Community policing: Panacea for Nigeria’s insecurity problems?

Last Tuesday, February 9, 2021, a workshop on community policing held in Lagos titled “Mass sensitisation of the members of the public on community policing” with the theme “Understanding community policing: A framework for action.” Organised by the Nigeria Police Force in collaboration with two private sector organisations – Unite Consult Limited and C. O. Luke & Co. – the workshop was originally scheduled to be held at the Adeyemi-Bero Hall, Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja but ended up at the Banquet Hall of the Governor’s office within the same vicinity. Adeyemi-Bero allowed more accessibility to members of the public than the governor’s Banquet Hall.

For a workshop organised to discuss security, security must have been the organisers’ number one concern or, more appropriately, the concern of some of its high-brow invitees. Finicky security checks kept many invitees waiting, regardless of valid invitation, with one of the facilitators moving up and down to sort things out. The problem of inaccessibility to the “masses” apart, the venue was also too constricted to allow for any “mass” sensitization as it could not have accommodated up to 200 – participants and all. The organisers apologised that COVID-19 protocol of physical distancing did not help matters. Quite understandable!  Security men out-numbered the “masses” and the programme started very late; the organisers, obviously, were waiting for the VIPs to show up but, in the end, the governor, the Inspector-General of Police, the Oba of Lagos, etc were all “ably represented.”

None of these, however, detracted from the usefulness of the workshop. For me especially, it was an eye-opener. Until then, I never knew the “Community Policing” idea was still on the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s front burner. Of course, I was familiar with the politics of community policing, meant to snuff out Amotekun and douse the agitation for state or regional security networks outside the purview of the Presidency/Inspector-General of Police; I never knew, however, that the government was still assiduously pressing forward with the idea, with an AIG and Commissioner of Police already saddled with the task of nurturing the project. I had thought the massive uprising against the idea and the setting up of state/regional security networks all over the country had taken the wind off the sail of community policing. A “Community Policing Handbook” is already in place, printed in June 2020. Last Tuesday’s sensitisation workshop in Lagos was the second in the series, the first having been held in Abuja on Tuesday, 26th January, 2021. The workshop will go round the five other geopolitical zones of the country.

One of the facilitators, Issa Aremu, is a respected Labour leader and activist who retired from the local scene only to resurface on the international scene as Vice-President, Industrial Global Union. Talking about Textiles and Garments’ unionism, Issa towers over and above many but I shook my head in disagreement on occasions as he made his “remarks” at the workshop. There is nothing as tasking as selling “bad market;” in its concept and timing as well as situating it in today’s context of insecurity nationwide, the FG’s community policing is one such “bad market.” There are, however, a lot of positives to take away from Issa’s remarks, which captured the totality of issues and problems pertaining to the police, the reason for which I chose to run excerpts of it here; followed by side comments.

“Lagosians and, indeed, Nigerians are proud of the leadership you (Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu) have offered in coping with the twin challenges of COVID-19 and #EndSARS protests (all in the legendary year 2020). At times like this, you are a worthy servant-leader…” Many Lagosians will agree with Issa that Sanwo-Olu performed above board as far as COVID-19 (phase one) was concerned, but the blight was the hoax of palliatives distribution state-wide and the eventually exposure of the hoarding of palliative materials in warehouses in the state. The discovery in Lagos soon opened the floodgate for similar discoveries in other states of the country.

On COVID-19 (ongoing second phase), I can confirm from the experience of my kid brother who just “graduated” from the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Yaba, that bed space is free; feeding is provided, oxygen is made available, and treatment is free but virtually all drugs are self-sourced from nearby pharmaceutical stores to which patients are directed. It could be these are drugs provided by the State but which are diverted by unscrupulous workers. Besides, negligence by medical staff, especially those in charge of fixing oxygen for patients, regularly leads to avoidable casualties. The authorities should plug these loopholes.

But on #EndSARS, not many Lagosians will give Sanwo-Olu a pass mark. He is yet to come clean of the criminal conduct of the armed men who opened fire on unarmed youths at the Lekki toll gate. Recent controversies over the re-opening of Lekki and threats by youths to re-ignite the protests again are not doing any credit to Sanwo-Olu’s image.

“…South Africa suspended the use of imported AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after it failed to clearly stop the virus variant in South Africa. The lesson here is that it is time Nigeria invested in local capacity for sustainable production of vaccine.” On point!

“IGP Mohammadu Adamu’s tenure has witnessed landmark security legislation and establishment of institutions aimed at repositioning the police force and ensuring internal security (IS). I recall that on 24th June 2019, President Buhari signed the Nigeria Police Trust Fund (Establishment) Bill into law. The six-year Act, among other things, provides funds for the training and retraining of personnel of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), aimed at providing the Force modern security equipment as well as improving the general welfare of the personnel…But what marks IG Adamu out is his passion for Community Policing…I recall that he had also  initiated steps to promote peoples’ ownership of policing by engaging with the state governors and other stakeholders through various ‘regional’ security summits across the different geopolitical zones in the country. He has shown sensitivity to the outcry of citizens against excesses of some few elements in the police force. Let me commend the IG for the disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)…as a mark of sensitivity to people’s legitimate protest against the excesses of some few in the force.”

Well done, IGP Adamu! But there is the generally-perceived blight of the Police high command’s nepotism in favour of the North and against the South in recruitments, appointments, promotions, and citing of infrastructure. A case in point is the tango between the IGP and the Police Service Commission over recruitments skewed in favour of the North and where the Commission floored the IGP in the law court. As for the scrapping of SARS, not the IGP but Nigerian youths who paid with their blood, deserve the credit.

“The Nigeria police have come of age. Established in 1820, NPF is the largest enduring internal security institution in Africa. In a democracy, NPF is the key driver of internal security…In my over three-decade trade union work, I have witnessed the good and the bad of the Nigeria Police Force. But on the whole the strength of the police force is far more than the negative. In any case, as we have seen after the #EndSARS peaceful protests were captured by God-knows them, it was clear that the worst of public policing is better than gangs of self- serving hoodlums! We must consolidate the gains of the existing police force while we must help to reposition it for the current challenges.”

I agree that the Police consist of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Decades ago as editor of The PUNCH; policemen saved me from being crushed by a moving train at Ikeja. I had taken my usual break to cool down at Toyin Street and was rushing back to the office at Kudeti (Onipetesi) at about 12 midnight to catch a glimpse of the first copy of the newspaper. I noticed that the two vehicles ahead of me were stationary but rather than take a cue, I pulled out and was at the tip of the rail line when I heard the shout “TRAIN!” I slammed the brake and the train in that moment whistled past. I will never forget that! But we knew who hijacked #EndSARS; we saw it live-and-direct on television. They first callously and maliciously contrived to give a dog a bad name – and then wickedly hanged it! And between “the worst of public policing” and “gangs of self-serving hoodlums” none is to be preferred!

“Community policing is a timely complimentary approach to overcome the challenges of insecurity…Community policing is a practical way of democratising policing in a democratic system”. Yes; but the snag is how the FG is going about it and the type of “Community Policing” it is forcing down our throat.

Issa then made some germane recommendations: There should be a consensus by all stakeholders that security and welfare of the people of Nigeria is the primary purpose of government as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended); a reaffirmation that the police should be strengthened to perform its  constitutional mandate of ensuring security; that insecurity is a national challenge and not peculiar to any tribe or region but must be addressed by the cooperation of all; the community must wake up to demand and work for people’s policing that will ensure sustainable peace for national development; Nigeria must acknowledge and reward gallant police men and women while sanctioning rogue elements; fake news must be classified as an act of banditry; Nigeria must urgently create economic opportunities for the youths  to reduce opportunities for criminalities; and members of the Police Force should be re-oriented, be better trained, be adequately remunerated, motivated and accorded dignity for them to offer patriotic services. Well said!

Space constraint would not allow me comment on all that Issa said; suffice it to say, however, that on the vexed issue of fake news, principal officers of government have been caught pants down times without number vending fake and malicious news and have escaped unscathed!

Participants made contributions which should help the police authorities in their work. Wale Okunniyi, a civil society activist, said crime, like politics, is local and that unaddressed security problems lead victims into resorting to self-help. The NLC Lagos State chairperson wondered why police constabularies charged with protecting life and property are not allowed to carry arms while herders protecting cattle carry AK-47 all over the place. The chairperson of Lagos State local government chairmen’s forum noted that at times, criminals carry more sophisticated weapons than the police.

She asked that as the tier of government closest to the people, local governments should be carried along in the community policing project. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) representative suggested referrals from religious and traditional leaders in constabularies’ recruitment. The Chief Missioner, Ansar-U-Deen said a community gets the police it deserves, adding that trust deficit between government and the people and between the people and the police leads to victims of insecurity resorting to self-help. The Youth representative asked to know the technology and strategies driving the FG’s community policing.

The high point of the workshop was when two of the constabularies at the workshop were asked to share their experiences. They reeled out tales of woes that sent many cringing in their seat – no salary, no weapon, and no incentives – just the uniform on their back! The same bureaucracy that has made the police ineffectual superintends community policing. There is also the albatross of negative public perception. In the South-west especially, the way and manner Community Policing was hastily rolled out is seen as a ploy to truncate Amotekun, which rides high in popular consciousness in the region. Returning to the drawing board or, better still, deferring to the clamour for state or regional police, may be a more sensible option for the FG.

 

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