Long gone are the days when Nigerians held policemen in high esteem. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) headed by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) is the principal law enforcement agency in Nigeria. Comprising approximately 371,800 officers and men, it’s organized into 36 State commands grouped into 12 Zones and 7 administrative departments. Regrettably public respect for the NPF is at an all time low having been eroded by corruption, abuse of power, misuse of deadly force, and a lack of capacity to actually prevent or solve crimes. Regrettably the NPF rank and file is regularly found guilty of crimes ranging from extortion to rape, murder and now kidnapping.
Indeed a report by the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) in collaboration with New York based Open Justice Society concluded that Policemen in Nigeria are more likely to commit crime than prevent it! Lamentably those saddled with the responsibility of protecting the lives of citizens are busy maltreating them. In developed nations children are taught to contact police anytime they need assistance. In Nigeria children are taught to avoid the police at all costs! The problem isn’t that the rank and file has suddenly become unfeeling and uncaring. There is nothing new about ill-disciplined behavior in the NPF. What is new and what has finally revealed their bestiality to the public, is the use of modern camera phones to film their excesses.
Quite understandably rather than risk arrest and detention by trying to lay a formal complaint against the police, concerned citizens post their video footages online. This has placed in the public domain incontrovertible evidence of police brutality and indiscipline which has previously been ignored or denied. Most victims of police brutality are poor people or youths. Although the Cybercrimes Act clearly states that mobile phones and laptops can only be searched after obtaining a Court Order, any young person objecting to illegal random stop and search by policemen is likely to either be assaulted with vicious slaps and a beating, or shot and killed. The internet is replete with video clips of armed uniformed policemen on duty fighting each other in public or consuming alcohol and engaging in all sort of drunken indiscipline.
Even worse are the antics of the trigger happy Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who have lost the essence of the use of their weapons and now employ them primarily to harass and intimidate innocent citizens rather than to apprehend violent criminals. They habitually brutalize, torture, or even murder suspects in detention and law-abiding members of the public at the slightest provocation. It’s debatable as to whether Nigerian criminals have become more callous because of their treatment at the hands of SARS, or the police have become more callous because of their almost daily slaughter by robbers. Although the Acting IGP Mohammd Adamu sought to re-assure the public by saying that training will be done across the country to teach handling of weapons and how to address citizens, his statement seriously begs the question; “what exactly are recruits taught in the various police training colleges throughout the nation?”
The Head of the Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit (PCRRU) of the Nigeria Police Abayomi Shogunle, quite absurdly advised the general public that if they don’t want to annoy policemen they should communicate in Pidgin-English! This naturally begs the question – “is Pidgin-English used to train the rank and file at the Police Colleges?”. So called “Queen’s English” is the language of education in Nigeria and it’s ludicrous to suggest that young people are risking their lives if they do not forego their education in order to communicate with less educated ill-disciplined armed policemen. Following the latest spate of brutal extra-judicial killings the Acting IGP said that “the wrong use of weapons will no longer be tolerated!” This is really the crux of the matter.
For far too long the NPF has not only denied but seemingly tolerated extra-judicial killings, torture, illegal arrests, extortion of money from travelers and other well-known vices in the force. It’s common knowledge that the NPF relies on torture rather than forensic investigation to obtain “confessions” from suspects. Furthermore, there are far too many allegations of detainees being executed or otherwise losing their lives in the process of interrogation for them to lack substance. These allegations are not as far-fetched as they may sound because the Police Act of 1943 includes Order 237 which empowers police to shoot any suspect or detainee trying to escape or evade arrest!
It has been suggested that in line with Immigration, Customs, Prisons and Fire Services the NPF should be renamed Nigerian Police Service (NPS) to remind them that their primary responsibility is to provide a public service, not disservice. Quite incredulously the operations of the NPF are guided by a law promulgated by colonialists 76 years ago to suppress public dissent rather than fight crime. Until this is law is changed and the organization and operations of the NPF restructured, Nigerians will continue to suffer from policing guided by the use of force rather than forensics and intelligence.