Arase, Nigeria Police and change
“Taking over responsibility of guiding the largest Police Force in Africa to attain its constitutional mandate is undoubtedly an arduous task. However, it remains a fact that the Force is blessed with some of the finest officers anywhere in the world that are not only intellectually gifted, but professionally sound.”
– IGP Solomon Arase (22/04/15)
IF you want to really know how battered the public image of the Nigeria Police Force is, just take a look at a police patrol vehicle on the street – dirty, craggy, grubby and unattractive. Every right thinking person would wonder how the police intend to give criminals a hot chase when many of its patrol vehicles can barely move.
The regular sight of broken police patrol vehicles on the highway, sometimes without fuel, and sometimes without any clear institutional mechanism for maintenance, ranks among the first-order issues that have made the Nigeria Police the poster-child of a dysfunctional state.
Many Nigerians feel no sense of national pride in them when they look at the average policeman on the street who appears poorly motivated, ill-equipped and derives no sense of contentment or fulfilment from the job he does. His uniform, boots and carriage often betray the inner struggle of a man who is battling with his lost self-worth, and who appears to be suffering under the terrible blows of an irreconcilable self-identity crisis. Such is the image of a public institution that the new Inspector General, Mr. Solomon Arase, said last week must be seen as one of the “best police” in the world.
I have met many Nigerians who tell me that when they travel outside the country, particularly to Europe and America, they feel a sense of pride posing for a photograph with police officers. I am yet to meet any Nigerian who feels the same way with a Nigerian police officer.
The reason for this is not far-fetched. In 21st century Nigeria, the Police Force, which should effortlessly be the bastion of efficient and proactive law enforcement according to global best practices, remains an institution in reverse gear.
Many years of bad policy, poor welfare, indiscipline, loss of professionalism, moral decadence and erratic leadership (we have had nine IGPs in the last 16 years, compared to Italy with three changes in 15 years; UK, four changes in 15 years, and Germany, four changes in 25 years) resulted in a situation where officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force competed with criminal elements for the position of serial lawbreakers in the society.
It was thus a welcome relief when Mr. Solomon Arase was appointed the new IGP. Although I have been a fan of former IGP Suleiman Abba who, apart from a few politically circumscribed gaffes, had a strong intellectual and moral power base for reforming the Police Force, the news of Arase’s appointment was greeted with so much optimism, especially among those who knew his professional capabilities.
The impression that Mr. Arase has hit the ground running, a familiar Nigerian-speak, is now raising the bar of public confidence in the police higher and increasing the groundswell of public support for its operational efficiency.
I was driving past Louis Edet House a few days ago when the newly procured 259 Safer Highway Patrol Vehicles were being delivered. It was indeed a positive sign to see the police receiving the delivery of new patrol vehicles to boost its operational efficiency, as a counterbalance to the disbanded roadblocks.
While it is commendable that Mr. Arase is showing the much needed concern in law enforcement across the country, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that the vehicles serve their intended purposes, in addition to ensuring that there is accountability in the way the vehicles are used and maintained. There is nowhere in the world where law enforcement tactics dictate that police vehicles should be recklessly driven, manhandled and battered.
This lack of accountability is what is largely responsible for the decrepit state of police patrol vehicles across the country. Clearly, this is not the same situation with military patrol vehicles in Nigeria.
Mr. Arase has declared that under his watch no Nigerian will suffer injustice. He has also pledged to work tirelessly for the welfare of his officers and to bequeath to the Force a motivated rank and file that would drive the vision and mission of the leadership. During a recent visit of the FRSC Corps Marshall, Mr. Arase stressed that security is a shared responsibility that requires collaboration and not competition among all the security agencies.
He has promised to tackle the abuse of sirens. He also said he has launched a website platform www.stopthebribes.net through which members of the public can make instant complaints against observed violations by police officers. These are welcome developments for a Force that has suffered from a very low public perception index. However, much work needs to be done to reboot its institutional engine.
Mr. Arase must foster value-based leadership in the police, encouraging officers and men to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good and crime-free society. He must embark on widespread reformation, the elaboration of a Police Force devoid of the reign of official impunity, particularly those linked to the abuse of power and resources.
In addition to this, he must open up channels for effective collaboration between the police and the ever-expanding network of private security providers. This synergy will help to develop an effective security strategy to combat crime. In today’s technologically driven and highly digitalized world, where criminal elements carry out sophisticated crimes with amazing connection to centres of partnership, resources and knowledge production, the bar for security intelligence and information gathering has been raised higher for the police.
This calls for a knowledge-driven and research-based security system, powered by massive investments in cutting-edge scholarship.
There is no doubt that police work is extremely hard. In many countries, including Nigeria, police officers often work excessively long hours, are underpaid, carry out dangerous work with little if any protection, are ill prepared (both in terms of training and equipment) to perform tasks, have little social status and receive criticism from all sides.
Many scholars working in the field of police and human rights have often asked how the police can be expected to protect human rights when their own rights are not protected. With this in mind, any effort undertaken to improve police respect for human rights should include making a fair analysis of their own situation.
Where necessary, it should include advocating protection of police rights, as enshrined in international civil, social and economic rights protocols, such as leisure time, fair pay, fair working hours, safe working conditions and equal promotion opportunities.
As Mr. Arase mounts the saddle of leading the Nigeria Police Force from a security agency with a battered public image to an institution that can rise up to global standards of effective law enforcement in the 21st century, one thing is clear: the road ahead is rough and tough. It will not be party time.
• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja, FCT