19 February 2005

Nigeria: Police/Prisons Reforms


Lagos — Informed consensus sees the police force as a powerful political institution whose activities are crucial to maintaining order, stability, and states' domination over their citizens. Effective, fair policing and humane civil disturbance control capability are necessary for stability, order, conflict prevention and mitigation and political and economic development.

The way the police enforces law and order influences how citizens view justice and the state's legitimacy. A police force which fairly protects people and their property, helps people in times of emergency, abides by the rule of law and uses violence as a last resort will reduce unrest, lead to fewer riots and lessen the chance that malcontents can stir up and organize subversion or insurrection.

According to several public issue analysts, for effectiveness, any focus on Police reform efforts need to be linked and coordinated with judicial reform. This they hold is because without improvement in the judicial system, little will result from the funds and time invested in police reforms, retraining, et al. Another dimension that has a critical bearing to the success or otherwise of such contemplated project is professionalisation. But the deliberate focus here is on police reforms as a subject to be deliberated on by the Obasanjo national dialogue project kicking off tomorrow.

What is police reform? Police reform aims to create a "more dispersed, visible, accessible, and service-oriented force which interacts freely and gently with its community" and sees its primary duty as protecting citizens. Closely linked to this is that it aims to make the police more effective, strengthening police forces' capability to enforce the law and to maintain public order with a minimum of physical force by developing leadership, organization and administration; training systems; transportation and communications systems and training technicians to operate and maintain these systems; appropriate equipment; and improved capability to conduct urban, rural and border patrol operation, investigations, and other specialized functions.

Further, professionalisation may integrate efforts to depoliticise the police, making the force politically autonomous and responsive to community needs. In some cases, police reform and professionalisation may involve unifying various local forces and/or incorporating members of underrepresented ethnic and political groups into the police force.

Previous Reforms

The military government made moves to unify and standardize police services in the country; qualified forces were absorbed into the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) by 1967 in the West and by 1972 in the North. Unification reduced northern political support for the government and revealed a North-South split, with northern elites fearing losing their local police force and being intimidated by NPF who were dominated by two rival ethnic groups. The 1968 Police Act established specific regulations governing police conduct, from the proper format of station ledger books to a code of conduct.

Police employment for the rank and file pays comparatively well, is secure, and other work for their training and skills is limited (candidates for officer rank, being university graduates, are more difficult to attract and keep due to their opportunities elsewhere, especially technical personnel). The Police Act, and subsequent addenda and amendments, lodge vast powers in supervisory staff. However, several factors offset the ability of police superiors to control their subordinates: there is little hope for promotion or salary increase; the force is widely dispersed; inadequate communications and transportation equipment makes continuous supervision difficult. There is actually little direct supervision once officers leave the station for patrol.

According to some security analysts, the police do not provide much in the way of services (protection, crime prevention, order maintenance, services of an emergency nature); inaction is a common police response. Many of the police often seem more interested in selectively enforcing the law (at "lucrative posts") against groups who have little power and are easy victims. "Only insistence, status, or a direct command by a superior seem to lead to the provision of police services."

The NPF remains understaffed, under-equipped, and ineffectively deployed. Shortages of manpower and equipment contribute to police inability to deal effectively with crowds and rioting. These problems cause police inaction, selective order enforcement (neglect of crime and services), attention to personal gain, deference to superiors and the powerful (when superiors cannot be avoided), and orientation toward self-interest.

Shape of Change

The informed consensus is that core reform and professionalisation measures must include:

- Adopting and enforcing a code of police conduct.

-Exposing all ranks to professional values.

-Higher recruitment standards, with emphasis on minimal levels of education and literacy.

- More efficient manpower development, including: Improved basic and in-service training programs.

- Creating or expanding police training academies and staff colleges.

- Developing curricula, courses and indigenous staff to take over teaching duties from expatriate advisors.

- Training in technical skills to operate, maintain and repair any new equipment.

-Training in non-abusive operational techniques.

-Improved management procedures, including:¨ Moves to unify various local forces and their organization under a centralized command.

- Reorganizing to create an administrative structure with clear, hierarchical line and staff functions.

- Increasing police leadership's management and long-range planning capabilities.

- Instituting systems to distinguish and reward support staff.

-Improving equipment, transportation and communication systems; equipment should be selected so that it can be operated, maintained and repaired by personnel with minimal training.

-Efforts to establish effective community relations so that law enforcement agencies can receive greater public support.

-Allocating police to border patrol duties to stem the flow of smugglers, migrations, and refugees.

-Enhancing urban and rural operations skills.

-Improving humane civil disturbance control capabilities.

-Training specialized units such as criminal investigation units, counter-narcotics units, and VIP protection units.

-Establishing effective, responsible riot control capabilities, including special training, command, and equipment emphasising crowd dispersal and protective gear rather than firepower and weaponry, either as a separate paramilitary force (a traditional French practice, common in francophone African states) or a riot control unit within the civil force.

It is commonly perceived that the police in many African countries tend to protect the powerful. They are highly visible during ceremonial occasions guarding VIPs; are assigned to guard the homes of the powerful, government buildings, and act as bodyguards for important officials; and mostly exist in urban areas. Nigeria has not been an exception here. According to security analysts, "Such practices teach the rank and file who needs protection and who does not, who is entitled and whose demands can be rejected." This crop of analysts also hold that a "pervasiveness of the psychology of force in many rank and file" is a common problem among police in less than professional forces.

It is easier to teach techniques than to change attitudes and institutional norms in reforming the police. Long-standing problems of corruption and use of police powers for personal gain or abuse are difficult to eradicate. Efforts to professionalise police may be frustrated by pervasive illiteracy and lack of formal education, existing practices which resist change, and political interference. Police tend to adopt an "us against them" mentality, which produces powerful incentives for conformity with the existing police culture, reinforcing existing practices and encouraging resistance to change.

In all, police reforms and effective professional policing work not so much because of the particular techniques or organisational structures it embodies but because of the attitudes of people who do the work. From experience, most difficult to transfer is the idea of a police force interested in protecting general public order. Past efforts to reform police paid insufficient inattention to establishing mechanisms to address internal discipline in new public order forces. The extant Obasanjo national dialogue project provides a fresh critical opportunity to address this concerns. On their success may depend the civilised survival of the Nigerian polity.

Nigerian Prisons Services (NPS)

"The condition of prisons in Nigeria is terrible. It is below any standard you can think of. Unfortunately our prisons instead of being correctional institutions to reform individuals who have committed crimes and make them come back to society and be better citizens, have become places that breed more criminals." This was the sobering summation of the Inter-Governmental and Special Duties Minister, Mr. Frank Nweke (Jnr), who is also chairing the recent committee on prison reforms and decongestion.

Hear him again: "The conditions of prisons in terms of infrastructures is terrible. In fact people go to prison and some of them die there because the conditions breed a lot of diseases. Most of the prisoners you see in there are suffering from one ailment or another. They don't have medical facilities that will take care of even the basic problems they have." Nweke's position succinctly captures what has become the unflattering lot of prisons in Nigeria in the morning of the 21st Century.

For whatever it is worth, ahead of the national dialogue kicking off tomorrow, the Federal Government, February 10, inaugurated a National Working Group on Prison Reform and Decongestion. Attorney General and Justice Minister, Chief Akinlolu Olujimi conducted the inauguration at the council chambers of the National Human Rights Commission in Abuja. Hardly an earth-shaking secret, Olujimi observed on the occasion that the current situation in Nigerian prisons placed major pressure on facilities and funds available for caring of prisoners. "Confinement in prison is punishment in itself (and that) it ought to be made humane enough so that we do not run the risk of violating human rights," Olujimi told the attentive committee chaired by Nweke. Nweke's committee is charged with the following assignments:

· To audit the state of the prisons in Nigeria to identify prisoners who are not supposed to be there, including those that have served their terms while awaiting trial, those with terminal ailments such as HIV?AIDS, the aged, and children, etc

· To review ways of accelerating the passage of the prison bill before the National Assembly.

· To make appropriate recommendations in respect of the issues above to the Attorney General and Justice Minister.

The Nigerian Prison Service before the advent of the Obasanjo administration was bedeviled with enormous problems as nothing was done by previous administrations to improve upon what the colonial government built from 1872. Many inmates were jammed into rooms meant for one or two persons. The President himself having spent three years in one of Nigeria's prisons saw things for himself.

The Federal Government has therefore, embarked on several prison reforms after the committee set up to reform the Nigeria Prisons submitted its recommendations to government. The various prisons across the country have had face lifts, while new prisons have been built. There have been sewage reactivation to the construction of modern kitchen facilities in our prisons. Renovation and equipping of prison clinics all over the country have been carried out.

California's Reform Model

For an effective across-the-board overhaul of Nigeria's prison system, it may be worth while to look at the American State of California's example in a similar project. The Californian Legislature and the media had been reporting on California's $6 billion correctional (prison) system. Their message has been the same: out-of-control costs; a high recidivism rate; abuse of inmates and juvenile wards by correctional staff; a disciplinary system that fails to punish wrongdoers; and the failure to deliver mandated health care to inmates and juvenile wards by correctional staff.

In reality, the majority of correctional (prison) officers are hard-working individuals engaged in a very difficult job. But they are working in a defective organizational structure which has no accountability, no uniformity and no transparency. Recognizing that immediate improvements must be made, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed an independent panel to look at the entire Corrections (prisons) system and to recommend changes. His instructions were very clear, "Don't just move boxes ... blow them up!"

The governor and his staff assembled almost 40 panel members who were loaned to us from the Department of Corrections (prisons), the Office of the Inspector-General and other state departments. They divided the research into eight teams: organization, ethics and culture, discipline, use of forces, personnel and training, risk management, population control and prison closures. The teams spent four months reviewing approximately 400 reports on the subject matter, including over 40 inspector general reports that had never been made public.

They interviewed approximately 470 individuals including experts in the field, legislators and interested parties. We sponsored all-day seminar where we brought in successful administrators in adult and juvenile corrections from around the country. As a result, they have developed a series of 239 recommendations that will allow Corrections to re-establish itself as the best system in America.

Some of these recommendations may cost money ... many will save taxpayers money ... and some will require legislative action. Most important, most require a change in the ethics and culture of the organization ... but it must happen. As the august assemblage of wisemen settle to their onerous town hall meeting, they might take a peek at the Californian prisons reform model.

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