11 January 2014

Nigeria: A Call for Decent Police Barracks

Police barracks across the country need to be rehabilitated fast as their inhabitants currently live in squalid condition. A visit to one of the barracks showed innocent children running around dumpsites that look like some of the buildings within the barracks. Some of these structures were built by the colonial government and, years after, they have become too small for the growing population. Besides, no significant expansion or maintenance works have been done over the years to revamp these structures, writes Bennett Oghifo

The Police Force is one government institution that has suffered neglect over the years and nobody seems to know why. Like tax collectors, very few people see the police as their friend, not even the government. While civil servants, who are in-charge of the police, live in beautiful quarters and neighbourhoods, the nation's police barracks have suffered neglect on account of poor funding and maintenance that have made it impossible to renovate physical structures or their landscape. It is obvious that the government votes little amount of money for routine maintenance of these barracks and leaves the police to fend for themselves.

While civil servants now enjoy the monetisation of their housing benefits, it is not even certain that members of the police force would put their money on the table if the government chooses to sell those structures considered hell-holes to them in the name of monetisation.

Officers and men of other military and paramilitary agencies of government live in beautiful and clean quarters. Check out the barracks occupied by families of personnel of the Navy, Air Force, Customs, Army and Immigration, among others to see the difference. Their barracks are built on large pieces of land that are primarily located on the outskirts of towns where such vast land are not difficult to come by. They are usually designed as complete communities that comprise living quarters, offices, schools, shops and markets as well as recreational facilities. The police are not that lucky.

Prime Location Police barracks are usually built in city centres, where they exist because of their role in the society. The colonialists designed them as serene communities that were broken down into sections housing officers, married and single personnel. They had rules on how to migrate from one section to another when they were due for such movement.

As things stand, these barracks are in prime locations. In commercial real estate circles, it is considered a needless waste not to put into optimal use huge hectares of prime land located anywhere within a town or city. The same feeling is expressed in the case of housing estates or communities that have gone past their prime or are far less efficient than when they were developed like most police barracks in the country today.

The Need for Rehabilitation The government can begin gradual restoration of police barracks across the nation with deliberate budgeting and in collaboration with the private sector. There are successful models that have been used outside the country that can work in the nation. Besides, the dynamics of development stipulate that deteriorating structures should either be restored or knocked down to be converted into more efficient use.

Federal Government's Reaction In 2012, a presidential committee on police re-organisation was shocked at the deplorable state of police barracks and vowed to ensure they were restored. Nothing has happened since then. President Goodluck Jonathan expressed similar sentiments at the sight of the ugly state of the Police College in Lagos and something was done to rehabilitate it and others across the nation.

The committee's job was to identify the challenges the police have and it noted the squalid housing. This prompted the head of the committee, Mr. Casimir Akagbosu, to condemn congestion in the barracks and broken down facilities, saying these would to a large extent affect the psyche of policemen in particular and the force in general.

The committee completed its work in three months as stipulated and recommended that the police should be given a new lease of life. Regardless, in the 2013 budget, the government gave police formations and command N292,794,434,937 as total personnel cost; N8,103,952,375, total overhead cost; N300,898,387,312, total recurrent; N10,250,000,000, and N311,148,387,311 as total allocation. However, President Jonathan has assured that the welfare of the police is important to the government and would continue to provide necessary support for them to improve their efficiency.

Vice President Namadi Sambo, while inaugurating 80 units of 4-bedroom flats built by the police at Lugbe, Abuja, it showed the government's resolve "to provide an environment conducive for officers and men of the police to feel comfortable and relaxed in performing their statutory duty of safeguarding the lives and property of Nigerians."

The government promised to provide necessary support infrastructure aimed at improving efficiency and welfare of the police. The President commended the police and the Inspector-General of Police as well as his team for the successful completion of the project. He said, "This laudable achievement would go a long way in not only motivating the personnel to put in their best but will also make them more effective and proactive in tackling crime and criminality."

The housing units like those built in Lagos last year by the police were done through a Public Private Partnership (PPP). Sambo said, "This is indeed noteworthy and a demonstration of a strong bond of partnership existing between the police, the public and the private sector."

But the housing estates being built by the police are on owner occupier models, which cannot replace barracks. The Inspector General, Muhammed Abubakar, alluded to this when he appealed to the President to assist in mobilising support for the police to build more homes.

"I make this appeal bearing in mind the dilapidated state of most police barracks across the country and the fact that these owner-occupier facilities cannot take the place of barracks," he said.

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