This piece is a result of my recent visit to the ‘New Afghanistan’- Maiduguri-Damaturu axis of northern Nigeria. In the ‘New Afghanistan; the Nigeria police has found itself in a social order completely alien to its primary role- policing. The situation at that axis has clearly proven the age-long belief in the linkage between inept political leadership; dysfunctional economy and policing. Whenever the police of a nation is plagued by poor conditions of service, deplorable work environment, lack of incentives and motivation, corruption, low level of public confidence and serious lack of expertise in some specialized fields, the best option for officers when they find themselves on a tight-rope is- ‘hue, cry and run’. However, three things can save the Nigeria police. These are reform; reform; reform!
The Nigeria Police needs reform in three areas- leadership, methodology and, culture & attitude. Although the Nigeria Police had witnessed quite a number of changes in many of its segments from its inception since 1861 when it began with a thirty-member consular guard formed in the then Lagos Colony. Reform in the three areas mentioned above is imperative. But how would these reforms transform the police? - When the police itself is also a victim of the failure of the leadership of the Nigerian state.
From 1964 to date, the Nigerian police have had sixteen Inspectors General of Police (IGP), all of whom were chosen from the ranks of the police. And, nearly each of them came with his own transformative idea, which regrettably didn’t go beyond the mantra or slogan they came with.
Time has come for Nigeria to experiment an entirely different method of choosing who heads the police. After nearly fifty years of having an IGP from the rank and file of the police, let the police be headed by a civilian. Wow! Did I hear someone say “this idea must be from the outer space”? Let’s not misconstrue this suggestion. No doubt, the Nigerian police have some fine and intelligent officers who persevere with the many challenges of being a police officer. Some of them inspire the trust and confidence of the public, the current IGP Mohammed Abubakar is one of such officers. However, in general, The Nigerian Police dearly needs a new direction and different orientation. In addition, it needs modernization and massive reorganization similar to what obtains in private corporations.
A highly-experienced, private-sector-trained manager is an ideal candidate to drive towards such new direction. This is because he or she will have little or no social mentality of ‘one person is in charge of another’. He will provide junior officers who are always in the field the chances to weigh in with their view. He or she will look at things ‘off-the-police-shelves’ to see what the public expects and needs from the police. A civilian head for the police will not contemplate using imaginative ideas to strike a new resonance within the officers and men of the police. He or she would use his private sector background to bring visible functionality and efficiency in police; in addition, eliminate multiple layers of bureaucracy. Though, some individuals when given the opportunity to lead government agencies suddenly develop big egos. But most disciplined private-sector-trained person with excellent “BS meter” would have a ‘healthy’ ego to want the responsibilities of the job. Such a person would also understand that, for the reforms to succeed, it cannot be imposed on the police. Thus, all strategies and plans must be communicated and a buy-in created along the way among officers- especially junior officers. In general, a private-sector-trained civilian head for the police will come with a different state of mind. The Nigerian police have some intelligent officers; but at this crucial time of its existence, the police needs someone outside its ranks and file.
The public expects the police to prevent crime, and maintain peace and public order. However, Nigerian police job is dangerous, with highest rates of on-the-job injury and death. The police operate without up-to-date and high-tech policing equipment- you cannot fight crime with only guns, bow and arrows and jalopy pickup vans. The police should be armed with modern firearms and protective equipment, in addition to small tools like tasers, incapacitant spray, telescopic and expandable batons, etc. Communication is vital for modern policing. Thus, any existing police radio spectrums which are subject to serious interference should be gradually replaced by a new spectrum of superior quality. The police should have their entire vehicles and posts/stations installed with Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) system for effective communication, as well as for data and voice transmission. TETRA is encrypted to prevent interception.
The general management of policing equipment by the Nigerian police is very poor. For instance, most of the vehicles used by the police are in bad states. The processes of vehicle purchase, fuelling and maintenance should be redesigned- outsourcing and workable decentralization are the best options. The Police Service Commission should commission competent automobile firms to supply and maintain for the Nigerian police vehicles which are built to police specifications in factories. Fuelling of vehicles and other policing equipment should also be contracted out to responsible fuel marketers. This will eliminate corruption and usher in easy administration.
The biggest problem facing the Nigerian police is culture and attitude. The police need to create and cherish a strong culture among its rank and file. The Nigerian police should seek the services of Public Relations experts/firms to develop a modern PR plan for it- one that should go beyond the traditional police’s PR method- public display of achievements. Instead, its officers and men would be trained in many areas including, basic behaviour in the public, how to attend and talk to people, association with civilians and even posture when in public view etc. One of the most critical aspects that need urgent attention is smart dressing. Every officer in the Nigeria police should dress smart and neat- which will reflect the meaning of the yellow colour in the police flag- Discipline & Resourcefulness and the elephant in its crest- Steadfastness & Reliability. The camouflage uniform being recently worn by IGP Abubakar is nice, but some people say it reflects confrontation and have military connotation, which is not in line with the spirit of the time- a police force that is moving away from the posture of an agent of ‘legitimate violence’ to protectors of the people and for community service.
When the Nigerian police witness far reaching reforms, its officers and men will face any challenge gallantly even if it is in the ‘New Afghanistan’.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State