by Wobia Akani
Two prominent signs one is likely to spot in any of the numerous police stations spread across the country read thus: “THE POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND” and “BAIL IS FREE”. We see them and we ask “Really?”
The Nigerian Police is mandated with the duty of protecting and serving with integrity but how far this duty has been carried out remains to be seen.
Amongst the powers conferred on the police are the powers to arrest and prosecute criminal cases in Nigeria by virtue of the combined effects of Section 10 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2004, and Sections 23, 24 and 25 of the Police Act. However, that power to prosecute criminal matters is subject to the overriding powers of the Attorney General (of the Federation or a State, as the case may be). So, from the constitution, the Attorney General has the authority to revoke the prosecuting powers of the police.
Only recently, the current Attorney General/Minister for Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke said that he intended to put to use that power of revocation vested in him. In my humble opinion, there is no better time to bring that into effect than now.
I’ll tell you why. I work in a court environment where I get to see case files of litigants on a regular basis applying for bail having been locked up for weeks, months, and sometimes even years by the police based on spurious allegations and trumped up charges, or applying for enforcement of their fundamental human rights which have been infringed upon by the police or an agent of the state.
“…I had a quarrel with my neighbour and he invited the police to arrest me. They asked me to pay N300,000 as bail. When I could not pay it, they kept me in detention…”
Bail is supposedly free but in the legal profession, we have come to understand that police bail is hardly ever free. There is almost always a subterfuge somewhere.
“… They came to my street to search for a suspected kidnapper. They broke into my house and carted away…. I wrote a letter to them requesting the return of my items which were taken away to which they have refused to respond…”
“X was arrested at a party on the basis of information that there was a cult meeting going on… The day after the arrest, a gun was recovered from behind the venue of the party”
These are just a few of the cases I have read where the police rather than act as a dispassionate investigator has made itself prosecution and arbiter in the matter; cases where the police has more or less taken on the role of offender. The police has become the antagonist rather than the protector and defender of the society. Private individuals have turned members of the Nigerian Police Force into tools used by them to oppress and intimidate those who do not have the connections or financial muscle to hire their services. This brings to mind the call for state police – as an instrument of the state, or as henchmen for the governor of the day, but that is a discourse for another time.
They break laws arbitrarily, drive on the wrong side of the road, arrest and detain citizens unlawfully and keep them, in custody for prolonged periods without filing any formal charge before a court. Many times, they fail to attend court to defend matters in which they are clearly the offenders. Infact, the police has in several situations become a cog in the wheel of justice.
They have muddled up investigations of cases, misplaced case files or deliberately hindered the progress of some cases. They do not even know the basic provisions of the Police Act which is the foundation of their job. The purpose of the police has been undermined and abused. Their activities leave much to be desired. In all of this, how can the police be our friend?
I do not believe that the problem is exclusively a function of their training (or the lack of it), funding (and salaries, as many are wont to argue) or the will power. As much as these may be contributory factors, it is my belief that the primary problem is the mindset of the man in the uniform.
The average Nigerian applying to go into any uniformed profession (the Police Force in this case) in the country has the idea that his uniform ascribes to him more power than the man on the streets and he automatically becomes a “tin-god”. He expects to be feared and obeyed, and his word becomes law even above the laws of the land. Suddenly, with his uniform and his gun, he has the power to determine whether or not lesser mortals who do not wear uniforms ought to remain on earth and share the same air as him.
This is more or less because the police force has become a breeding ground for the college drop out, or the one who has written UME several times and could not pass, or the one who just couldn’t get any other job and so went into the police force as a last resort. It is the ripple effect of a failed system, educationally, morally and psychologically. These categories of people already have an eroded mindset, and so for them the only way to acquire some measure of relevance is by means of the uniform and the use of force – the power of the gun.
Is this problem solvable? Can the image of the Nigerian Police be redeemed?
To both questions I would say yes, but the will power must be available to back it up. The police force as it is has outlived its usefulness. Beyond revoking their powers of prosecution, which they have grossly abused, the police force requires a total overhauling. Higher standards for recruitment into the force need to be set. The Nigerian Police Force has to be treated with some measurable level of importance such that the man in the uniform has confidence not in the gun that he carries, but in the knowledge that service does not necessarily translate to servitude. But that is just one leg of the revamping process.
The other ambit of it is a complete reorientation of the mindset of the Nigerian. Civic responsibility ought to be taught at the basic primary level, emphasising the need for integrity in the security system. In a society that works and is alive to its civic responsibility, we do not need to see police men on the streets working as traffic wardens. Perhaps, the mandatory NYSC would even be more beneficial if Nigerian graduates are sent into the uniformed professions. This would also boost the confidence of the force as eventually, some graduates would elect to remain there and continue to serve. Moreso, the semi-educated in the force would be spurred on to aspire to better educational qualifications. What better way to challenge them than to have the challenge right in your midst?
Surely, this cannot be a task too hard to achieve.