This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Police, Not Debt Collectors

The use of policemen as private guards and debt collectors undermines the effectiveness of the force.

The Abia State Commissioner of Police has threatened to sack policemen who accompany government workers on revenue drive in the state, saying this was not their brief. We support the stand of the commissioner and consider this a positive development which will surely put an end to the current abuse while restoring some measure of respect and dignity to the Force. The idea of using our security and police personnel as private army or to settle private quarrels undermines their integrity and should be discouraged, not only in Abia State but indeed all over the country.

In the past, for instance, the mere mention of MOPOL (Mobile Police Force) filled many Nigerians with dread. With their distinct uniform - beret, black shirt khaki trousers and canvas boots, they cut a mean and menacing figure, and that is not just because they were armed with automatic rifles. That was then. These dreaded enforcers are now somewhat distracted from their core mission of quelling civil disturbance and managing emergency situations in the country. Many of the MOPOL have been redeployed to act as personal security guards to private citizens while others have become ready tools for all manner of unscrupulous businessmen who procure their services after paying their superior.

At a time when the nation is seriously challenged on the security front, this misuse of men and officers of the police cannot be allowed to continue and that is why we support the stance taken by the Abia State Police Commissioner which should be emulated by his colleagues across the nation. The authorities should indeed go further to withdraw policemen from all manner of menial duties to which they are being deployed by connected politicians and public officials.

Instructively, to put an end to this misuse, a former Inspector General of Police established a VIP Special Protection Unit squad of the Nigeria Police whose members were to be deployed to various parts of the country and assigned to private individuals, for a fee. The idea behind this move was to liberate the hitherto abused and allow the regular and mobile policemen and officers to focus on their primary function. The first batch of this new squad was made up of 100,000 men, who were trained at the Mobile Police Training School in Orangun, Oyo State and the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji, Kaduna State.

But on assumption of office as Inspector General of Police early this year, Mr M.D. Abubakar ordered the immediate withdrawal of all approved police guards from private individuals and corporate bodies across the country. The affected personnel included those given by the Special Protection Unit, the Mobile Police Unit and conventional policemen that were sent out as guards to companies and influential citizens. It would, however, seem that the directive was implemented in breach, like it was always the case in the past.

Statutorily, only the President, Vice-President, governors, local council chairmen, magistrates and judges are entitled to police guards. But for some curious reasons, this privilege has over the years been abused by senior police officers in charge of police commands and formations, who assign junior officers to undeserving politicians and businessmen, leaving ever fewer men and officers for real police work.

The United Nations estimation is that the average police force should have three police persons for every one thousand people. We fall far short of this requirement given that the total strength of our police force is less than 400,000. But the idea of the VIP Force suggests that the NPF is recruiting a third of its existing force strength to serve less than one percent of our total population. When you juxtapose this with inadequate remunerations and low morale which pervade the Police Force, it is easy to understand why the nation is currently in a security bind.

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