By Obodo Ejiro
Events and initiatives dating back to 1820 led to the formation of the Nigerian Police Force. By the late 1950 – early 1960s, a merger of the armed paramilitary Hausa Constabulary, the Niger Coast Constabulary, and the Royal Niger Company Constabulary became the Nigeria Police Force as we know it today.
As present, the force is estimated to be 371,800 strong and is the principal law enforcement agency in Nigeria. It has 36 distinct State Police Commands which are grouped into 12 zones and administrated through seven organs, all under the supervision of the Inspector General who lives and works in Abuja.
Caritas Communications, a reputations management consultancy based in Lagos conducted a survey to assess the reputation of the Nigeria Police Force by randomly sampling 3,787 Nigerians online between 1, April and 31, July 2020, well before the current spate protests began.
Drawn from the six geopolitical zones, respondents are within the 18 to 61-years age bracket.
A complex situation
What we discovered is that even though the moto of the Nigerian police is, “Police is your friend,” 93 percent of respondents said they “do not agree that “Police is your friend.”
Eighty-eight percent indicated that they would not allow their children joining the police even if the opportunity presented itself on a platter of gold. In terms of specifics, respondents pointed to divers experiences which have molded their opinions about the force.
“I was arrested because of a tattoo on my neck and had to get my family to bail me at Ughelli,” “a policeman from Agbaroh told me that when he is done with me my suffering will be more than that of Job in the Bible, I didn’t commit any crime,” two respondents noted.
“It takes me seven hours, instead of three to travel from Lagos to Benin when I need to see family because of over 15 police checkpoints on the road,” another said.
Other comments include, “I had an accident on the road because police barricaded the road and left huge logs of wood there,” “police places logs of wood on the road leaving just one lane open thereby forcing Nigerians to struggle for that lane, causing terrible traffic and suffering for miles on the Lagos-Benin express way,” “police quest for bribes is just mind boggling,” over 85 percent of respondents noted.
Asked why they feel the police is not living up to expectation, respondents pointed to Poor Leadership (42percent), Poor Salary and Welfare Package (72percent), Illiteracy and lack of exposure (68percent), Bad Economy (45percent) and poor work equipment (51percent).
However, a number of respondents describe the police as an organisation that lives up to expectation when it matters citing cases including that of alleged kidnap kingpin Chukwudi Onuamadike (popularly known as Evans) and the apprehension of the alleged rapists who murdered Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, the 22-year-old University of Benin microbiology student in Benin as examples.
In all, the outcome of the survey confirmed that there is palpable dissatisfaction with the police force, in line with the global trend of distrust of law enforcement agencies as manifested in the #BlackLivesMatter Campaign in the United States and other parts of the world. These sentiments were however heightened in 2020 as the global misery index continues to edge north.
While the highhandedness of the now defunct FSAR is a manifestation of a more pervasive problem, the major challenge which the police seems to face is a disconnect with the aspirations of the Nigerian people.
Like much of Nigeria’s society, the police has “marched on its stomach” for many years. It is poorly paid, poorly housed, poorly trained and poorly equipped.
However, many in the force seem not to understand that most of Nigerian society is also poor in all ramification. Therefore, those members of the force who consider the rest of society a viable “bush kitchen,” fit to forage on, should have been more cautious.
As a result of the fallout of the #EndSars protest, the federal government took some important steps at addressing police brutality by way of meeting the five initial demands of protesters.
However, there are pervasive reforms that are necessary to bridge the gap between the police and society.
As a starting point, an online platform where members of the public who are violated (or have been violated) by the police can lodge complains has to be created and made accessible to all Nigerians.
This platform should make provision for the name of complainant, detail of incident, time and location of incident and (if possible) name of officer involved.
This should be managed by the police provost in each state with direct oversight by the Commissioner of Police. Cases which are not satisfactorily dealt at the state level should be referred to Abuja.
Officers who offend should be adequately addressed in line with laid down rules of engagement. Officers who have taken lives as a result of impunity or committed other criminal offences should be paraded alongside other criminals and it should be known to the Nigerian people that the police does not condole injustice or impunity at any level.
As noted by the respondents to Caritas’ survey, welfare is at the heart of the shortcomings of the police. Therefore, the welfare of officers should form a major leg of reform.
Higher salaries, better housing, better health care schemes and better retirement packages should all be on the table.
Additionally, regular psychiatric evaluations, trainings and leave packages should be accorded officers.
However, we note that the roadmap to ending torture, unlawful detention, extortion, extrajudicial execution and other human rights violations must incorporate the reorientation of the police and society.
The Inspector General of Police has to commission a massive media campaign that will clean up the image of the police, project its contribution to security in society while also educating the public on how to engage police officers.
The campaign to be launched by the Inspector General should educate Nigerians on the expectation of the police from the public and how to avoid incidences that have led to these unfortunate incidences of deaths, impunity and abuse.
We note that in many cases impoliteness to officers is a contributory factor to police brutality. Outright breaking of the law is also a cause of some of the mishaps that have involved officers.
In Africa, the Nigerian police is promoted as one of the most efficient police forces on the continent, that is why it has been involved in many peace keeping exercises outside the country in the past. It need not have a bad reputation at all.
Ejiro is a Strategic Communications and Research Manager with Caritas Communication.