By Femi Olugbile
The Nigeria Police is the key law enforcement agency of the Nigerian nation. It is said to have a staff strength of 371,800. There are 36 State commands grouped into 12 zones, with 7 administrative organs.
Somehow over the years, Nigerians have never felt that they have quite the Police they deserve. ‘
The Police is your friend’, says the motto.
However, the policeman, through the eyes of many citizens, is not a ‘friend’, but often an unhelpful bully who is very tardy in his work. There is ‘no vehicle’ at the time the emergency in the neighbourhood is reported. The ‘checkpoint’ is a place where a citizen’s dreams and hopes could come crashing in a burst of gunfire deliberately or ‘accidentally’ let off.
Psychologists have remarked on the danger in having a man who earns barely living wages and works endless hours on cruel shifts wielding momentary life and death power over comfortable and often dismissive members of the public on lonely roads in the middle of the night. It is easy to have a chip on the shoulder, and to feel disrespected, not just by the individual, but by the system.
Poor medical services. Virtually non-existent mental health services. Poor support in case of injury or death in the line of duty. Not exactly the ‘best in class’ recruitment or training processes. Imprecise, ill-enforced protocols and rules of engagement with the public, including what exactly to look for at a ‘checkpoint’, whose duty it is to profile and chase after ‘yahoo boys’, and whether it is lawful to ‘invade’ a citizen’s phone or laptop.
Everybody, in the end, is a victim.
There is an added cost to the tragedy. If Nigerians cannot walk or drive on their streets without fear, neither can backpacking European or Asian tourists. All the millions of naira being spent by government to attract foreign visitors and their money is just so much money down the drain, until the problem of policing is solved across the nation.
How may the journey of bringing the Police, and the policing, of Nigeria to an acceptable standard be commenced?
There needs to be a reasonably contented workforce. Policing is a calling. You need to want to do it. The hours are crazy, the dangers many.
The welfare of the rank and file policeman is important. He must earn wages that enable him to live a reasonable life comparable with his colleagues in other professions. This is not just about salary but allowances, including for accommodation.
He must have a pathway to career progression based on his performance, and devoid of that Nigerian bogey – ethnicity. Schooling for his children must be such that he could aspire for them to be ‘better’ than him. The young man in the Benz he stops at the checkpoint is not an alien from another world, insulting his sensibilities by his very appearance. In his mind’s eye he could be his own son, in a few years’ time. Upward mobility may be happening in Nigeria, but the dots are yet to be connected.
Police numbers are low for the population. It is odd that they are further depleted by allocation of policemen to ‘cushy’ jobs guarding ‘celebrities’, rich people and politicians. A supervised private force of ex-servicemen could be licensed to do this at no cost to the taxpayer!
The Police must be properly equipped. The current prototype of the ‘patrol vehicle’ is not comfortable or safe, or even dignified. Paying attention to such ‘minor’ details would give the sense that ‘Police Lives Matter’, and foster commitment.
Response to crisis needs to be calibrated. The first response to a street protest or a factory strike cannot be a detachment of gun-toting policemen firing their guns, surely! The planners need to go back to the drawing board and watch videos of how Hong Kong police, with helmets, shields and batons, contained several weeks of popular, even occasionally violent civil protests without shooting people. Nigeria once had police like that!
The Police, including the ‘Special Units’, need to be ‘embedded’ in their local community, and not be seen as an ‘occupation force’ controlled from Abuja.it is a step towards the ‘community police’ everyone talks about and could happen even in advance of the desired ‘State Police’. DPOs and their ‘boys’ could firmly network with their local governments and CDAs and be connected with local Church and Mosque organisations for mutual support. The community could facilitate access to accommodation and schooling for families of ‘their’ police. The wives of policemen could get preferential access to stalls in local government-controlled markets in their locality.
Finally, the Psychology of the whole Policing process would need to be made right. People with evidence of uncontrolled violence should be excluded. So, should those with ongoing drug addiction. A history of past mental illness, treated, recovered, is not necessarily a barrier, but it must be documented.
Some time ago, this author participated in the design of a proposal for the enhancement of Mental Health and ‘Wellness’ among the Police. A baseline evaluation of their Knowledge, Beliefs and Attitudes on the subject. A review of Mental Health components in the existing teaching in the Police College. A measurement of Self-Awareness and Self-Image of police personnel and their sense of how they are perceived by the public. Scheduled and incident-based medical and psychological evaluation, with intervention as required, especially following trauma. A formal Employee Assistance Program for psycho-social support. A customised Behaviour Modification program to promote a sense of dignity and positive self-regard in the individual policeman.
For a period, there seemed to be an active interest around the matter. And then the interest fizzled out.
Such thinking represents a pathway to a future Policing environment in Nigeria, where the police and the policed value, respect and enhance one another. It is an ‘opportunity’ that could be grasped from the justified anger of #EndSARS and the present season of discontent, if a genuine effort is made.