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Missed opportunities: Policing II

In the intervening week since the first of the articles on policing was published, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has lent his voice of reason to regional or state policing. With the hope that he is not just playing to the gallery, the ball in his government’s court. They have the unique privilege to send an executive bill to the National Assembly. They could partner with Senator Isah Misau who looks genuinely interested in helping his former colleagues fix the problem that the Nigeria police have become since independence.

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One of the ways Nigeria has attempted to run away from state policing is transforming civil paramilitary groups into arm-wielding forces. It used to be that the National Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC was a voluntary crowd-control group. Ade Abolurin changed the nomenclature and now NSCDC is a parallel force earning its right to bear arms. Its successes, especially in detecting and preventing bunkering is commendable, but the group has contributed to the militarization psyche – they provide armed escorts for Nigeria’s privileged 10 per cent.

New figures show that Nigeria has 400,000 police officers for a population of 180 or 200 million. Nearly half of those officers are out of their stations, guarding so-called VIPs. This is a sharp contrast to what happens in England, where David Cameron as Prime Minister David Cameron regularly rode the tube while reading his morning papers. It differs from Canada where Stephen Harper as Prime Minister used to walk his child to school before resuming work, or with Justin Trudeau who bumps into fellow-joggers as he strives to keep fit to govern.

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It is a sad reality in Nigeria that half of the police hired to keep us safe are guarding the 10 per cent we have elected or selected to run government. It is also sad that we do not find this phenomenon outrageous enough to hold protests. 

When a country is safe, it is safe for all. As citizens sleep with one eye open, elites walk with fear and have to look over their shoulders. It is not just the police that are on houseboy duties for so-called VIPs, military and para-military men and women are attached to secure these people leaving the rest of us to God and the elements. Nothing could be more disheartening than to see officers kitted to keep us safe napping on the corridors of power with their arms at grab-length. We are regaled with pictures of officers dehumanized into carrying the bags of female ministers, being used as chauffeurs to female officials and wives of male cohorts.

We cannot move forward as a nation until we are ready to take token steps towards globally accepted forms of normality. President Buhari still goes around the globe with a uniformed soldier standing behind him, an absolute denigration of his uniform since he could do his job better incognito like his counterparts in any developed democracy. Our state governors, their wives and commissioners ride around town in blaring sirens with police detachments targeting anyone who dares their convoy even when it’s empty. Then there are the privileged few in the society with whole detachments of police for their safety at public functions. 

The Queen heads the UK government and the 53 countries of the Commonwealth; Donald Trump heads America while Vladimir Putin leads Russia. Not one of these people has an armed soldier standing behind them. I dare say perhaps that they face more security threats than any other leader in the world. There are, perhaps more assassination attempts against these global leaders than there is even a thought of harm to our president. If with his trusted allies heading the police, the army, the DSS, and the NIA, our president feels unsafe without a uniformed man behind him, imagine the fate of the hoi polloi. 

As long as elected officers militarize themselves, uniformed officers would always see themselves as over and above the law and the rest of us, hence the disturbing videos of violation of human rights and abuse of ‘bloody civilians’. If the people have no trust in their law enforcement officers, the fight against insecurity is lost. You won’t give information to people you cannot trust with your life. Here is one reason uniformed officers are used by the connected to harass people and to settle personal scores.

The police needs reform. If the 150,000 orderlies and their uncounted military and paramilitary officers return to their desks, they would be able to better secure the nation, increase patrol, intelligence gathering and develop the bond with society needed to nip crimes in the bud. For as long as they are made to look like giabts starring down Lilliputians, our relationship would remain sour. We must demilitarize the military, civilianize the police by changing the rules of engagement and amending arcane rules to regain the needed trust and confidence of the populace to combat crimes.


…series to be continued.


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