by Nonye Obi-Egbe
Six days ago, Perry Dolo, a senior officer in the Liberian National Police (LNP), was arrested on charges including possessing and crossing the border with marijuana worth about $4 million. The drug, known as ‘compressed sensee’ received the VIP treatment as it was being transported in a vehicle marked ‘Police Escort’. Dolo, you see, was the head of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s motorcade and the jeep, Escort 1, had been decommissioned over two years ago. Apparently, decommissioned doesn’t mean unusable and Dolo probably thought the vehicle hadn’t outlived its usefulness yet. Crime aside, it was an ingenious plan – Who would stop a presidential escort vehicle carrying a police superintendent? Well, it turns out the police had prior information and had been investigating the now notorious Perry Dolo and his co-conspirators. These arrests are a big deal for Liberia and add another notch to the president’s belt in support of the fight against police corruption.
The Liberian National Police has a tarnished image quite identical to that of the delightful Nigerian Police Force (NPF). One news article describes the LNP as having a culture of impunity and endemic corruption, rife with extortion, robbery, unprofessionalism and absenteeism; all descriptions that ring true when the NPF comes to mind. In Liberia, just like back home, people look elsewhere for justice because it has become common to expect to leave a police station with more problems than when you first went in.
In 2003, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) took on the mandate to, among other things, reform the military and the police. After the second Civil War, UNMIL rebuilt the police force from the ground up, training the over 4,000 personnel, building capacity, and updating and maintaining equipment. Their journey is not over yet, but these efforts have produced an increasingly professional police force, so professional that police officers will sooner report their colleagues for abusive behaviour than cover them up. This was probably a key factor in the Dolo investigation and eventual arrest.
The first call for police reform in Nigeria started in 2005 after the Apo 6 killings; then in 2006, there was the Presidential Committee on Reform of the Police headed by Retired DIG Muhammed Dan Madami. Again, in 2008, Mohammed D. Yusuf headed a reform panel, and last year, there was the Osayande panel on police reform and Civil Society Panel on Police Reform in Nigeria. One writer and technical adviser to the 2012 Panel, Innocent Chukwuma, makes a pertinent point: “Previous police reform efforts seem to have been motivated by the need for regime survival, rather than an attempt to make policing more effective.”
If this is the case, is there any reason why we would think this last attempt by President Jonathan’s administration is any different? One would imagine that with the reform panels and committees preceding 2012, there must have been some funds involved. So all that time and all those reports and all that money, yet they all barely made a dent. Is the NPF unreformable and irredeemable?
So far, the most visible change we’ve seen is in their uniforms; some of us are still deciding if the new colours are hideous or can be overlooked. Beyond this, in many ways, things remain the same. Members of the NPF still flaunt rules as simple as not driving the opposite direction on a one-way street; they not only fearlessly do this, they do it forcefully with sirens at full blast, especially when it is not an emergency! The police still look the other way when crimes are committed under their noses; everyone knows that a few hundred or thousand naira will get you out of every imaginable bind. Moreover, there are still extortions for traffic violations; one policewoman actually put N1, 000 in her bra so that she wouldn’t have to share it with the other officers on traffic duty. Such is the deplorable state of our police force; reformation panels have their work cut out for them. Frankly, it’s no wonder no one has succeeded in the past. Yet, there’s always hope, if you believe enough in perseverance and the strength of change; if you believe there’s hope for the NPF, may your faith be enough to propel us forward.