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The aborted police strike

By Editorial Board
13 April 2022   |   3:55 am
To close watchers of Nigeria’s security situation, it was not surprising that the Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba Usman, was visibly concerned by that muted proposal by a section of the Nigeria Police to go on strike over poor welfare.

Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

To close watchers of Nigeria’s security situation, it was not surprising that the Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba Usman, was visibly concerned by that muted proposal by a section of the Nigeria Police to go on strike over poor welfare. As a matter of fact, quite a few Nigerians shared Usman’s anxiety, given that the country’s security was already badly dented by numerous criminalities; and to subject the society to a police-less state would be adding salt to injury. Such a strike is exactly what criminal elements were praying for to seize innocent citizens.

Good enough, the plan, which was scheduled to take off on March 26 this year, was shelved, to the relief of peace-loving Nigerians. Had it taken effect, the strike obviously would have worsened the country’s traumatised state.

But neither the Inspector General nor the rest of Nigerians should go to sleep over the development. In the first place, the threat was not the first of its type by the police. Years back, when the country’s security situation was a lot more stable, some policemen went on strike in protest against poor welfare and remuneration. As the IGP warned in the latest contemplation, police authorities at that time equally condemned the strike as abnormal and uncalled for. Indeed in sane climes, policemen are categorised under the most essential duty of ensuring law and order; and safeguarding lives and property. There is no doubt that Nigerian policemen are fully aware of this categorisation, but they appeared to have been pushed to the wall over persistent neglect of their welfare and inadequate support of their crime fighting profession.

The dismal working condition of Nigerian policemen is an open secret, starting with their barracks home, which are often decrepit, to their beggarly attitude while performing their duties. Often they claim to have no men or vehicle to come to a crime scene. At other times, they have no fuel in their vehicle, no money in their official coffer and no arms/ammunitions to confront criminals. While there may be more underlining issues for them, it is widely believed that their poor funding is what informs their extortionist attitude at checkpoints.

Recall that police reform was one of the key demands of #EndSARS protesters nationwide, not just to stop police brutality but also to improve the lot of policemen. That the police are thinking of going on strike over demand of improved welfare package speaks volume about the way and manner officers and men of the police force are shabbily treated; and whether the authorities have addressed the reform promised by President Muhammadu Buhari during the protest. The fact that the police are not well treated shows in their character and conduct when dealing with the general society. Perhaps, their frustration is the reason many among them choose to abuse the public as they jettison the ‘police is your friend’ slogan.

However, following the poor working conditions of police officers and the difficulties they face to assess their benefits after retirement, the other day, the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs summoned the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, and the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Ahmed Idris, as well as the Chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta, and the Director General, the Budget office, Ben Akabueze, over the non-implementation of the 20 per cent upward review of police salaries as approved by the Federal Government.

Although rattled that his men were planning a strike, the IGP nonetheless maintained that strike or any other form of deliberate disruption of law enforcement services by any personnel of the Nigeria Police Force is tantamount to mutiny. He therefore, issued a warning that officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force should not embark on strike as such an action would be taken for disloyalty and indiscipline.

It is regrettable that the Federal Government has not been able to do what is right in making it possible for the police to serve the nation better. If government has done anything, since the #EndSARS protest in fulfillment of its promise to reform the police, Nigerians have not seen any positive change yet. Cases of police extortion, intimidations of members of the general public, and mounting of illegal checkpoints indiscriminately on major roads still dominate the news. Only a few policemen showcase exemplary conduct and character in carrying out their obligation.

The need to reform the police informed a public hearing attended by the IGP and the Chairman, Police Service Commission (PSC), Musiliu Smith, pushing for three bills concerning the welfare and good performance of the police. These bills are critical to effective police operations and would help to boost the efficiency of the police.

Besides, the time is now for community policing in Nigeria. With incessant cases of kidnapping, cultism, rituals killings, armed robbery and other crimes, the country cannot but embrace community policing in Nigeria.

The idea of community policing would give the police officer the pride to protect his locality or state much as he understands the vicinity very well.
Again, the issue of under-policing of the country has been lingering as calls from stakeholders and well-meaning Nigerians have been ignored.

There is an urgent need to recruit more police personnel to meet up the United Nations standard of effective policing in the country. According to the UN, the standard policing in any country should be one policeman to 400 citizens. It is disturbing to note that Nigeria’s police personnel are barely above 377,000 to a population of over 200 million citizens. This shows that the police manpower is overstretched to have effective policing of the country.

Underfunding remains a militating factor to police effectiveness. The challenges facing the Nigeria police force underscores the need to decentralise the police in the spirit of federalism to enable each federating units handle its police suitably. So decentralised, the concerned governments should endeavour to equip the police adequately as well as fund training and re-training of the personnel.

The IGP’s action dismissing nine police officers who allegedly spearheaded the proposed strike is not the solution to police agitation for better welfare, or for better motivation to perform their job. The permanent solution is to enable states have their own police forces and to tackle criminality from the grassroots.