Promise of a new Lagos policing
The newly appointed Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Abiodun Sylvester Alabi comes to his job with sufficient experience and reforms initiatives to make the difference that the people have been yeaning for in running a professional and ethical policing system. From what he has said, there is every reason for optimism: that Lagosians, and by extension, Nigerians may have a taste of policing they can trust, respect and indeed regard as a friend. Importantly, for the sake of their image, the police force urgently need to work hard to restore ‘long lost glories’ of respect and responsibility in the society and adhere to due process in all its dealings with the people.
Mr. Alabi is inheriting a lot of liabilities and disabilities in the Force operation, some of them accruing from the aftermath of #EndSARS protest which decimated the police strength and diminished their self-confidence. This trait, coupled with the overstressed predicament of few policemen having to serve a bourgeoning population with records of increasing criminality amid huge social dislocation and inadequate police infrastructure, has been a major minus for an efficient police force. But Mr. Alabi has a unique opportunity to use the same situation to turn around the police, using the obstacles in his path as stepping stones to great height.
Notably, the new Lagos police boss has said that no rights of Lagosians would be breached by any police officer on his watch. This is commendable and deserves public support. In view of the massive irregularities associated with men and officers of the police force, the public cannot wait to see police officers with decent professional conduct while carrying out their obligations. Alabi will need a magic wand to change the perception of Lagosians towards the police, considering that the police, over the years have harassed Lagosians and denied them of many a right which the constitution grants them. Police misconduct against Lagosians comes under different guises, including shooting at citizens who fail to oblige their extortion demand. This could be as little as N100. In a recent instance at Ejigbo, a policeman reportedly stabbed to death a tricycle driver popular known as Keke Marwa, for failing to part with N200; an indication that, rather than protect the citizens, the police have turned their weapons on Lagosians. This act and similar others are repulsive and should come among urgent matters for resolution by Alabi, if indeed he wants to reform the police and curtail their excesses. Also, it is unacceptable that policemen are only noticeable in Lagos State in traffic duties, checking vehicle particulars and seemingly obsessed with finding defaulters. While such checks are within the police duties, they should not form their major schedule as they currently do. Where are the crime prevention and detection duties of the police?
Beyond the promise that the new Commissioner of Police holds to address breach of fundamental rights of Lagosians, there are other weighty matters in the society where cultists, touts, miscreants and yahoo boys are becoming a law unto themselves. Lagosians now dread being in slow-moving or stagnant traffic, as such situations present frequent opportunities for robbers to operate against defenceless motorists. These are pointers to ineffective policing; or a police bereft of efficiency and proactive disposition. While the police have been reported to break some operations and arrest some culprits, not enough fear has been sent to the traffic robbers. Lagos, as a growing megacity, should be able to provide peaceful environment conducive at all times for business and leisure to thrive. Where for instance is the night, entertaining life that once distinguished the city from many others in the country?
The new commissioner has maintained that the police in Lagos are going forward; that they would collaborate closely with traditional rulers, community leaders, the media and residents to tackle crimes and protect lives and property. He subsequently tasked the media on its role as the opinion molder of society to help shape the information that would help checkmate police excesses as well as report crimes in all nooks and crannies with a view to curbing them. The Commissioner of police did not shy from the fact that the police alone cannot control crimes in the state without the help of the public. In a way, his call for assistance from the local chiefs and traditional rulers seems to be in support of community policing, which ultimately should be the way of policing to go; an idea whose time has come given the current rate of crimes, violence and insecurity in the country.
Alabi has in his first media chat with journalists, tried to allay fears about poor police response to distress calls when he promised to “strengthen the Rapid Respond Squad (RRS) and other tactical units to respond properly to distress calls on time”. Also, he pledged that the police would henceforth, pursue arrest to logical conclusion and there would no longer be illegal arrest, illegal detention or undue molestation or maltreatment of citizens. These are lofty ideals that can only be realized if Alabi does not allow the business-as-usual attitude of the current police operations.
Public office holders in Nigeria are not short of big and excellent ideas that would transform the nation for good. But they often fail to have the political will to execute them; or they simply succumb to overwhelming pressure for personal aggrandizement against the public good. Commissioner Alabi should guard against such complacency as Lagosians are watching him and recording the police performance under his tenure, waiting to use it to judge him at the appropriate time.
The EndSARS issues, investigations and recommendations remain fresh in the minds of Lagosians. The need for the incoming commissioner to simply walk-his-talk cannot be over emphasized. To make policing in Lagos an envy of other states in the country should not only be Alabi’s dream, he should seek to restore the respect and reverence in which the police were held locally and during international peacekeeping missions, in days gone by. Lagosians are difficult to please: they will not tolerate non-performance, just as they will appreciate honest and diligent policing. The police also have a duty to ensure a low crime state and thus help to attractive foreign investors and tourism to Lagos State.