Since its inception as a 30-man Consular Guard in the Lagos Colony in 1861, the Nigeria Police Force has been saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order as well as protecting lives and properties of Nigerian citizens. The belief Nigerians have in the police has however changed over the years. The trust Nigerians have in their police wanes by the day. Not even the various attempts at propagating the phrase “Police is your friend” has yielded much results.
The Force has come under criticism for so many reasons including corruption, inefficiency, indiscipline, inadequate training, extra-judicial killings as well as blatant show of force and at times, cowardice. Not a few Nigerians believe that the Police Force has failed in its basic responsibility of protecting lives and properties as well as that of maintaining law and order.
Street Journal’s investigations revealed that some of the problems of the police are self-inflicted and a good number of them are corruption induced. The politicization of the Force too has done more damage than good as it has dampened the morale of a lot of officers both in the junior and the senior cadre. The promotion process is one of the things that have kept morale of some officers perpetually on the low side. It has been alleged that while well connected officers and those with special portfolios are considered ahead of others, some officers don’t even get a second look for years. A case in point was that of Malam Nuhu Ribadu, the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) who was promoted to the post of Commissioner of Police in December 2006. By February 2007, the then Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero promoted Ribadu again and he became an Assistant Inspector General of Police, spending barely two months as a Commissioner of Police. As at then, a lot of Ribadu’s mates were still Assistant Commissioners.
Internal corruption in the Force has also been found out to be a major factor responsible for the current plight of the police. Street Journal gathered that up till a few years ago, a large chunk of the Force’s yearly budget could not be accounted for. Allegations of corruption trailed the top echelon of the Force thus leading to insinuations that the “Ogas” and not really the Government made the junior officers to suffer.
Former Inspector General, Mustafa Adebayo Balogun has been adjudged as one of the most corrupt officers in recent times. Though Tafa served his term, the N 16 billion loot will not be forgotten in a hurry. Incidentally, most of the funds “illegally appropriated” by the former IG came from monies meant for the use of the police. Unfortunately, those funds never got utilised for the purpose they were meant for. It was alleged at a point that officers on election duty in Balogun’s time got only 10% of what the Government allocated for them. What happened to the remaining 90, only the former IG can explain. He fed so fat on the Force that while he was in detention for graft, armed robbers stormed his brother’s residence in Ila and carted away hundreds of millions in cash. It was later found out that the money was kept for the former police boss.
One would have thought with what happened to Balogun, those coming after him would embrace change. Events later proved that that was not the case. Days before his successor, Sunday Ehindero left office, one of the officers who worked directly with him was found carrying money in a television box.
Street Journal also found out that despite the formation of the Police Service Commission, very little has been achieved in terms of implementing policies that would improve the organisation and administration of the police.
Poor remuneration of officers is another demoralising factor affecting officers and men of the Nigeria Police. In a TV interview recently, Bola Ojomo, a retired DIG stated that she got a gratuity of N 5 million after her thirty three years in the Force, a far cry from what accrues to the average political office holder.
It has been discovered that a lot of police officers are responsible for the sewing of their own uniforms and even the provision of their berets. That explains the reason behind the different shades of black that police officers wear as uniforms.
The corruption in the police seems to have assumed a “bottom-top” approach as almost everything is paid for in the average police station. Not a few Nigerians have had to pay police officers for plain sheets of paper on which to write official reports of crimes committed against them. Those who found it awkward paying policemen for papers would have to bring their own papers and if they are in excess, they would not be allowed to take the extra away.
Despite the Inspector General’s rule that road blocks should no longer be mounted anywhere in the country, it is still business as usual in many places as policemen still collect their N 20 and N 50 toll fees from motorists. And apart from the extortion being perpetrated by men of the Force, it is on good authority that policemen do not pay transport fares when they make use of public transport in intra-city routes. Conductors and drivers don’t even bother to ask them for fares any longer.
Nigerians have become aware of the inability of the police to tackle crimes; those in doubt became convinced having seen the way and manner by which the two last Inspectors General of Police left office. The way Ogbonna Onovo and Hafiz Ringim were relieved of their posts leaves no one in doubt that the police is barely capable of combating crimes. While Onovo could not find a lasting solution to the many kidnappings that took place in the Southern part of the country, Ringim failed in dealing with the Boko Haram scourge. The last straw for him was the escape of Kabiru Abubakar “Sokoto”, the alleged mastermind of a bomb attack.
The inability of the police to fight crime has been traced to the lack of up to date equipment which is an offshoot of the poor funding of the Force. About N 50 billion raised to purchase equipment for the Police under the name of the Police Equipment Fund some years back grew wings and flew into the account of the brother in-law of a former President.
Sadly enough, while perpetrators of crime devise new strategies almost on a daily basis, the police has not been able to evolve new methods of fighting crimes. The lack of good quality equipment has taken its toll and it is visible in the way duties are discharged by officers. One of such actions resulted in the killing of an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Ijebu Ife two years ago. On December 4, 2009, Omolodun Oladokun, the then Area Commander of the Ijebu Police Division received a call that there was trouble in Ijebu Ife. He promptly moved with a few men in a patrol van. He met an armoured personnel carrier on the way and told the men on the APC to move with him to Ijebu Ife. The APC crew however told the Area Commander that the fuel in the carrier was not enough to take then to Ijebu Ife. They assured him that they would join him in Ijebu Ife after refuelling the APC.
By the time the Area Commander got to the scene of the riots, his efforts to address the rioters proved futile as they closed in on him. The Area Commander tried to make a retreat but the patrol van allegedly sped off thus leaving him at the mercy of the irate protesters. After hacking him to death, the mob went ahead to burn his body.
It is an open secret that officers of the Nigerian Police Force lack expertise in some specialised fields.
One of such areas is handling evidence. In a leaked Wikileaks cable, while speaking with the then American Ambassador, Howard Jeter, AIG Ajibola Ojomo (later DIG) showed the diplomat shells picked from the scene where Chief Bola Ige was murdered. The unspent shells were handled by at least six officers before being packed in a paper envelope. The level of training became even more evident as the AIG offered to show the Ambassador the shells.
More also needs to be done in the Anti-Bomb Squad of the Nigeria Police Force. Though the unit defuses bombs, the percentage of bombs discovered and defused cannot be compared to the percentage that ends up exploding thus leaving Nigerians to wonder whether the Police Bomb Squad can actually curtail the wave of bombings spreading across the country.
Another pointer to the fact that urgent training is needed for officers in the Bomb Squad emerged recently, just days after bomb attacks on military formations in Kaduna; a bag suspected to contain explosives was spotted in the city. In the full glare of the public, Sunday Abang, an officer approached the bag with a hand held metal detector. He got there, probed the bag with the small detector, at a point, he kept the detector between his thighs and started fumbling inside the bag with his bare hands. Just as the crowd started hailing him, there was a loud explosion and the “gallant” officer was torn apart.
The many lives that have been lost in the course of quelling riots also serves as an indication that the police still needs training in the area of keeping the peace. Despite the 1986 rule by the then government that only rubber bullets should be used if it is so necessary to fire on protesters, only a few Nigerian policemen can claim to have ever seen rubber bullets. Whether the protest is peaceful or not, they carry live ammo. Those who have died in the hands of trigger happy policemen cannot be counted.
There have also been several indications that police investigators too are not exempted from the population of ill-trained officers. Crude methods are still used in extracting information from suspects. A good number of people have died during torture sessions. Less than a week after the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar read the riot act to police officers who still use torture as a method of investigating crimes, Ademola Adedeji, a staff Adebola Group (producers of BIgi Beef roll) died in mysterious circumstances while being detained at the Area F Police Station, Ikeja. He was hale and hearty as at the time he was arrested and his wife and children were with him until around 9pm only for the police to claim that Ademola had been shivering all day long and that he had to be rushed to the hospital where he died when he started gasping for breath.
It was however disclosed by the hospital staff that Ademola was already dead by the time he was brought to the hospital. The Inspector General’s warning that “if you torture, you are on your own because you are not backed by any law” must have fallen on deaf ears.
It is also an open secret that the Force is so corrupt that it now operates a “cop for hire” service. Many Nigerians have capitalised on this illegal service to “deal with” people that have wronged them. By so doing, the police have settled so many scores in the most unconstitutional of all manners, and where that happens, it is in favour of the highest bidder. It has thus become common knowledge that the police are a tool for Nigerians who can afford the “hire” service.
And when it comes to crimes, many will argue that policemen and the most hardened criminals are at par when the perpetration of vices is being spoken about. Policemen have been caught in robberies and so many other vices. They have even been indicted in the wave of terror sweeping across the nation. Policemen were indicted in the escape of Kabiru Sokoto, the terror escape cost the former IG his position. So many extra-judicial killings are also perpetrated by the police.
Not even the internal cleansing system of the police works. The Force does everything to cover up its erring officers. Over the last few years, there has hardly been a record of any “killer cop” being sentenced.
Though efforts are being made to sanitize the Force and stamp out corruption, it is only a matter of time before Nigerians will know whether the efforts will pay off or not.