For a good reason, there is global attention focused on Nigeria; the nation’s youth population has taken up the gauntlet in the onerous task of changing the narrative of a Police Institution still enmeshed in indiscriminate incivilities towards the citizenry.
The hashtag #EndSARS has become a euphemism for the end of police brutality in Nigeria. Of course, in any genuine agitation for a better lease of life, there are fifth columnists; I am zeroing on self-serving, self-seeking folks with cynically opportunistic desires, especially those who had their feeding troughs forcefully yanked off their mouths in 2015 and who also could not make any appreciable modicum of success in the 2019 political calendar, regardless the massive high entropy change in the Polity. Whilst discounting the ravenous infiltration of the #EndSARS movement by these later groups, I want to publicly declare my support for the decent agitation of our youth population in bringing about a comprehensive turnaround in the Policing function of the Nigeria Police Force! For me, this global movement can provide the governing Authorities in Nigeria with the much-needed elixir to do the needful. In any democracy, the People sit at the apogee of government. The Nigerian Constitution puts it aptly in section 14 – “Sovereignty belongs to the people, from which any government -through this constitution- derives its legitimacy.”
What I am saying is that this current effort can provoke the needed convergence of the organs of government towards providing the needed impetus for a comprehensive overhaul of Policing in Nigeria. Let me elucidate with this story:
In 2015, just before this administration came into power, I did a comprehensive write up on ‘Remarking Nigeria Police Force (NPF) as an effective institution in the enforcement of a secure Nigeria. I did extensive research on previous presidential panels set up for police reform and policing in some other climes, notably the NYPD. I put a copy in the hand of the president-elect, GMB. When ministers were appointed and Lt. Gen. Dambazau became the minister of Interior, overseeing police in Nigeria at that time, I put a copy in his hand too.
About a month later, he told me, “Rotimi, thank you for that write-up. When it is time for implementation, I shall need your input.”
I told him, “not a problem, my big brother.”
About a year later, I asked him about the write-up and he said, “Rotimi, the NPF is the most useless institution in Nigeria.”
He continued, “there are presently 3 layers of superintending powers over the police: the Police service commission; the Nigeria Police Council and the Ministry.”
“And guess what? the IGP chooses the one to obey!” He concluded.
The problem of NPF is very fundamental. Let me share with you the executive summary of my write-up, titled – ‘remaking the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) an effective policing Institution in Nigeria:
The enforcement of the Law, as the constitutional core function of the Executive arm of government, is largely vested in the Police Institution in any clime. The Nigeria Police Force, in the contemplation of the framers of the Constitution in Sections 214 to 216 and the Police Act, is expected to see to the maintenance of peace and order within the Nation space of the Nigerian state. There is no gainsaying that the Institution has posted very dismal performance in the discharge of this onerous duty. The gaping hole by the Police Institution’s below-par functionality had often caused governments to outsource the traditional job functions of the Police to the Military.
In the last fourteen years, three administrations have found the need for setting up four Presidential Committees for reforms in the Policing of the Nigerian entity. Unfortunately, the reports of these committees, though meticulously done, have suffered from the same malady of non-implementation for such important efforts.
The core of the ineffectiveness of the Nigeria Police becomes discernible and glaring when the Institution’s methodologies are bench-marked against notable Police Institutions in the World. The New York Police Department (NYPD), for instance, has as its mission statement: The Mission of the NYPD is to enhance the quality of life in our City by working in partnership with the community and by constitutional rights to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear, and provide for a safe environment. And of course, the values are:
• Protect the lives of our fellow citizens and impartially enforce the law.
• Fight crime both by preventing it and aggressively pursuing violators of the law.
• Maintain a higher standard of integrity than is generally expected of others because so much is expected of us.
• Value Human life, respect the dignity of each individual and render our services with courtesy and civility.
The NYPD then encapsulates these values in the three-word trademark that is emblazoned on each operational vehicle: Courtesy, Respect, Professionalism. This explains why the NYPD is a largely successful Policing Institution because it is value-driven as a Professional, purposeful department.
On the other hand, section 4 of the Police Act states the Mission statement of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF): “The Police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crimes, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within and outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.” The deficiency of this statement, as it is, is twofold: the inability to draw the nexus between Policing function with the served people and also, this tends to build the impression of a militarized Police service. The job function of the Police must never be confused with that of the Military. As Night is far from the day, so is the Military far the Police both in training methodology, orientation and service delivery! Furthermore, the slogan depicting the value set, if any, that we read in NPF operational vehicles, like ‘operation fire for fire’ ‘Thunder’ etc, is enough to tell any objective observer that lack of a visionary objective is the fundamental problem of the Police. Rather than seeing the need for Police service for a Nigerian Society, of which they are part and parcel of, the Nigerian public is viewed as a bunch of criminals or potential criminals that must be vanquished with crude force. Therein is the genesis of the failed relationship between the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian public. Though Nigeria Police Force has spent colossal amount in presenting the imagery of a friendly Police, but the truth is, the daily acts of needless brutality on the citizens cannot make the frostiness between the people and Police to disappear too quickly.
The NPF became this unprofessional outfit as a result of about thirty years of neglect, misplaced priority and wrong-head methodology. It would therefore need years of unbroken commitment to remake the NPF as an effective Institution in the enforcement of a secure Nigeria.
Furthermore, we must be realistic in understanding the need for a constitutional amendment as a means for ensuring that the needed reforms in the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) are implementable. It is of vital importance to boldly understand that Section 215(3) of the Constitution and Section 9(4)(5) of the Police Act are two legislative impediments to ensuring an apolitical and effective Police Force in Nigeria. These two sections make the President in charge of the operations of the Nigeria Police Force. In a Nation that is still grappling with the understanding and operationalizing the rudiments of democratic governance, such legislations are antithetical to ensuring an independent, professional and effectual Police Force.
Section 215(3) of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:
“The President or such other Minister of the Government of the Federation as he may authorise in that behalf may give to the Inspector-General of Police such lawful directions concerning the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary, and the Inspector-General of Police shall comply with those directions or cause them to be complied with.”
In a related manner, the Police Act in Sections 9(4) (5) and 10(1) posit:
9(4) The President shall be charged with operational control of the Force.
9(5) The Inspector-General shall be charged with the command of the Force subject to the directive of the President.
10(1) The President may give to the Inspector-General such directions concerning the maintaining and securing of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary, and the Inspector-General shall comply with those directions or cause them to be complied with.
It must be stressed, however, that any spirited effort at remaking the Nigeria Police Force must be well complemented by formally enunciating a comprehensive National Policing Policy. It is expected that the Policy document should contain the roles to be played by the Federal Government, State Governments, Local Governments and the Private Industrial concerns as complementary roles in the overall Policing of the Nigerian state. The issue of funding and donations/gifts (to the NPF in a transparent manner) shall also feature in this document.”
For reasons of space and time, I may not be able to delve into the entire write up in this article; however, we need to take a hard look at section 4 of the Police Act, quoted earlier in the executive summary of my paper:
“The Police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crimes, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within and outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.”
Is this not where our police derive its name as the Nigeria Police Force?!
If we look carefully into history, we may just find out that #EndSARS is merely scratching the surface of a deep-rooted malady! This may, of course, lead us to what Georgia – a breakaway republic of the former Soviet Union – did after its rose revolution of 2004. The pre-revolution Georgia was a cesspool of corruption. A person would need to pay a bribe as much as two thousand dollars to be enlisted in the Police. When Mikheil Saakashvili became President, one of his notable acts was to disband the Police!
“After Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2004, I became president of a failed state. Law enforcement agencies functioned like criminal gangs. Officers demanded bribes, trafficked narcotics and weapons, and worked for political and business elites as a mercenary security force. Georgia was a textbook example of “predatory policing”: Police did not perform the basic responsibilities of ensuring public safety, instead of enriching themselves and their patrons by extorting citizens. A 2003 survey found that just 2.3 per cent of Georgians held a positive view of police. In just a few years, we transformed this—offering a model for other countries, such as the United States, struggling with police reform.
The corruption of law enforcement empowered organized criminals, known in the former Soviet Union as vory v zakone, literally “thieves in law,” to fill the void. Gang leaders served not only as de facto police but also as judge, jury, and executioner. The police themselves were notorious for collaborating with organized crime. Suspicion of state institutions was deeply rooted in Georgian society: A survey of schoolchildren in 1993 found that a quarter of them wanted to be thieves in law when they grew up. Those youth had witnessed police systematically exploiting their communities. Of course, they held gangsters in higher regard than law enforcement.
Given that reality, police reform was not only a matter of restructuring institutions or implementing better policies. We had to change the mentality of a broken, cynical, and fearful society. Before people could begin to trust the police, we—the new political elites—had to earn their trust. Challenging the status quo was not enough. We had to destroy it and build something better. And we had to do it quickly. After the Rose Revolution, Georgian society united to demand reform. Reforms mean nothing without results that people can see.
The priority was to seize back control of state security functions from organized crime. Vano Merabishvili, the then-interior minister, announced: “We will confiscate from all thieves in law the palaces they built with their dirty money and put police stations in their place.” And we did. Over a billion dollars’ worth of stolen property was recovered from thieves and returned to the state budget. New police stations were built all over Georgia, with floor-to-ceiling glass. This wasn’t just an aesthetic choice—building trust in law enforcement requires transparency.
Simultaneously, we dismantled the Soviet legacy of politicized policing and replaced it with equitable law enforcement. We eliminated redundant agencies and those beyond hope of rehabilitation. The Ministry of State Security, a KGB relic, was dissolved. We disbanded the Traffic Police, firing every one of the thousands of officers who had acted as state-sanctioned highway robbers. We replaced them with an entirely new force of Patrol Police, who had no background in law enforcement and thus no ties to old, corrupted elites. Recruits had to pass a competitive examination and complete a course in criminal procedure code. They were trained in persuasion, negotiation, and mediation skills to minimize the use of force.
In restaffing the streamlined law enforcement agencies, we chose quality over quantity. The total number of Ministry of Internal Affairs employees decreased from around 56,000 to 33,000. Violent crime fell by 66 per cent after reforms were implemented. Carjackings and auto thefts, once commonplace, nearly disappeared. The overall crime rate dropped by over 50 per cent, making Georgia one of the world’s safest countries in the world. We hadn’t needed so many police. We only needed good police.
Before my government’s reforms, talented people who wanted to serve their communities would never have considered careers in law enforcement. We had to change that. Without the right people, even the best policies would be doomed to fail. Besides revamping the hiring process, we established a Police Academy, issued modern uniforms, and imported new squad cars and equipment. These investments improved the morale and professionalism of personnel.
At last, professional police earned professional salaries. Before my presidency, police officers were paid just $44 per month—with the unspoken expectation that they would supplement their meagre incomes with bribes. By reducing the size of the force, jettisoning agencies and ministries, and hiring only qualified candidates, we increased salaries of police officers nearly tenfold. Now that officers were fairly compensated, we enforced zero tolerance for corruption. Public employees did not enjoy any special treatment from the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Internal Affairs created a reality TV show to broadcast raids at the homes of corrupt officers.
With these tactics, some time-tested and some unconventional, we managed to break the backbone of the post-Soviet patronage system.
With these tactics, some time-tested and some unconventional, we managed to break the backbone of the post-Soviet patronage system.
Police no longer exploited the people whom they took an oath to protect. In place of cash bribes, they gained the public’s trust. At the end of my presidency in 2013, law enforcement ranked among the most respected institutions in the country, with an 87 per cent approval rating. This figure was one of the highest in the world.
If leading Georgia from a failed state to, in the World Bank’s estimation, the “world’s best reformer” taught me one thing, it’s that half-measures don’t work. Those who benefit from the status quo will always abhor change. And vested interests tend to fight incremental measures with the same ferocity as they resist dramatic overhauls. So when the moment is ripe, why accept incremental progress when you can seize the opportunity for real transformation?”
This is the time for all patriots to join in this daunting task of building a virile nation.
I am standing up to be counted. What about you?
Engr. Rotimi Fashakin, FNSE
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