By Dr.Muiz Banire SAN.
By the law setting up the Nigeria Police Force, the officers and men are meant to primarily maintain law and order in the country. Specifically, they are to provide security and protection for the civilian population. At a point in history, they discharged this responsibility so well that the country was substantially safe for all and Nigerians were proud of their police force. In fact, on the international plain, they earned accolades and laurels from time to time in peacekeeping operations and other assignments. However, with the incursion of the military into the country’s governance, the Nigeria Police Force gradually started losing its potency and relevance. Part of the reasons accountable for the ugly trend was the deliberate act of the military rulers to amputate the police in order to forestall any threat to its rulership.
Consequently, appropriation to the Nigeria Police Force started dwindling and funds for weapons, recruitment and capacity-building, among others, became a challenge. In no time, the Nigeria Police Force had become a shadow of itself, losing respect with the populace in all ramifications. Apart from the Nigerian police’s inability to secure the citizens, the force became corrupt to the extent of becoming a menace to the society that it was meant to secure. This recently culminated into the #EndSARS protests across the country. While the country survived that, it may not be fortunate if another of such protests is triggered. It was at this juncture that it became so apparent that nothing good could come of the institution and alternatives must be urgently sought as the country was descending into chaos and a jungle. All manner of crimes became a daily occurrence, hell was let loose on the citizens as armed robbery became prevalent, aided and abetted in many cases by members of the police force.
Kidnapping became a lifestyle; in not too long a distance, terrorism, banditry, obtaining by false pretense, popularly known as ‘yahoo yahoo’ set in. In fact, law and order became inverted in the country. Citizens hardly embrace the law anymore and it was becoming the survival of the fittest. Notwithstanding the scarcity of the men of the Nigeria Police Force as its population was a far cry from the desired number, the few available ones became largely a product of rentals for the privileged class, particularly politicians and other public office holders.
The masses suddenly became orphans in terms of their security and had to resort to all manner of vigils and spiritualism, including diabolism. It was at the peak of this, and rather than resurrecting the force, that ad hoc structures started surfacing in various parts of the country. They range from a cocktail of security agents, with the major component being men of the military agencies, to various vigilance groups and private security outfits. That was and still is the era of security outfits tagged various forms of acronyms, Operation Sweep; Operation Wedge, Operation Safe Haven, Rapid Response Squa,’ etc. Till date, this is now a permanent feature of our security apparatus. In recent times, there has been a struggle to regenerate the Nigeria Police Force but still to no appreciable extent. It is in the midst of this confusion that the Nigeria Police Force became a predator on the citizens. Extrajudicial killings, compromise of the security of the citizens through rental of the few available weapons to criminals, harassment of the citizens, especially the youth, extortion of the citizens and so many other vices became the order of the day. The immediate question is, apart from the reasons alluded to above, what factors are responsible for this ugly development? This is the plank of our engagement in this discourse.
The convenient point to commence is the recruitment process. How are the men recruited? Gone were the days when the best was usually recruited into the police, not only in terms of intelligence but impeccable pedigree and character. This certainly is no more as we continue to witness continuous wranglings over the recruitment process, particularly the organization or institution responsible for the recruitment. I am sure that the struggle between the Police Service Commission and the Nigeria Police Force over the recruitment of new men is still fresh in our memory. It is still an extant issue that has even been elevated into the judicial corridor, with the dispute currently submitted to the apex court for determination as to who is responsible for recruitment of men into the police. If merely on the point of whose responsibility it is to handle recruitment into the force there is such confusion, imagine what anarchy will be reigning in the actual recruitment exercise.
Just in the same manner that we have destroyed the Nigerian football teams and other sports and the country as a whole, we are destroying the police force through the retrogressive federal character and quota system policies. The country, as typified by the police recruitment agency, has relegated merit ad competence to the background. Who you are and where you come from, as if you determined that, now accounts for employment opportunity and growth in the country. While not de-emphasizing the need for integration of the various peoples of the country, it is my view that competence must never be sacrificed for the attainment of this objective. Where even lies the spirit of nationalism and patriotism when Nigerians of different origins are freely discriminated against? Anyway, this is a subject for another engagement. Suffice, however, to state that the criteria adopted for recruitment of policemen in contemporary times do not support the emergence of the best crop of policemen. Federal character births no good and there is no data to profile any new recruit anyway.
We have heard of instances of criminals finding their way into the police force. This flaw is the foundation of the challenge the police and, by extension, the society are confronting today. Capacity-building is another factor militating against the emergence of a responsible and responsive police force. I am not too sure that the police have the required fund to train and develop the capacity of their men; and even the negligible fund available, suspiciously it is not well deployed for the best of training. Thank God for the grace of international training assistance, without which the Nigerian police could have probably been otally comatose.
Weapons handling, discretion exercise, rules of engagement, behavioral conduct, public engagement, response mechanism, combat methodology, etcetera are still largely elusive to them. It is a notorious fact that cases of “accidental discharge” also abound due to mishandling of weapons. This is part of poor training. Frustration is another factor that must be addressed. There is no gainsaying the fact that the welfare of the officers and men is still nothing to be proud of. They still substantially wallow in poverty. Even most of their barracks are reflective of a zoo and you certainly do not expect any behaviour other than animalistic ones from them. Nigerian policemen can hardly sustain their families without compromise, and most times they are unable to access quality health.
This brings me to the event that triggered this discourse, the gruesome murder of Bolanle Raheem, a lawyer. May her soul rest in peace, while God grants the family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
Let me state unequivocally that several lives of Nigerians are lost daily in similar circumstances but with no corresponding outcry as they were ‘inconsequential’.
Those lives came from the voiceless constituencies and silently had to bear their losses. While commiserating with families of all those victims, I believe that this is an opportunity for me to interrogate some of the issues abetting this fatal misconduct, beyond the basic factors that I mentioned earlier. It is not enough that we all shout at the top of our voices that justice must be done, which certainly will not bring back the dead. I believe it is commonsensical to do an excursion into the factors precipitating the murders and addressing them in a manner that recurrence will be minimized, if not eliminated. In this regard, mental illness is a major contributory factor. Now the question is, do we, at the entry level, evaluate these entrants in terms of their mental health? I doubt very much.
Now, assuming, without conceding that we evaluate them at that point, is it not the proper thing for a person handling weapon to at least be evaluated periodically every three years in terms of mental stability? Certainly, this is not obtainable. Again, the excuse will be lack of fund. The system then entrusts ammunition to the hands of such persons, who might, for all you know, be mentally deranged and not expect the worse as in the killing of innocent Nigerians. Then, it is certain that we must be a clowning lot. Therefore, in arresting this dangerous trend, if not already a pattern, we must not only institutionalize the mental evaluation of recruits into the police force, there must be periodic routine evaluation of the officers and men, at least every three years. The other side is the effect of drugs, alcohol and other intoxicants on the conducts of these men. There is no doubt that these equally impairs their capacities to professionally handle arms. Most times on the roads and streets of the country, you stumble on drunk or intoxicated policemen in custody of arms. Who checks them?
Nobody! That explains why the policemen cannot equally control drunk drivers on our roads. I suspect it is part of the codes of the police force not to be drunk while on duty. This rule is however redundant as nobody or authority upholds it. Should it not be part of the training that an average police officer should not consume alcohol for whatever purpose and not merely when on duty? I remember discussing this issue with my friend and brother, Dr Solomon Arase when he was the Inspector General of Police, the advice which he took that there must be random test of policemen on the streets for alcohol and other intoxicant intake. The initiative commenced towards the tail end of his tenure and vanished immediately thereafter. The Inspector General of Police must resurrect this and, at the barest minimum, act through his X Squad Department which exists in all the States in Nigeria.
There must be a control mechanism in place to check these drunk excesses/intoxication of policemen bearing arms. This is another source of accidental discharges, culminating in the recurring extra-judicial killings by the policemen. In the case of the officer responsible for the death of Bolanle Raheem, it is not sufficient from the investigation to unveil her killing and mete out appropriate punishment, but most important to uncover the trigger of his action. This will help in taming such incident in the nearest future. This is my take on the issue and may God continue to protect Nigerians as we enter the new year.
Compliments of the season!