The mild power-play which shadowed the yet to be concluded recruitment of new 10,000 new personnel into the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), provided snippets of the humongous challenges inherent in efforts to reform and modernise the Force. Midway into the exercise which was conducted by the Police Service Commission (PSC), and which commenced on a promising note of transparency as well as orderliness, it was reported that an unapproved list of ‘successful’ candidates had been released to the general public by the Police high command, without recourse to the PSC under which such responsibility statutorily falls. The PSC with its Chairman as Musuliu Smith, a former Inspector General of Police (IGP 1999 – 2002) himself, would not have that and promptly responded by discrediting the list released by the Police high command. For some time, it seemed that these two bedfellows (NPF and PSC) were at last succumbing in public glare, to the plague of inter-agency rivalry that is rampant among many of Nigeria’s public sector organisations, even in the face of clearly outlined provisions of the law.
Two factors however saved the day. Firstly, was the rather subdued and mature response of the PSC Chairman Smith, who as a former IGP, knows the force inside out and chose his steps carefully. Smith’s measured response was even in the face of a near revolt by staff of the PSC who actually embarrassed him and other Commissioners, for not matching the police hijack of the recruitment exercise, with more assertiveness. According to media reports, the PC staff even contemplated going on industrial action to protest the police action.
Secondly was the intervention by President Muhamadu Buhari who promptly spelt out the riot act that assigns the sole responsibility of administrative oversight of the entire Police force to the PSC. Receiving the members of the PSC when they presented the Commission’s 2018 Annual Report to him, Buhari expressly ordered the Commission to “put the Police in order”. He further reminded the Commission that their assignment remains “enormous and calls for sacrifice and commitment…” With respect to his expectations on the Police Buhari averred that unless the country got the Police angle right, its security challenges would hardly be resolved. Interestingly the IGP Mohammed Adamu was present in the meeting when Buhari gave the order.
With the intervention of the President in the Police PSC tussle, the last word on the matter should be considered to have been said as each party should now fall back on the extant laws that define its scope of operation and interface with the other. Put in simpler terms the relationship between the Police establishment and the PSC is expected to be based on mutual understanding of each other’s role in making the country properly policed. While the officers and men of the Force are directly engaged in combating crime, the Commission is empowered to handle the issues of recruitment, promotion discipline and welfare.
Meanwhile these are areas that attract the keenest interest not only in the Police establishment but in virtually all other areas of public service in Nigeria. In the context of the rampant disorderliness which is traditionally driven by the desire in unscrupulous public officers to promote personal interests above national objectives, and which often compromises several areas of the country’s public life – police operations inclusive, it is not surprising that the tussle over recruitment of new police officers should ensue. Yet, this is where the PSC has its job cut out for it.
Buhari’s order to the Commission to put the Police in order should be seen to enjoy a simple literal meaning that the Commission remains responsible for the enthronement of order in the police establishment. The traditional role of the Police is to secure and safeguard lives and property across the country. Even at the best of times the job of the Police is not easy, and full of risks, as they constitute the first line of defence, against enemies of the social order. With the escalated level of insecurity in the country, the job of the Police has become even more demanding, with considerable stress on the welfare and operational circumstances of the officers. It is the imperative to insulate the member of the force from circumstances that may distract them from full attention to their primary assignment that the Commission was established.
Meanwhile the development of the Nigeria Police Force over the years has not been anything but a smooth journey. With a history that closely mirrors the major political developments in the country’s journey to nationhood, the Nigeria Police Force today is literally a clone of the Nigerian society with all the good, bad and ugly features of the country’s public face, replicated in the force.
By virtue of the same tradition, generations of the Police high command might have enjoyed unfettered sway in dictating who joins or leaves the force. In the context of such past and even present state of miasma, the force remained riddled with endemic weaknesses, that crippled its performance with respect to serving, as the foundation of the country’s security architecture.
The foregoing is not to discount the daily sacrifice by dedicated Police officers across the country, who are safeguarding lives and property in public buildings, on the highways, in the forests at sundry check points, and with most of them leaving home in the morning without any guarantee of returning to their loved ones at the end of the day.
It is for the good of all of these officers that the PSC has come to be. Hence to compromise the integrity and functions of the Commission in any manner, is as good as throwing the sacrifice and welfare of these dedicated officers to the dogs.