POLICING IN NIGERIA: HOW THE GOVERNMENT CAN BUILD BACK BETTER

Olaoluwa Ogunsakin
8 min readOct 16, 2020
Photo: dailypost.ng

2020 seems a very strange year for “The Police”, as an institution engineered by governments to enforce extant laws. Whether it is the Black Lives Matter protest in the US against police brutality and extra-judicial killing on black & colored Americans or ENDSARS protests in Nigeria against the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad police unit. This protests share a similar narrative in the high-handedness and intolerable rise in police misconduct putting a flashlight on policing institutions. While reflections is important after moments such as this, we are now tasked with the obligation of figuring out how to move forward, learn from these issues, and turn a moment of anger and frustration into an opportunity to make positive change in our policing and criminal justice system.

Below are my submissions on the way forward for this crucial public institution in Nigeria:

RE-EVALUATE TRAINING, AND THE USE OF FORCE

The Amnesty International Nigeria extensive publication on SPECIAL ANTI ROBBERY SQUAD(SARS) high-handedness 2020 is a very detailed report a total of 80 separate cases from 2009 to 2020, showing detailed witness accounts of how SARS operatives framed or exploited them for pecuniary reasons, using torture, threat to rape, or even maim to intimidate alleged suspects. The arbitrary use of force by the NPF (Nigeria Police Force) is usually a scary tale for most Nigerians. Many police officers have been found to assault and torture innocent civilians with crass impunity, this brutality have occurred unabatedly even with legislations like the Anti-Torture Act 2017 that prohibits against such actions. Also, The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, says officers should only use force as a last resort. The NPF have always maintained to look into this offences and have shifted their rhetoric into promising something or another. The Inspector General of police (IGP) on October 3 2019 announced a revised version of the brazen Police Force Order 237, which he stated was carried out to contain the misuse of fire arms by policemen. (The Police Order 237 allows the police to shoot with impunity anyone who flees). In light of this the narratives have remained the same police brutality have continued.

Firstly, the police force is an important public institution that serve as an interface between the government and the citizenry hence the need to have mentally poised individuals cannot be overemphasized. The government must now take deliberate action into making psychological evaluations and field fitness tests of Police officers a more regular practice in the NPF. The newly set up Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU) charged with conducting this evaluations must be fully functional in every regional command centres in the federation.

Secondly, abolishing a police force is one challenge. Replacing it with something better is another and the key to that challenge is revamping the training for prospective officers. I suggest that there be a paradigm shift in the learning objectives in this Police Colleges. Instructors might need to up-skill, because this training centres hold the most important cognitive shaping engine responsible for retooling the mentality of our police officers to meet the 21st century policing expectations.

The generation gap in field practices between operatives of the NPF and international best standards are ridiculous and they’ve been like this for a long time. SARS operatives walked around communities with AK 47s sometimes even on muftis, harassing young people by asking ridiculous questions like, “where is your iPhone?”, “why are you on dreadlocks” or “Are you a yahoo boy?”(to mean, a cyber fraudster). This are not how they can protect and serve our communities. We can look at other countries for inspiration. Countries that do well in policing spend more resources and subject more time for basic trainings in Communication & Restraint and not just technical trainings to become an officer. In Europe, high level of police professionalism is attributed in large degree to the length and thoroughness of training E.g. Germany Police Recruits are required to spend two and a half to four years in regular police academy, learning basic training with an option to pursue the equivalent of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in policing to improve their chances of being offered senior positions. The truth remains that the less time recruits have to train, the less time is afforded for thoroughness in their education in crisis intervention strategies or de-escalation training, human rights, accountability & anti corruption. Etc.

BUILDING PUBLIC TRUST

The term “Policing” as seen a shift from a traditional mentality of fighting crime to a more preventative community focused or relations mentality, building a cordial relationship between the police and the public has become paramount in a 21st century policing system partly because of the increasing security challenges with the rise in crimes like human trafficking, kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry, homicide to mention but a few. Community policing is simply a strategy of policing that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of the communities. The IGP must fast-track the supposed “Community policing programs the NPF have been working on” the philosophy of engaging local stakeholders in communities the Nigerian Police Force(NPF) have sworn to protect is the way to go. This can institute a trust building process from down up. E.g. Georgia a country in the Caucasus region had severe problems with its police system endemic corruption was rife and worse, after legislations to dissolve the police unit and build back up, the new policing system decided to adopt community policing and instituted policies like zero-tolerance to bribery using a community accountability approach and before long the public perception of the police changed. The government must help support NPF in creating a genuine community policing framework which includes emphasis on de-escalation, accountability and anti-corruption measures allowing for tools such as guns and handcuffs only as last resorts.

More importantly, the institution of the police is an interface between the government and the people hence the demands for the prosecution of erring police operatives in the defunct F-SARS or other units before and during the protests should be investigated by an independent commissions like the NHCR (National Human Right Commission), CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) or criminal justice volunteers and public hearings of prosecuted officers must be welcomed to give justice not just to families of the victims but to protesters alike. I also believe that this investigations could produce good data that could help to address some prejudiced behaviour inherent in The Nigerian Police Force and develop processes to address or inform a more acceptable & smart professional conduct.

POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY & OVERSIGHT LEGISLATION

UN guidelines state that any effective police accountability system must increase civilian control over the police, investigate cases of misconduct and act swiftly to address them, and reduce corruption. Some countries rely on independent oversight bodies that have nationwide jurisdiction. E.g. in England and Wales an independent watchdog reviews all misconduct complaints and alleged criminal offences by police. This might be a better system to adopt since the Nigerian Police Act 2004 allows for internal investigation within the force by the Police Service Commission (PSC) however, let this commission be legally required to refer serious misconduct cases, including any killing by an officer to an Independent watchdog.

Furthermore, the steps for legislation that can independently hold erring police operatives for professional misconduct is already being proposed by Hon Gbajabiamila the Speaker of the House of Representative. This will further strengthen compliance and external accountability mechanism to ensuring that the NPF impunity and gross misconduct are prohibited. It will also create legal safeguards to publicly prosecute erring officers. This will eventually be a win-win situation for the Nigeria Criminal Justice system as it will encourage more litigations to ensure that victims of police brutality can find relief in the Justice system.

POLICE FUNDING AND PARTNERSHIP

All steps towards a professional fit for purpose policing system is dependent on the financial resources available for this crucial state institution. Currently a Police Recruit is supposedly said to earn N108,233 naira annually (excluding other allowances)that is less than $300 dollars, how in anyway can the police be expected to competently serve our communities if they are underpaid, it makes no sense. To put this into perspective, a police officer in South Africa is averagely paid 13,266 rand monthly, that is more than $9000 dollars annually, even in neighbouring Ghana the lowest ranking police worker takes home averagely 1,320 GHS monthly, when converted to dollars the estimate will be around $2,700 that is still more than the measly $300 dollars a country with the largest GDP in Africa pays its Police Recruits.

Funding of the NPF is the most important step to really improve policing in Nigeria but therein lies the problem, the way our Police system is designed provides that the bulk of its funds comes from yearly federation budgetary allocations which is apparently not sustainable for instance the 2020 budgetary allocation for the police was estimated at N403 billion, the highest in five years but its ratio amount is smaller compared to the total security budget were it is listed. A PLAC report on the appropriation analysis have it at 22.3% of the total security budget, that is abysmally small for a country with a growing population of more than 200 million and increasing crime rates. Although, the introduction of the Police Trust Fund Act of 2019 is guaranteed to raise crucial funds from private companies for the NPF yet it has not formally commenced due to the absence of a Board to administer the fund, regardless this will still not suffice.

To effectively police the 774 local Government Areas(LGAs) in Nigeria official partnerships with the private sector will have to be foremost in order to meet operational challenges, the number of officers available now cannot police the federation effectively, the IGP (Inspector General of Police) has noted that to meet the UN standard of 1 police officer for 400 citizens there is need to recruit not less than 10,000 officers for the next 10 years, which will culminates to more overhead and operational cost. This is a real challenge to the Federal government with the pessimistic economic figures and high debt service. The key could be in the Private sector and this means that the NPF must show real commitment to securing communities, by devising strategic cost-effective security models that can encourage the private industry. Partnerships could be in diverse areas that could help meet the operational deficit of the NPF. For instance, Business Against Crime South Africa (BACSA) contribute immensely to community policing in local communities in South Africa. BACSA is a professionally staffed organisation controlled by business leaders that has worked with police nationally in many local communities to improve crime prevention initiatives. Private partnership could bridge some of the financial or material resource gap required for ensuring safer communities. This could mean communication equipment’s, patrol vehicles,Etcetera

Finally, these are positive steps, but truth be told, they are not the only panacea to the Nigerian Police System. The complexities of police administration and institution is a serious issue that may not be solved overnight with a Presidential task force team, Commissions and CSOs roundtable discussions on reforms. It requires bold steps with immense political will by the President to once and for all accede to implementing the “Regional Policing structure” that was touted in the 2014 National Conference Report (Confab) experimenting with regions that could kick-start a decentralised policing model.

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