ARTICLES

The Police and Handcuffs of Penury

In the absence of a qualitative research tradition that can provide a firm anchor for evidence-based policymaking, the investigative daring of our media stands boldly in the gap.  Recall that it was the adventurous hunt for big news and the definitive scoop by the private Channels Television that turned national and global searchlight on the amazing rot and dereliction of the Nigeria Police College, Ikeja in January this year.

In fairness to the Jonathan administration, it rose to the occasion, after a tardy start and came up with a new look Police College, following a presidential ultimatum directing the training institution to be renovated within a few months.

As The PUNCH revealed in a special feature on the police published on Thursday last week, however, the struggle for a decent police  force is still far from over.  The report conveys the horrifying picture of several police stations reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence and running vital services, police officers say, through bribes and charity.

Informed the paper: “They (police officers) declared that many of them run the affairs of police stations from the proceeds of bribes collected by men who go on regular patrols as well as philanthropic gestures of members of the public.”  If this is the case, is it any wonder that the ubiquitous patrols and the sometimes mushrooming roadblocks develop lives of their own, given that the proceeds from them had been factored into maintaining the police stations?  Is this not another case, like the running saga in Port Harcourt of life in Nigeria throwing up more chilling narratives than fictional representations? Consider the arithmetic of police degradation.  The Ogun State Police Command comprising 46 police stations and five area commands receives on the average N500,000 (half a million naira) every quarter, that is at intervals of three months.  Now, complete the sorry arithmetic by sharing that amount over all the stations and area commands and see what happens.  What this means is that more money is available for the lunch expenses of two politicians for 10 days than is allocated to maintain security in the relatively challenging environment of Ogun State.

Do we need to extrapolate and ask how much money was made available for the engineered uproar at the Rivers State House of Assembly that is bringing our democracy to international ridicule?  This is a strange political class that invests so much energy, money and time scheming for office and bringing down opponents but failing to appreciate that power is given just so that it may be used to uplift the dignity of persons and institutions.

To be sure, policing in austere times comes with shrinking budgets and reduced leeway. For example, a 20 per cent cut in police funds grant in England and Wales over the four year-period ending in 2015 has meant a more cost-effective use of existing resources through pooled capabilities and a renewed emphasis on proactively preventing crime rather than preventing it from snowballing. But the English example is quite a different ball game from pushing a police force to the margins of bare existence in a world in which crime is both transnational and increasingly employs sophisticated technology.

It would have been consoling if after the publication of The PUNCH story regarding the depths of deprivation to which the police had sunk, a statement promising remedial action had emanated from government. But no such luck as at the time this write-up was being finalised.  Perhaps, with as many as 13 ministers and four governors on the presidential delegation to China only to be received by an Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs in China, there was little space left to address serious issues of governance in Nigeria.

The opulent and ostentatious character of the China trip as well as the implied Chinese rebuke of governmental flamboyance are matters for another day, but may we observe in passing that if money saved up from a less elaborate China trip, for example, had been put into running the police, we would not have come to such a slippery pass as sending the nation’s major security force out with begging bowls?

It is commendable that a government reeling from domestic and international criticisms over the parlous state of the Police College, Ikeja undertook the re-kitting and upgrade of the college.  The truth of the matter, however, is that if government read its own commissioned reports, it would not have needed the media exposure on the police college and the recent The PUNCH spotlight on the terrible state of our police stations to be informed on the matter. Even before the Presidential Committee on Police Reform set up by President Jonathan and chaired by Mr. Parry Osayande, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, there had been three previous presidential committees assigned to the same task in the last decade. These reports, funded by government had unanimously fingered the miserably low budgetary allocation of funds on the police as well as the delayed and incomplete release of funds earmarked to the security institution.

If we are not to believe the caustic, racially-tinged joke about hiding things from the black man by putting them in a book or in an extended report, then there is no reason why sustainable remedial and proactive policy should not have emanated from the highest quarters of government with respect to police decay.

Obviously, the capacity of the police, their combat readiness, skills level and weaponry are crucial issues in the face of mounting crime and gangsterism.  Leaving the police with little or no funds to run essential services is very much like starving or maltreating your security guard and still expecting him to protect you.  Under the military rule, there was an unspoken but tacit policy of deliberately abasing the police force which was conceived as a rival security agency for which there was little use.

Unfortunately, so many years into the civilian dispensation, the police have yet to be accorded its fundamental place in our security architecture, leading to raw deals from criminals among a besieged citizenry.

The PUNCH story on the egregious conditions  under which our policemen and women work should be the signal  for us to re-imagine the police force as a credible, humane and effective bulwark against crime, and one that can stand up in the context of an exploding population.

Perhaps, it is time to revisit the unresolved issue of state police as an alternative to the current over-centralised and ineffective police which reproduce the dysfunctions of the central government. This would be more in sync with our federal structure and would make it possible for the police to touch base with local communities and be enriched by intelligence and crime-profiling from these communities.  It is time to think outside the official box which perennially invokes the abuse of local police during the First Republic as an excuse for not breaking the institution into more manageable parts in line with federalist ethos.

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Omojuwa

In the beginning...Let there be Light http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japheth_J._Omojuwa

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