itself to face the challenges of modern day policing. It is therefore not unexpected that there are calls now for overhauling and decentralizing of the entire force as well as creating a state police.

A situation where a police station at Alagbado in Lagos state has to be receiving office supplies from Abuja centralized store is unacceptable. A case where the governor as the chief security officer of a state can have his directives over ruled by the IGP is not a federal system of government but that is a story for another day.

The Obasanjo administration created a ministry of police affairs with David Jemibewon, a retired soldier as the first minister. This administration has since 1999 spent billions of naira to equip and fund the operations of the NP more than any predecessor without any major improvement. There is now a police service commission (PSC) in place to look after the welfare and promotion of officers. You can see police men on patrol driving new vehicle and those at check points carry new walkie-talkies. These are good reforms and we need to go one step further and give the NP a fresh breath of ideas by appointing an IGP from outside the force.

The sad parts though are reports that there are no provisions for the operation and maintenance of these new vehicles and equipment. Therefore the cops said they have to resort to illegal toll collections at check points to fuel and keep these vehicles running. The cost of running these new vehicles is in addition to the gratis that the cops have to deliver to those officers that do not go on the beat. No wonder cases of armed robbery, high profile murders, human trafficking, arms smuggling, bank heist etc are on the rise.

Police abuse of innocent citizens, corruption, bribe collections at check points are all going on unabated despite the IGP protestations to the contrary. The recent indictment of Tafa Balogun a former IGP, who was trained as a lawyer and joined the force about two decades ago made a bad case worse and confirmed the saying that a leopard can never shed its spots. The NP of my dream will have a boss with law enforcement training, human resources and finance background but definitely not someone who had risen through the cesspool called the Nigerian police.

Other public service positions that should go through this hiring process are the INEC boss, Customs and immigration comptrollers or any other positions that are critical to the economy and security of the nation. The president already has a lot on his plate but as this era seems receptive to reforms and new ideas, I would recommend a detail study and impact assessment on having a chief of police hired from outside to reform the rot in the NP.

The issue of state police should also be studied bearing in mind that we are now in the twenty first century, a budding democracy and therefore there is room for innovation and creativity. The fear that a program has failed in the past should not make us close shop, we need to persevere. I am referring to the past when we had state or regional police and elected public servants were using the state police to intimidate the opposition. This should be a lesson learned to guide our future rather than be a reason to run away from considering state police.

It is a fact that the federal government has used the NP to intimidate and coerce the states to fall in line but we still kept the NP. The case in Anambra state in south east Nigeria where a deputy IGP allegedly following orders from above kidnapped a sitting governor and forced him to resign readily comes to mind. There are laws against such actions and penalties for such offenses but he who pays the piper dictates the tunes. More times than not the statues in our law books are adequate to protect all of us from abuses of federal or state apparatus, it is always the practitioners of the statutes that misinterpret, abuse and corrupt these statutes.

The mobile phone was first introduced to Nigeria more than ten years ago but failed to catch on but see where we are in our ‘second time around’ today with GSM phones everywhere. The motivations of those who first brought the mobile phone service were at variance with aspirations of the Nigerian people. There is an on-going paradigm shift in the nation, we are looking at issues more dispassionately and the demand for service delivery is at an all time high. The pace of reforms is faster and far reaching and I will not be surprised if the time to appoint a police chief from outside the NP is now. Any meaningful police reform can not be achieved from within, let us try someone from another sector. It is from among those who dare that winners emerge.