OFFICIALLY commissioned in or around 1930, the Nigeria Police Force is the main law enforcement outfit in Nigeria, with about 371,800 members. It was originally established around 1820 by the colonial powers, as an instrument of coercion and enforcement of the native authority system. When eventually the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were proclaimed in the early 1900s by Britain, there was then established the Northern Nigeria Police and the Southern Nigeria Police. However, the first statutory recognition for the police came by way of the Police Act of April 1, 1943, which indeed is still the enabling law regulating the police till date. In Section 3 of the said Police Act of 1943, it is stated that “there shall be established for Nigeria a police force to be known as the Nigeria Police Force.”
Now there has been a lot of hue and cry about the word “force” associated with the Nigeria Police, as same is not descriptive of other police formations world over. Initially, the idea of police for the colonialists was essentially a consular protection unit based in Lagos, meant primarily to secure the property and persons of British citizens and their Nigerian collaborators at the time. So, they were notorious for their abuses and general lawlessness. They behaved very badly in the hinterlands, by looting, stealing and generally taking advantage of their positions and uniforms. They were famed for the brutal subjugation of indigenous communities that resisted colonial occupation, earning them several derogatory titles and general hatred. They were ill trained and mostly picked from amongst the illiterate population just to make them pliable to easy manipulation by their colonial overlords. The idea of excessive force, violence, repression and command has become part and parcel of the police ever since, regrettably though.
Generally on paper, the duties of the police are stated in Section 4 of the Police Act as being “… employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.” As you can now see, the police is empowered by law to do just anything! As I do normally joke with my colleagues in the office, you put yourself against the wall to be arguing with any policeman in any situation, as the police can charge you for laughing or any “conduct likely to cause breach of the peace,” which in itself has no definition or boundary. So each time you go through any police checkpoint, it is proper for you to show due deference, as if you are at any given time unlucky to be wrongly charged for anything, it will take at least a magistrates’ court to secure your bail, upon such conditions that may eventually take you two weeks to fulfil, whilst you remain in custody; meanwhile the policeman is off in pursuit of another victim.
It is crystal clear that the operating word for the police in Nigeria is “crime,” which when used interchangeably with “offence” is any conduct defined as such by any law, as either a felony, a misdemeanor or a simple offence. In reality, however, a “crime” is what the policeman on duty terms it to be, even if it is a rival claim of ownership of land, a failed business contract, a landlord and tenant dispute or simple husband and wife domestic quarrels. What this has done is to derail the police in terms of effectiveness in the discharge of its core mandate of crime prevention and control.
Now the motto of the Nigeria Police is “Police is Your Friend,” by which it is expected that every citizen should trust and relate with the police on any issue within their jurisdiction, although this is not so in practice. The police is your friend as a complainant when you are still cooperating to fund their operations, to provide necessary logistics that will lead to the apprehension of the accused person, but once the accused person has been identified, God help you if he is more loaded than you are, as the police will suddenly become your “enemy,” when your investigating police officer suddenly stops picking your calls and you have to go and be waiting for him in the station for hours on end. In some cases, the IPO begins to query you on the legality of your case as a complainant, when just yesterday, it was the same IPO that was coaching you on what to write to make an ordinary dispute to land translate into a criminal matter.
The police has so far retained the primitive colonial mentality of the force of occupation, making the police in Nigeria the most corrupt entity, as it were, where refusal to give common N50 bribe can lead to loss of life for a bus conductor or okada rider. I have heard of cases whereby policemen were alleged to offer accused persons the opportunity to withdraw incriminating statements already documented, whilst in some other cases, the case file is burnt, lost or destroyed completely, all at a cost. In other cases where the IPO is being monitored closely by the complainant, he will create booby traps and loopholes in the investigation process and later reveal them to the accused person to take advantage of it to either stall or crush the case of the complainant. It is that bad.
The police lack proper training and motivation, such that in most cases, what we have is simply working to the answer. The best mode of gathering intelligence for the police is brutality, excessive force, cruelty and torture. Most statements of accused persons in serious criminal cases are the popular “confessional statements” which are extracted from suspects through intense torture and threats. This is why in most of these criminal trials, the first issue for the court to resolve is the true status of statements of the accused persons, most of who turn around to deny the voluntariness of these statements, leading to trial within trial and the consequent delays. This indeed is the pitfall of most criminal cases, given that the present day Nigeria Police Force lacks the modern equipment and facilities to assist it in proper investigation and forensic analysis. For instance, it is on record that there are only about two or so handwriting experts in the entire police force in Nigeria. Looking at it holistically, therefore, the police would seem helpless, as the nation has not empowered or equipped the police to perform and yet so much is expected.
In fairness to all policemen in Nigeria, they cannot compare with their counterparts in most parts of the world. A visit to our police formations will expose the crisis of abandonment and neglect of this all important agency. There is no adequate funding and when funding is approved at all, it does not get to the needed platforms. The average police station is without electricity and policemen go to work with their private generators bought by complainants or accused persons, they buy fuel for these generators with their own money, they buy files and stationeries with their own resources, they buy their uniforms and other kits, they fund their trainings, they contribute together to renovate and maintain their dilapidated barracks and are responsible, sometimes, for the cost of their operations. In that pitiable state, they become errand boys for politicians and other VIPs, who exploit them in the name of paying school fees of their children and helping them to fill up other areas of neglect by the State. The police in Nigeria is poorly paid or not paid at all, leading on several occasions to strikes and protests and undue transfer of aggression to civilians.
Upon close observation, however, one would notice almost immediately one comes in contact with the average policeman in Nigeria that he possesses native intelligence, albeit in a negative way, always lurking to exploit it to your disadvantage and ultimate extortion. When it is realised that it is from the same Nigeria Police that officers are recruited into the EFCC, ICPC and such other specialised agencies, then one begins to get a clearer picture of the power of the average policeman in Nigeria, which is why they excel when they are posted outside Nigeria for peacekeeping or consular duties. And if you are close to the average policeman in the hands of politicians and power mongers, then you would pity them and their career, when they are tossed here and there and whipped up and down by those who wield power, such that it becomes totally difficult to hold them to any standard of operation or precedence, on any given occasion.
What we need in Nigeria is a friendly police, not the one who deploys just ordinary uniform as an instrument of command, oppression and extortion, not the one who, in pursuit of filthy lucre, would abandon distress calls to become emergency escorts of goods and trailers, preferring to mount roadblocks at bad portions of the expressway, where motorists are forced to slow down and negotiate their way through bribes.
If and when we have a Nigeria Police without “Force” attached to it, an agency that treats all suspects as equal citizens, the one that hates crime but loves the criminal, then we can truly raise our heads and agree that the “Police is Your Friend” indeed.