12 January 2013

Nigeria: The Police We Do Not Need


Complaints against the police have been numerous in recent times, but the one made by a distinguished royal father last Tuesday cannot be ignored by the police authorities. When he led the Kaduna State Council of Emirs and Chiefs to the state governor, Alhaji Mukhtar Yero, the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, identified the police's penchant for releasing suspected criminals without prosecuting them as a major contributor to the increasing rate of crime in the state. Some of the freed criminals, he said, would not show any remorse and come back to harass or attack those whose complaint led to their arrest.

Emir Idris' observation tallies with complaints about many officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force nationwide. It is believed that the reason many Nigerians do not give useful information or report suspected criminals to the police is the fear of policemen themselves revealing the reporters to the suspects. It is not in Kaduna State alone that criminals have attacked informants shortly after getting freed from police detention.

Already, it has been established that crooked characters have found their way into the Police Force and have been collaborating with criminals to undermine law and order. A number of armed robbery attacks have been traced to the very policemen paid by taxpayers to fight armed robbers. Edo State governor Adams Oshiomhole highlighted this point at the launch of the "Code of Conduct and Professional Standards for Nigeria Police Officers" on Thursday in Abuja.

The new "Code of Conduct" will achieve nothing until the authorities redeem a decade-old pledge to weed out bad eggs in the police. Many Nigerian policemen have simply refused to do their work. When crimes are reported to them, whether by phone or physical presence at police stations, they do nothing until after the criminals have escaped.

Patrol teams have recorded little success in stopping armed robbers, kidnappers and other criminals in recent times because they are not satisfied with IGP MD Abubakar's position on dismantling of roadblocks. The IG had given the directive because his men had turned roadblocks into tollgates for fleecing motorists. Therefore, he should ensure that policemen do the work they are required to do or show them the way out of the force.

On the other hand, we are not oblivious to the plight of the rank and file of the police. Grossly underpaid and ill-motivated, they first think about how to feed their families and pay school fees before committing themselves to duty. If there is any reform anybody is planning to do in the force, it should start here: funds meant for the police are often stolen; there is injustice in the force. The scale of corruption reported among the rank and file is insignificant when compared with the heist committed by senior officers.

As a nation, we must decide the kind of police we need - those that earn little pay and do no work or those that are motivated to police the nation. We choose the latter. And the motivation we seek for the police is not necessarily financial. Policemen who fight criminals should be promptly rewarded with both cash and promotion. A police station should be reserved for crime fighters, not for crime recorders and bribe seekers.

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