The call by Nigerians for a reform of the Police Force, strident at the best of times, has now assumed an urgency of its own. Nigerians have come to an inexorable conclusion that for the Police to serve the nation well, it must be rid of its colonial and, indeed, military era propensities. For these, the Force is often criticised for its perceived inefficiency, corruption, and brutality. In Nigeria, as elsewhere, the Force is put in place to protect citizens and maintain law and order and not to intimidate and harass the people.
The Nigerian Police Force was established in 1820, during the colonial era, and has gone through several transformations since then. However, the Force has failed to keep up with the changing times, and its methods and practices are believed to be outdated. There is, therefore, no gainsaying it that the Force is in dire need of reforms to address the challenges it faces and to restore public confidence in its ability to maintain law and order.
There have been attempts in the past to reform the Nigerian Police. Curiously, those efforts didn’t yield the desired results. The last attempt which was after the ugly #EndSARS crisis of October 2020, was more administrative than structural. It failed to address the character of the Force. This is why we welcome the newly inaugurated presidential committee on police reforms.
The committee made up of the minister of Police Affairs, Ibrahim Geidam, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, the chairman of the Police Service Commission, Solomon Arase and the Chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum and Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, is to collaborate on a shared reform agenda to ensure the comprehensive overhaul of the Nigeria Police. We hope that this time round, the government will get it right.
One of the major challenges facing the Police, in our opinion, is corruption. The Force has continued to draw the ire of the public because of its tendency to resort to bribery and extortion in its operations. This has led to a lack of trust between the Police and the public, as many Nigerians believe that the operatives are more interested in making money than in protecting them. The result of this lack of trust is that many a time, crimes go unreported, as people are reluctant to seek the help of the police.
Another challenge facing the Police, in our view, is their inclination to be brutal. The Force has been accused of using excessive force in dealing with citizens, resulting in injuries and deaths. This has led to protests and calls for justice, but little has been done to address the issue. There have been cases where innocent citizens have been killed by police officers, and there have been no consequences for the officers involved in such malfeasance.
But we also sympathise with the Police because, often, they lack the necessary equipment and training to carry out their duties effectively. Many police officers do not have access to basic tools such as firearms, bulletproof vests, and patrol vehicles. Some even buy their own uniforms from their meagre salaries. This makes it difficult for them to respond to emergencies and to protect citizens.
To address these challenges, there is a need for the Police to be reformed expeditiously. The reforms should focus on addressing the issues of corruption, brutality, lack of equipment and training, as well as lack of trust between the police and the public. Even more importantly, in our opinion, is the issue of morale. The welfare of an average police operative is taken for granted by the same system that engaged their services. This may explain why they tend to vent their frustrations on members of the public.
As a way out, the government ought to invest more in the training of Police officers to ensure that they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their duties effectively. This should include training on human rights, community policing, and conflict resolution.
In the meantime, we suggest that the federal government should increase funding for the police force to ensure that officers have access to the necessary equipment and resources. This will enable them to carry out their duties more effectively.
On their part, the Police should be held accountable for their actions and inactions. Officers who engage in corrupt practices or use excessive force should be punished appropriately. This will help to restore public confidence in the force.
We also recommend that the Police adopt a community policing strategy which involves working closely with communities to address security issues. This will help to build trust between the police and the public and will also help to prevent crime.
Prevention of crime will also involve the adoption of modern technology to enhance its operations. This could include the use of CCTV cameras, GPS tracking devices, and other modern tools to help officers carry out their duties more effectively and efficiently in line with international best practices.