RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: Is Nigeria Police Force beyond redemption?

Posted by News Express | 30 May 2015 | 3,678 times

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In what may signal an appreciable statement of trust in the capacity of Mr Solomon Arase to steer the decadent and near-moribund Nigeria Police Force (NPF) out of dysfuntionality and operational paralysis, President Goodluck Jonathan made a historic confirmation of his appointment to the substantive post of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). For the first time in many decades, the new IGP got the shortest probation before confirmation.

Observers have remarkably affirmed that the decision of the President to so rapidly confirm the appointment of this comprehensively educated detective is also an affirmation of confidence that maybe, for the first time in many years, this rotten Police Force may witness surgical overhaul. It is the general expectation of those genuinely seeking to see an effective and professionally sound policing force that the incoming President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) will allow this newly-picked police chief to settle down and introduce the salient reform-minded measures to right the many wrongs in the Nigeria Police Force.

Arase has already hit the ground running with many ground-breaking policy decisions one of which is the operational directive that all road-blocks must be immediately dismantled all across Nigeria. Road-blocks, as is so well notoriously known, are the centers for extortion of road-users and the perpetrating of all sorts of horrendous human rights violations by the operatives of the Nigeria Police Force. Many innocent lives have been lost at many of these road-blocks. In the recent past, commercial drivers unwilling to part with N50 to bribe these satanically corrupt police operatives have had to pay with their precious lives, and most of these trigger-happy police operatives have gone scot-free. This impunity has culminated in the conscious loss of public confidence and trust in the Nigeria Police Force over the years.

The satanic phenomenon of illegal police road-blocks for illicit extortion of drivers is almost as old as Nigeria. For example, more than 30 years ago the irrepressible musical phenomenon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, released an Afrobeat track which sold like hot cake in which he sang about the evils of police road-blocks. He likened them to a commercial bank in which the Divisional Police Officers are the bank managers and the Inspector-General of Police is the managing director. So, defeating this evil of illegal road-block is as tough as trashing the Islamic State (ISIS) rebels in Iraq. However, it is still possible if the resolve is strong and the foot-soldiers to be deployed by the new boss of the Police made to operate professionally and ethically. Those who would enforce this new set of rules to reform the behavioural attitudes of the police operatives must themselves, like Caeser’s wife, live above board because, as the saying goes, “he who goes to equity must go with clean hands.”

To demonstrate his determination to bring to an end this disturbing menace of criminal road blocks, IGP Arase has reportedly deployed 16 teams across the geo-political zones in the country to enforce the ban on road-blocks. The Edo State-born police chief made the disclosure at the headquarters of the Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja, Lagos State, during his maiden visit as the IGP. Also during this visit, he took time to address the media on a number of thematic areas that will constitute the hallmarks of his modus operandi (mode of operation) and modus vivendi (public policy statements and guidelines) among which is his determination to promote and protect the human rights of all citizens and the police operatives.

On the issue of road blocks, one of which necessitated the dismissal of the immediate past IGP (Mr Suleiman Abba), Arase, who described the road-blocks as point of corruption and nuisance to the public, threatened to deal with his subordinates in whose domains road blocks are found. He specifically stressed that commissioners of police will henceforth be held accountable should their areas of operational jurisdiction be continuously used as illegal road blocks’ friendly zones. This approach, for once, has reinforced the clarion call by a number of observers that public officers must be held responsible and sanctioned appropriately for apparent breach of ethical codes even by their subordinates because, as the erstwhile military dictator, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, pejoratively stated: “Leaders can only delegate functions, but can’t delegate responsibility.”

To assuage apprehension in some quarters that his directive that road-blocks be dismantled could be misread to mean that police anti-crime patrols are de-legitimised, IGP Arase assured Nigerians that motorised patrols will be introduced in places where road-blocks have been removed, without inconveniences to the public. Another aspect of gross indiscipline that ought to be confronted frontally is the deployment of armed police guards to protect persons some of whom are even people of questionable sources of livelihood. It’s a notorious fact that police divisional heads now have standardised service charges for renting out police escorts to all manner of persons including foreigners, some of who are not legally resident in the country.  For instance, those who travel yearly to the South-East of Nigeria to join their kits and kin for the Yuletide are usually bombarded by all kinds of sirens blaring indiscriminately by all manner of police escort teams who have returned alongside many ordinary persons who, somehow managed to amass wealth either legitimately or otherwise. Road accidents are caused and many innocent persons are maimed and made to lose their basic human dignity just because someone is passing by with a large retinue of armed police operatives who in the first instance are serviced by the tax payers.

Vexed by the accumulated moral deficit that this practice has unleashed on the image of the Nigeria Police Force, Mr Arase reportedly directed that police escorts to all unauthorised persons be withdrawn, adding that the mopped-up policemen would be used to form Judges’ Protection Unit.

In realisation of the harsh fact that poor capacity and lack of skill among the men and officers of the police force constitute a cog in the wheel of progressive policing, the new helmsman - highlighting his policy thrust, which is woven around the need to massively invest in capacity building, cutting edge technologies and welfare of personnel – stated that he wants police officers to be abreast of current global trends in policing. This zeal to introduce technology friendly crime-fighting strategies is encouraging because knowing how well-sophisticated policing institutions are in other climes such as United Kingdom and even some South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and China are, it will not take rocket science for Nigeria to build such a good police force at both the federal and state levels. All that is needed is to have a good head to show the way for others within that institution to emulate and/or made to comply.

For IGP Arase, the need for human rights-friendly policing cannot be over-emphasised, just as he urged his personnel to shun uncivil acts against members of the public. His words: “We have decided that we have to enforce the ban on road-blocks. We have deployed about 16 teams to the six geo-political zones to ensure strict enforcement. So, I am going to hold the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs), Area Commanders (ACs) and Commissioners of Police (CP) in whose jurisdiction those road-blocks are found accountable.

“I do not want to ambush anybody and that is why I have given sufficient notice to tell you that those road-blocks are not performing the duties they are expected to perform. They have become nuisance, point of corruption. That is one area where the dignity of an average policeman has been rubbished, and we must be able to regain that primacy of internal security managers as we used to be. This means that I am allergic to corruption. I have zero tolerance for it. I won’t tolerate it. And you have to accommodate me for the period I will be with you.”

Indeed, the new police boss has spoken the right words, and thanks goodness this gentleman is abreast of the enormous expectations from the diverse segments of Nigerians on his leadership to quickly move to put in place pragmatic policies and implementable decisions that will win back public trust on the Nigerian police. As someone described by his friends and foes as a thoroughly groomed police detective who has worked behind the scenes to scuttle the subterranean activities of dare-devil criminals, he must be aware of the many challenges facing the Police and, since he that wears the shoes knows where it pinches, he must move quickly to better the overall image of the police.

He has no alternative than to instill strict discipline in the ranks and files of the police, because the total lack of professionalism and discipline are to be blamed for the zero state of trust of the people in the police; any policing institution that can’t win the trust of the citizenry is as good as dead. Let the new IGP clean up the process of recruitment into the force to ensure that persons with dubious and criminal backgrounds are not recruited, just as there’s the urgent need to conduct complete in-house forensic investigation of the workforce, to weed out all criminal elements that give the police in Nigeria very distasteful public image. The police workforce in Nigeria must be captured in a well-managed bio-data, so it will be much easier to trace the bad eggs in the police.

Nigeria Police as an institution deserves total clean up, beginning with both personnel and structural overhaul. The police stations in most places are derelict and dirty and are, indeed, centres whereby infections are spread to the citizenry and even the police operatives. These houses serving as police formations and barracks must undergo structural transformation and environmental sanitation. This is imperative for all these policing institutions and places of residence. Police operatives must have effective communication gadgets to track down men of the underworld, and the practice of taxing crime victims to pay for police investigations must stop. For instance, in the South-East, victims of kidnapping are extorted of several hundreds of thousands of naira before the Police can swing into action to rescue kidnapped Nigerians. Ironically, the rescue is usually done after family members of victims must have paid the heavy ransoms to the kidnappers. The IGP must weed out criminals from the officer cadre and ranks and files of the police because, if the supposed crime-fighters are themselves the criminals, it therefore becomes comical.

We must rebuild the police to become so credible that well-educated youths can aspire to join the force to render qualitative, effective and efficient policing to Nigeria. Cleaning up the police is a task that must be done. And from all indications, this new helmsman appears ready to change the face of the NPF, if given all the support by Nigerians and his subordinates. 

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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