How Nigeria can get over insecurity —Ex-Commissioner of Police

Jacob Segun Olatunji speaks with retired Commissioner of Police of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command, Lawrence Eko Alobi, on security challenges facing the country.

 

WHAT is your take on the argument about Nigeria having state and local government police?

Community policing cannot work in Nigeria for now, because there has not been that trust between the police and the public. Most Nigerians don’t trust the police. Community policing is anchored on the principle of partnership. The public should partner with the police within their locality and neighborhood; but the point is that you can only partner with somebody that you trust. If you don’t trust somebody, then, you cannot partner with the person. Even in business, it is when you trust somebody that you can share agreement and other stuff. Now, the public has no trust in the police.

So, the police should do everything it can to build that trust. And that trust can only be built through democratic policing. Democratic policing is policing of the people and their norms and values. The democratic norms are the human rights, the rule of law, accountability and policing based on the need of the people. The police should be seen as servants who are ready to offer service to the people and add value to their well being.

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It was when the colonial masters came on board that the police was established and grew to what it is today. The colonial masters wanted the police to only protect colonial interests and not the interest of the people. And that was why people like the late Chief Anthony Enahoro and some of them who were fighting for our independence were arrested and put behind the bars. So, that colonial mentality is still there. The citizens see the police as agent of the government against the people; and when the military came on board, that mentality continued. So, even today, they still see the military and police as agents of government against the people and it is only when the people begin to see the police as their own police that they can begin to accept them and build confidence in them. That is when we can be talking of community policing. And that can only be done when the police carry out their functions in line with the democratic norms and values.

As I said earlier, the rule of law has to be obeyed. They also have to put policing in line with human thought. They have to know that the rights of the citizens are not being abused; that the rule of law is being upheld and respected. That will also encourage the people to become friends with the police.

So, the police need to be re-orientated to know that their duty is to serve the interest of the public and that they are not there to brutalise.

Threfore, community policing can work when that trust has been established between the public and the police. You can then have confidence to give the police information. Right now, people are even afraid to give information to the police, because they are afraid they might go and divulge it to the criminals and the criminals will then come after them. That is the mentality. But this can be erased, if the police train their men in the capacity of the democratic policing where they are to know that they are there to serve the people and that in serving them, they carry their duties in line with democratic norms and values. There should be no abuse of human rights, extortion; and the rule of law will be upheld to the citizen.

 

What about state police? What is wrong in having that?

Also, the idea of state police cannot be achieved for now, because we have not been able to have that Nigerian consciousness; we are not patriotic. Look at what is happening. If some state governors will have the power to have their own police and their arms allocated? Most states in Nigerians are not even viable. Some of them cannot even pay the salary of their teachers and workers. And you know policing is capital intensive. How do you procure arms and all the equipment the police will need for effective operations and pay salaries and allowances?

So, it will be a disaster if we should have state police in the country for now.  We are not ripe for state police now. One, the states are not viable. Two, the issues of the mentality, ethnicity, political recognition and others are there. The governors would want to abuse their powers. It is only when we develop that consciousness of being patriotic that we can have state police. Anywhere you are in Nigeria, your interest will be protected, not because you belong to a particular group or religious background. Until we have been able to establish that consciousness, we can’t have it. The Nigeria Police Force is one of the institutions that help our political stability. If the police is fragmented to various states, it will create problem, because we have not developed that patriotic spirit. So, it [can be done] when Nigeria develops that spirit and when our politicians have also developed real democratic culture and are ready not to abuse their powers by seeing themselves as emperors. You know they can tell the police to do anything and they will do it. I have seen some cases of when some politicians approached some commissioners of police to do certain things that were not lawful in their favour and they refused. The next thing they would say is that the commissioners should be transferred. It is when our politicians are able to abide by democratic norms and values and are ready to serve the people and ensure that there is no particular interest that we can do all that. They should also be ready to promote the unity and security of the country. They should be talking about how to promote peace and security, not going about looking for how to retain power and remain as governors and senators.

So, I think when our politicians have been able to adapt to democratic culture and norms and know that leadership is all about service and what will promote the service of the people, that is when peace and unity can abide. That will also help the citizens to have confidence in their government; a government that is ready to create conducive environment for the people and put job creation in place, a government that will check corruption. All these will generally minimise the problem we are having. That is when we can be dreaming of having state police in Nigeria; it is not now.

 

What is your take on the current spate of insecurity in Nigeria and what do you think is the way out?

Actually the current insecurity in the country is very alarming, disturbing and all our security agencies should be concerned and take measures on how to resolve it. We have alarming cases of kidnapping for ransom, banditry, herdsmen attacks and all sorts of things.

My worry  is that the Nigeria Police which is supposed to be the principal agency in charge of internal security  has been weakened as a result of being starved of funds, not having the training required of the personnel to function optimally and are not being motivated. Again, now there are other services like the military whose personnel are taking over the police functions. And the military men are not trained as law enforcement agents.

So, the insecurity in Nigeria is a great concern to all of us and it should be tackled head on now. That is why I am appealing to Mr. President once again that he should kindly assent to the Police Trust Fund Bill currently before him which was passed by the Eighth National Assembly. If Mr. President assents to that bill, it will go a long way in helping the Nigeria Police Force in addressing its multi-faceted problems, because policing a nation like ours is capital intensive. And the government has other competing needs like road, transportation, education health, infrastructural and so on to contend with. So, this trust fund will help in providing alternative source of funds for our police. If the police only rely on allocation from the government now that the economy is going down, the naira is going down, the situation will be disastrous very soon.

I think that bill, if the president assents to it, will be a great milestone in solving the growing insecurity in Nigeria, because then, the police will be able to be well funded.

Again, policing and law enforcement is technology-driven. It requires knowledge which can be acquired through capacity building. Capacity training will need funds. Technology also requires funds to procure modern equipment. Drones and many other types of equipment require adequate funding. Police can then apply all these to help them key into their functions and policing. When the personnel are properly trained, they acquire knowledge and it will add value to their performance. So, I think funding is a critical thing. The police should also make themselves trust worthy to the citizens. If the citizens can trust them, it will go a long way for members of the public to volunteer useful information to them. Right now, the generality of the public doesn’t have trust in the police and the police have to work hard to ensure that they regain that lost glory and trust, so that they can be effective; so that they can build the relationship between the public and the police. The public can then come out and assist the police with necessary hints that can aid prevention and detection of crimes in our society.

Another problem is the issue of appointment of the police leadership; that is the appointment of the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The tenure is not guaranteed. The IGP can just be removed by the president any time and anyhow. I think the tenure of the IGP should be statutory. It should be fixed to be at least four or five years so that the IGP can have short term, midterm and long term plans to implement. When that is done, the removal of the IGP would not just be at the whim of the president. The appointment, tenure and retirement of the IGP should be based on the confirmation by two-third majority of the Senate. The Senate should be involved in that. Also, police reform should be geared towards building the capacity of the personnel.

When our police officers go for peace-keeping engagements outside the country, they always excel. They rated one of the best in the world. But at home, the story is always different.

Also, there is this negative perspective against the police. This animosity started right from the colonial era to the military era and this has also been carried on to this democratic dispensation. To correct this, the police should also train their personnel in democratic policing, which will enable their men to abide by democratic norms and values.

So, training, funding and motivation are important. Some of the men, in their barracks and offices, are not in favorable conditions. Also, the manpower of the police is grossly inadequate. In fact, as of today, we are told that we are about 200 million people and the strength of the police is about 400,000 and we have people retiring. People die in the line of duty, just like that incident that happened in Taraba State recently where police men were killed.

So, the strength is grossly inadequate compared to what the United Nations (UN) approves; that one policeman should police at most 400 persons. Look at the disparity; 400,000 policemen policing at least 200 million persons. I am happy that recruitment is on-going and I think it should be continued. The police should have adequate manpower and strength to give what is needed. The police are overstretched. No policeman works less than 12 hours a day. They are overstretched and that is not in line with our labour law. The labour law says eight hours; but then, because of our shortage of manpower, policemen do more. So, I think there should be increase in manpower so that they will be able to meet the security needs of the citizens. The security agencies should work in synergy, because we are serving the same government, the same Nigeria citizens. They have the same objectives. They should synergise and work together. They should have synergistic relationship. They should be harmonious and they should collaborate and corporate with one another. There should be no issue of rivalry, because no one agency can do it all. They need each other to work. They need unity in their actions. They should do things together, have joint training, joint operations and so on. They should also make it a point of duty to lecture their men. There is no superior among the security agencies. They should have the same mentality. Some feel that they are superior to other security agencies. That is why we have this issue of clash and ego. There should be no need for pulling trigger on each other like what happened in Taraba. So, I think they society actually needs to see that they have a police force that are to ensure security.

 

Is the Taraba Killing not a wrong presentation of our nation’s security agencies?

Actually, this is a serious threat to our security, because the police and the Army are critical agencies that are responsible for internal security. Section 213 of the constitution provides that the Army is supposed to be the head of the police and also the Section 4 of the Police Act says that the police can be engaged in military operation within and outside the country.

 

Is the development not a dangerous signal to members of the public?

The Army and the police are to work together in synergy. The two of them are critical government agencies that are supposed to be responsible for security of the people of Nigeria. Section 2 of the Police Act also states functions of police, including monitoring of the Army. Section 217 provides that the military can perform the duty of the police and Section 4 of the Police Act provides for the function of the police, which includes that the police shall maintain law and order and also carry out military functions in and outside Nigeria. The military is also supposed to aid the police. But now, it seems the military wants to perform the functions of the police. That is why you see the clash and envy.

Policing function is different from military function. So, the government should come out with a strategy where the military will not have reason to clash with the police. They should all work together, because they are serving the same country, the same government and for the same purpose. If the Army and police in particular are fighting, it is dangerous for our country and it is not healthy for our democracy. They should work, cooperate and do everything together for the benefit of the citizens. If security agencies that are supposed to protect us are killing each other, then, where lies the hope of the common man? So, I think the police, Army and other security agencies should work in harmony, because they are serving the same goal for the security and safety of the country.

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