Redefining Community Policing
Sometimes it is preferable to conclude a literal matter before starting it: in this article I am putting it to President Mohammadu Buhari that Nigeria and Nigerians need more than the 10,000 men and women he has approved for recruitment and training into the Nigeria Police. Mr President must at this critical moment in our journey to nationhood learn how to ensure he has the right statistics and data from which he should be operating and which will also be simple for the people to follow. It is a shame that 55 years running, We do not have a reliable statistical evaluation of our actual population: er say about 170 million – we can not count ourselves, a very elementary thing to do. Fighting corruption should not aim only at correcting individual misbehaviours but should aim also at redeeming the systems that were mortgage to die or remain stunted. President Buhari should know that Nigeria and Nigerians need 3,191,400 police men and women to make a meaning of police duties in our communities. If he insists on sticking to the “Change” philosophy, he must immediately reorient the Nigeria Police from been establishment-driven and targeted, making it people-driven and targeted.
As Nigeria marks her 55th year as an independent country, it behoves that we reflect upon our history, which is repleted with stories of how the colonial masters used “classless” local inhabitants to institute law and order in the communities over which they superintended. In Southern Nigeria, young men who were cultivated into Christianity were recruited and given authority to subvert the existing security structures in our communities, as local as our forefathers were, they had a police and justice system that was dreaded by all, like the “Ekpe” and “Ekpo” masquerades; the police systems in the then South Eastern State of Nigeria. They provided order and justice; and effectively prevailed over the people before the advent of the administration of the slave traders. Sadly enough, the police system introduced by the colonialists was targeted to subdue citizens who saw the white man’s religion and life style as intrusive and distractive to their local affairs; they therefore became the targets of the white man’s brutalities and exploitations; all in the bid to subdue and subjugate the inhabitants. The whites were treated with disdain, their policemen as traitors, and they were hated by the people with passion. Chinua Achebe’s “Things fall apart” gives a clear perspective of the police system of that era – it was anti people.
In the North, the system of the “dogarais”, the emirates’ police system, usually known as the “native police” was tolerated by the British, in line with their adoption of the “indirect rule” system, yet they had their own “yan sanda”, the Hausa name for the colonial police. Initially, the British accepted to rule the people through their Emirs until a class of young intellectuals were mobilised and trained to take up jobs as civil servants; these were subsequently used to supplant the authorities of the Emirs, who were taken aback by the traitorous imposition. Today, our traditional systems have been usurped by the self-styled white man’s civil servants in a way that it has undermined all the traditional values we inherited from our forefathers. This has continued to erode our value system. Today, we see a rascally governor having far more powers than our respected traditional rulers. What we are still maintaining is the anti people police system the colonialist left behind for us.
I am worried about the recent directive by President Buhari instructing the Police Service Commission to engage another 10, 000 men and women for training as Policemen and women. It is worrisome that in the face of the glaring disorientation, indiscipline and anti people behaviours of our present crop of policemen, Mr President should open another avenue to further populate our police system with mercenaries. Was it not troubling to know that some of the men who were shouldered with the responsibility of protecting lives and properties in the North East were loyalists and members of the Boko Haram insurgents? I think President Buhari’s directive on the engagement of another 10, 000 men is hasty and much too out of place.
It is pertinent to understand how our present police outlook is a legacy left for us by the British colonialists. Our police upbringing is tailored more at protecting the establishment than the ordinary and helpless citizens. While they act as stewards and maids for men and women in authority, and sometimes for foreign contractors, they harass, whip, exploit and extort from bona fide Nigerians. Except some reorganisation is ensured, I will only be led to understand how unpopular President Buhari’s decision is on this matter. In my open letter to the President before his inauguration, I advised that a census of policemen and women; and of staff of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) be carried out to sanitise and regulate the intake and continuous engagement of the wrong people who have infiltrated, and keep infiltrating our security formations. I am absolutely sure that Nigeriens and Chadians are amongst those who have found privilege to police us in this country; and anyone can imagine how this renders our national security vulnerable to external exploitation, and the weakening of our national resolve to be an exceptional people.
I am sure many would wonder where I am heading with my simple protest on the current engagement likely going on in the Nigeria Police. I am aware that the routine postings of security men in the country are done to ensure national integration. In my sincere opinion, as I take note of the wisdom of the fabricators of the National Youth Service Corps scheme who intuitively set a minimum qualification for enlistment and mobilisation of members into the Corps. Initially, a post-secondary school certification was entertained, and later, this qualification was upgraded to the equivalent of a first degree – this proves that for national integration to be effective and effectual, an operative must attain a basic level of academic exposure before he is qualify to serve in another locality other than his own. It was not a First School Leaving Certification that qualifies a participant to serve, neither is it the Secondary School Certificate. There is wisdom in ensuring, like it is with the mobilisation into the NYSC, that the social maturity of men and women of “other ranks” in our security organisations must be ensured before unleashing them on the populace. Nigerian Policemen and women do not understand their ethical responsibilities to citizens, because they are trained to exploit the people in order to protect the State and its functionaries.
It is a matter of great national importance to review the policy of deploying men and women of “other ranks”, from Constable to Inspector, to locations outside their Local Government Areas of origin. Until policing is left in the hands of the people, it can never be community based. Our policing will be effectual when it is more rural than it is urban oriented. Nsit Atai Local Govt Area of Akwa Ibom State covers an area of about 400 square kilometers, yet the area has only one police division of less than 50 policemen and women to cover it. Some foreign contractors go around with more than 5 police personnel in the face of this inadequacy.
It is preposterous and saddening for a government to deploy individuals trained only in weapon handling, and coached in fabricating lies to extort from citizens for police duties. Men and women who are clearly victims of culture shock, failed families and adaptation stress are mobilised to vent their frustrations on ordinary citizens in a community with a different socio-cultural boundary from theirs, languages they do not understand, and regional blocks raised differently from theirs – surely, it takes mental training to deal with these. Infants in Creche have their own friends, but a baby strapped to his mother’s bosom has no friend: the same reason that disqualifies a “school cert” holder from participating in the NYSC scheme should disqualify any public servants of lower ranks, especially those in the Nigeria Police and the “Civil Defence Corps”, from serving outside their nativities. We certainly have differences in our upbringings.
It is practically impossible to see a policeman from the South, deployed to serve somewhere in the North, raise a whip against a Hausa/Fulani man, he would fear to be killed, but here are police and military men from the North flogging our Chiefs in the South with whips; and yet walk away with their shoulders raised indifferently. I think this is very unfair. If the Emirs in the North deserve respect, “Emirs” in the South, by whatever nomenclature they choose to be called, also consequentially deserve respect.
A close observation would quickly reveal the fact that those policemen and women who are notorious for the abuse of citizens are personnel of the lower ranks. You would hardly find an Assistant Superintendent of Police openly ridiculing himself, but he can “send out” his staff to abuse people. If our police system is indigenized and localised, it will transform such “sending out” to that of sending a brother to extort and whip his own brother: there will be checks and balances in the kinds of orders and instructions officers give to their subordinates. Those personnel on our roads will always clearly let you know that they have “returns” to make to their superiors.
An Act to establish the Police/Community Relations Committees (PCRCs) for every ward in the country should be enacted; and two grassroots police and civil defence formations should be established by the Act. All serving policemen and women of the ranks of Constable to Inspector should be instructed to report to their LGAs of origin for authentication, validation and redeployment. The two additional police/civil defence formations should be of the equivalent of the INEC electoral polling units and electoral wards: sort of “National Centres” housing the Security Unit Headquarters and Security Ward Headquarters should be constructed with accommodation, and these formations shall serve the present Divisional, Command, Zonal and Force Headquarters formations. Policing at the grassroots must be left in the hands of the people, there should be inter-personal relativity between the police and the people. Homogenization of culture, language and religion at the level of interactions between the lower ranked security personnel and the ordinary people must be seen to be very elastic, friendly, inter-personal and communal.
The PCRCs would be mandated to recommend indigenes for recruitment, training and mobilisation, so that they can operate in the areas from which they were nomination. This way, the people will be held accountable for any crime in their areas, the police geographical network will no longer be loose and porous as it presently is, the network will be clustered, jammed and tight. The vandalization of our oil installations, power infrastructures and organised crimes will be checked at every level equivalent to the electoral polling unit where 10 policemen and 10 civil defence personnel will be deployed; and the equivalent of electoral wards manned by 10 policemen and 10 civil defence personnel.
All two formations should be headed by Inspectors. National Centres should be built nationwide to house these formations. These centres will help as venues and cell centres during national elections, national census, national civic registrations: a national consciousness would be built by this amongst the lowest of Nigerians. Justice and order would be made more accessible and relative to the people. These security formations should be empowered with a monthly subvention, a patrol van each and equipped with communication gadgets. This way, we would have indigenized our police system and the police will not only become “your friend”, people will experience the police as a brother and a relatable friend – this is Community Policing, this is the yearning to constitute “State Police“.
I pray that as we unravel the “change” garb, we will see the sincerity of Mr President in wisely choosing what is best for Nigerians. There are systemic false and fault lines that we inherited from the colonialists, especially those which try to force “us” on ourselves. What is free in a will when “freewill” is forced? Fighting corporate corruption is good, it will eliminate evil people from our polity, but institutions are only strengthened when laws and statutes do not recognise superior and inferior humans, major and minor tribes; when national integration is not based on pretentious competitions and does not recognise religious and cultural creeds – Nigeria can indeed, uniquely, become a “Green Land” because “our land is green”.