Probably nothing had been so extensively discussed nationwide in the last fortnight than the issue of security, or to be more precise, lack of it. Other momentous issues ranging from the delayed budget to what is trending in the transition matters such as the appointment of new ministers, etc., have all been quietly tucked away in the backburner. It was no surprise that even when President Buhari returned to the country after a ten days’ private visit to the United Kingdom his gaze at the Airport only fell on the visage of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP).
The President saw how emaciated and worrisome the IGP had become due perhaps to the overwhelming challenges, and answered a reporter’s question on insecurity by making an example of it: ‘I have seen the IGP, I think he is losing weight so I think he is working very hard’. That characteristically humorous remark of the President did not go down very well and had been pooh-poohed a lot in the social media. The cartoonists in particular had a field day caricaturing government functionaries in various modes trying to reduce weight, ostensibly, to give the impression that they are working hard.
But all these aside, the reality of the situation is that the police hold the key to the solution of banditry that had in the last few weeks seemed to have blanketed the country. Cities, towns and villages have now become bubbles of safety. Highways are avoided for even the shortest runs. Trains stations and airports have become congested for most who want to get anywhere, particularly for those who can afford it. Perhaps nothing underlines the gravity of the situation than the experience of the Senator representing Borno South, Mohammed Ali Ndume on the overcrowded Abuja-Kaduna train which he rode as an alternative to the dangerous road journey. He related to his surprised colleagues in the Senate, that when he could neither get a First Class or Economy Class ticket, he was given a ticket to stand for the entire two hours’ journey.
I watched the video where he made these remarks just before moving the motion he sponsored calling on the Federal Government to increase the number of coaches to the beleaguered rail line. As Senator after Senator spoke after him, one could feel the fear of kidnappers pervading the length and breadth of the hallowed chamber. The Senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani described the Abuja-Kaduna highway as ‘one of the most dangerous roads in Nigeria’. James Manager, the Senator representing Delta South also described the road in the same lurid terms adding that: ‘it is not just one of the most dangerous roads in Nigeria but the most dangerous. It is one that wants to commit suicide that will take the road’. Obviously the fear of kidnappers was palpable even among our most distinguished citizens as nobody wants to fall into their hands.
But to be fair to Senator Ndume, it is in his character to endure the discomfort of travelling in that fashion because I have spotted him many times huddled up in the economy class of internal flights. And I have also witnessed him standing patiently in queues in a number of different occasions, stubbornly refusing entreaties by fawning officials to jump. Elsewhere this would not matter but here in Nigeria where public officers are such insufferable bullies, a small humble gesture, such as Ndume’s, goes a long way.
In any case, incidences of kidnapping have even gone beyond the highways. People are now picked from their homes for ransom. In the more extreme cases whereby whole villages are surrounded by kidnappers and their citizens cherry-picked for ransom as it obtains in Zamfara and Sokoto States, the Army and Air force have been called in and deployed, because the police who have primary duties to attend to such have failed to do so.
We chastise the police for these lapses and always drag in the armed forces for duties that they are not primarily trained for. Essentially the armed forces are to defend the country from external aggression and protect the country’s borders. Restoring order within the country is also part of their function but this is generally left to the police that are more in tune with the civilian population. In fact, the primary function of the police is to protect lives and properties of the citizen. I guess, it is when the police force is deemed to fail, that the army is brought in under the canopy of restoring order.
It is a pity that we always have had a poor impression of the police force in Nigeria much of it from misguided comparison with the armed forces whom we deliberately armed with more sophisticated weapons in the 1960s to fight the civil war. Somehow after they ended the war, the armed forces remained our overlords for decades, taking priority over acquisition of essential kits. They were also able to overhaul their officer rank when they started recruiting directly into the officer rank from the set of our contemporaries in the universities in the early 1970s. But the police force has also never been really far behind. From early 1980s they have also been recruiting directly from the universities. And what you have now as the officer corps in the police can compare to the top functionaries in any organization in the country in terms of qualifications, exposure and whatever. What I found out over the years of my public service career through my interactions with the Police is that many of them are smart though conscious of the inadequacies in their commands. And they are equipped with the knowhow to make the necessary changes.
I recall my interaction with a top police when some years ago I briefly served as a functionary in the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, where he was a participant in the year-long Senior Executive Course. We went to Ghana that year with the participants as part of the annual tour of African countries. A few days in Accra I found myself very impressed with the Ghanaian Police, their turn out and conduct. So when on a bus trip to Akosombo dam, the next day, I found myself sitting with this police officer, I shared with him my impressions of the police in Ghana and asked what we could learn from it.
He told me that much of what I saw arose from a reform started by President Rawlings in the 1990s when he deliberately targeted the Ghanaian diaspora to fund the reform of the Ghana Police Force. Throughout the trip he kept me abreast of other kinds of reforms he was thinking and working on probably as part of his project. Interestingly a few years down the line this police officer became the Inspector-General and I was pleasantly surprised that he set out to implement most of what he shared with me on that bus trip down to the nitty-gritty of targeting the Nigerian diaspora for funds. A pity he didn’t have the time to see through those reforms as he had leave two years later at attainment of retirement age.
It is to the credit of these and many other visionary Nigerian citizens that finally saw the Police Reform Bill come to light at last. It is pleasant news that this bill that has been in the works for some time has finally been passed by the outgoing Senate. Also the Nigerian Police Trust Bill which will provide a legal framework for the management of special intervention funds for the police has also been passed.
There should be no more excuses for the Nigerian Police Force again. We expect them at the front making our cities, towns, villages and highways safe.