Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
When a team set up by the Inspector-General of Police rose in defence of the honour of some slain police officers who were ambushed and gunned down by a notorious robber and kidnapper Endurance Ominisan, alias ‘Mighty,’ the outpouring of emotions was huge and the nation’s outrage at the dastardly act was understandable.
Along with others, the scoundrel had terrorised the Ikorodu area of Lagos State. During one of such encounters they killed four policemen and an Army captain. Obviously, the armed robbers were better equipped. The hoodlums usually have access to more sophisticated arms and ammunition. This is tragic.
Strangely, this is not new in Nigeria. There had been cases of hoodlums who went out of their way to eliminate policemen. Scoundrels Lawrence Nomayanokpon alias ‘Anini’ in the old Bendel State and ‘Shina Rambo’ in Lagos exemplified this affront. Sadly, there have been cases of policemen who fell to the deadly bullets of robbers and kidnappers in the course of their duty. Doubly so as a reflection of the poor state of welfare in the Nigeria Police, a miserable sum of N100,000 is approved for the family for burial. Often the families have to wait for a year or more for the promised assistance. A cursory check of statistics of fallen policemen would show that too many widows of fallen soldiers are unhappy with the employers of their late husbands.
The Nigeria policemen over the years have become victims of official neglect. Apart from the poor pay, the basic infrastructure to combat the increasing wave of crimes is lacking. Crime prevention and detection which are fundamental to policing have been seriously challenged. A typical police station is a study in neglect, starvation and absence of standard practice. Complainants are often asked to provide basic things. The policemen complain about lack of funds to run their offices. Sometimes, DPOs send their men to check points to raise money from vehicle drivers, including commercial motorcycle and tricycle riders. The morale and self-esteem of the average policeman are low. They are not loved or liked by the public. The Nigeria Police slogan ‘The Police is your Friend’ is treated with derision. More often than not, policemen often complicate simple matters because they can be easily compromised. Their ruthlessness when harassing commercial drivers for the notoriously familiar bribe is near legendary. Indeed, their often-used expression ‘Wetin you carry’ as a prelude to asking for and receiving gratification has entered the unofficial national lexicon.
Yet the Nigeria Police has not always been a reprobate organisation. Time was in the checkered history of the country when the Nigeria Police Force (NPF, now NP) was known for its efficiency and commitment. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the ‘E Branch’ are cases in point. When deployed outside the country, men of the Nigeria Police, till date, have often distinguished themselves as worthy ambassadors of the Nigerian State. Yet at home, they sometimes carry out their duties without regards for decency, honesty and the ethics of their profession. How could a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), for example, ask complainants to purchase writing materials for the station? How could a DPO ask complainants to provide fuel for their official vehicle so that his men may go and investigate a complaint or arrest an accused?
The truth is that Nigeria needs the Nigeria Police. The question that must be answered is: what type of police does the country need? Can the current unitary structure of the Nigeria Police serve the needs of the Nigerian State? The answer is a resounding No! The country needs proper policing. It needs a police service that is people-friendly and close to the grassroots. If Nigeria must run a true federal system of government, it needs state police in the constituent parts of the federation. In other words, Nigeria must create a federalised force. The police structure currently in operation cannot enforce the laws of the land. An Inspector-General sitting in Abuja cannot efficiently supervise policing in the entire 36 states of the federation. This is anomalous to the letter and spirit of a federal system of government which is the guiding principle of the Nigerian Constitution.