by Paul Utuk
“When evil men plot, good men must plan.’’
– Martin Luther King Jr.
IT was an unfair match. It resembled a Nollywood movie, with all its ugliness and graphic details. The six heavily armed men of the Police RRS (Rapid Response Squad) jumped down from their glistering Toyota pick-up truck shouting commands, and within a twinkling of an eye, the ‘’okadaman’’ and his hapless lady passenger were spat on the ground, screaming. In the ensuing confusion, the lucky lady scampered off, leaving the okadaman to his harsh fate. We witnesses knew nothing of the okadaman’s crime or offence but the policemen’s misplaced bravado didn’t escape our evaluation. As each of the six-man police team kicked the part of the okadaman closest to his boot, including the head, neck, stomach, leg, back, buttocks, all over, we wondered at the training the men would have received.
Unlike the Rodney King battering of March 3, 1991 by five LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) officers, and the subsequent Los Angeles six-day riots, beginning April 29, 1992, which resulted in widespread looting, arson, assault, 53 murders and property damaged estimated at over $1 billion, when the officers were acquitted by a jury, the battering of the ‘’unidentified okadaman’’ attracted no local, national or international outrage. Unlike the Rodney King incident, which attracted 43 articles from the Los Angeles Times, 17 from the New York Times, and 11 from the Chicago Tribune, there was no article on the fate of the ‘’unknown okadaman’’ from any Nigerian newspaper. There was no mention from any radio and television station. The okadaman was an unfortunate casualty, an incident, a mere statistic, of which we are all accustomed to. No one recorded it, unlike Rodney King’s, which was recorded by a citizen who witnessed it from his balcony.
Though its service tag line reads, ‘’the police is your friend’’, it is doubtful any living Nigerian would call the ‘’Nigeria Police’’ a friend, literally or figuratively. How did the Nigeria Police descend to this depth of unprofessionalism? Some attribute its descent into anarchy and unprofessionalism to the incursion of the military into politics and the subsequent usurpation of police role by the military and the relegation of the police to a subservient role. Others attribute the attitude and ineptitude of the Nigeria Police to its colonial upbringing, culture and worldview, whereby the police was trained as an instrument for suppressing the colonised people, and had to be brutal. This line of reasoning has it that the new local elite that took over after the colonialists left, saw and still see the police as a tool for self preservation and has no inclination to transform it into a friendly, well organised organisation for societal wellbeing. No matter the camp you belong, Nigerians today all agree the Nigeria Police, as presently constituted, has outlived its usefulness to the society.
Fed up with the ineptitude of the Nigeria Police, President Jonathan on December 15, 2011 decapitated the Police high command and saddled a relatively junior officer with the responsibility of transforming the force. A tall order! Formed in 1861, from 1964 when the first indigenous IG (Inspector General), Louis Edet, took over, to the present date, a period of 49 years, the force has had 16 IGs, an average tenor of three years per IG. With such instability of tenure, any wonder the Nigeria Police is in such a sorry state? Unprofessional, corrupt, and brutal, the very uniform the rank and file adorn, pitch black, strikes fear in the heart of even angels. Rag tag, a force deserving of only a banana republic, some of their modus operandi can at best be described as bizarre, and at worst antiquated, murderous, and suicidal. Where else in the world do you see the police erect barricades at sharp bends on highways, except in banana republics?
With a population estimated at 160 million and a police force estimated at 371,800, Nigeria has an average of one police officer per 430 citizens, very much in line with the UN’s recommended average of one police officer per 450 inhabitants, and the U.S.’s average of three officers per 1,000 inhabitants. So what is the problem with the Nigeria Police? They are not only hated and despised by the citizens, but by other armed forces as exemplified by the frequent army-police murderous clashes.
Every Nigerian alive (or even dead – remember the APO Six?) has a sad story to tell about the Nigeria Police. Here is mine. Barely one year after NYSC, some 30 years back, I was bristling with patriotism and preparing to take my country to the next level. In my naivety, I had challenged police officers for extorting cash from hapless citizens when one promptly arrested me for ‘’traffic delay’’. I had to be taught a lesson for ‘’teaching the police their duty.’’ The men were wild. Luckily for me, the DPO at the station they took me to, a graying, pot-bellied man, decided to set me free, with a mild reprimand to ‘’go and misbehave no more’’, having identified my uncle as his buddy at the Arochukwu sector during the Nigerian civil war. My family name saved me that day. I was not that lucky in 2006. On 27 July of that year, I was dispossessed, under gun point, of every kobo I had on me, by police officers manning a ‘’check point’’ around Ore town, on the Sagamu-Benin Expressway. My offence or the charge against me was ‘’incomplete car particulars’’. The policemen had jumped into my car and taken me into bush path and demanded I surrendered all the cash I had if I wanted to continue my journey. Pleas of esprit de corps by an officer of the Nigerian Customs Service I had assisted along the way fell on deaf ears. Where do you report such cases of police robbery to? Do you report it to the IG or the nearest police station? No Nigerian dares or bothers to report such because we all know no justice would be done.
The Police IG, Mohammed Dikko Abubakar, immediately ‘’swung into action’’ after assuming command. The first thing he did was to ‘’abolish’’ roadblocks on highways. The IG made and continues to make statements about transforming the force and restoring professionalism. The latest of such statements was on Monday, July 1, 2013, when news broke that some N1.7 billion had been approved by the Federal Government for the purchase of new police uniforms. On assumption of duty, the IG had visited state governors, chiefs and emirs, and all had pledged cooperation. Some states had even gone ahead to reequip the police command in their jurisdiction even before the new IG took over. Lagos State was the first to do so. Akwa Ibom didn’t wait long in joining the ranks of states re-equipping police in their jurisdiction without waiting for the Federal Government. But should we believe and trust the IG’s ‘’transformation agenda’’ given our unfortunate history? The majority of Nigerians I have asked this question do not believe the IG, having been deceived by past IGs. Two years since after the present IG took over command, nothing has changed in the attitude of the Nigerian Police to the citizenry.
I don’t know what to believe regarding the IG’s ‘’transformation agenda.’’ One thing, however, that I strongly believe is that Nigeria deserves a World Class Police Force. One of the Police Forces of the world that stands out, thanks to their uncompromising focus on Service Excellence, is Singapore’s. The vision of the Singapore Police Force is to be “a police force that inspires the world”. It wants to achieve greater cohesion between the police and the public, improve levels of service to enhance public perception and increase the confidence of police officers when dealing with the public. In explaining the drive to build a world class police force to Ron Kaufman, a service excellence trainer, the Singaporean Commissioner of Police said, “When Singapore Police Force (SPF) began its Service Excellence journey in 1997, many wondered why a law enforcement agency like SPF should place such emphasis on service quality. Enforcement agencies are primarily guided by its mission to uphold the law and maintain public order, unlike the private sector which depends on customer satisfaction and loyalty to ensure its profitability. While we remain guided by our mission, we have learnt much from the private sector. Through our work with you, we gathered significant insights; primarily the willingness to constantly adapt and innovate, and to learn from the best in the private sector.”
If only IG Abubakar could aim at such lofty heights rather than the mundane one of just changing the police uniform he says is his top priority, I would be willing to train his men and women free of charge. If only the IG would be willing to take the long term view, noting that the Singapore Police Force began its journey to World Class status in 1997, and 14 years on, they are still at it. The Inspector General has all it takes to transform the Nigeria Police Force into world class, but will he? We have a choice as a nation to demand that he takes swift action to do that because the price of leaving the Nigeria Police Force as it currently is, ill trained, ill equipped, and ill prepared, is becoming unbearable. At the root of our heart numbing underdevelopment, interminable instability, and shameless corruption is the sorry state of the Nigeria Police Force. To change a man, an institution or a culture, you begin first by changing the heart and mind and not attire.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Paul Uduk, a customer service representative