In Pursuit of an “Egunje” Free Police Force


INTRODUCTION

Christian living is not divisible from secular life. One of the crucial life areas, where Christianity is lived out, is in relation to those in authority over us. The Bible is filled with instructions, advising the church to obey the law of the land and those who enforce it (police and courts) – Exodus 22: 1-31 and Romans 13:1-14. Indeed, the first mention of policing in the Bible was in Genesis 3:24. After man was driven out of the Garden of Eden, God placed on the east side of the garden, a cherubim and a flaming sword, flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. Even in Jesus time, they had a temple and Jewish police who had the power to arrest religious offenders – John 7:45 and 18:12.

An efficient and well-motivated police force is vital to the general administration of the criminal justice system anywhere in the world. Without this executive organ, the activities of the criminally minded deviants of the society could have been catastrophic to the social well-being of the citizens and indeed the nation, including Christians. The preponderance of the views of stakeholders sought in the course of this work is agreed with the fact that the long neglect of the Nigerian Police Force by successive regimes and the citizens in Nigeria is responsible for the very high level of corruption and criminality that pervades every facet of the nation’s institutions today. The word “egunje” as used in the title of this essay, is a Yoruba word, which is defined as corruption, bribery, the act of giving or accepting a bribe (Faaji House Dictionary).

There are five key policing areas begging to be systematically and comprehensively overhauled if we are to make any meaningful progress, to wit:

  • Communication,
  • Training,
  • Equipment,
  • Supervision, and

On the other horn of the divide, there is also the need for a concerted and continuous effort towards the reorientation of not only members of the police force but also the citizens about the role of everyone in crime prevention and nation building. This would, to a large extent create better understanding and mutual respect between the police force and the citizens inter se, in their common pursuit of eradicating criminals and building a society where the rule of law is observed and revered.

THE POLICE TODAY

The police today work under extremely excruciating conditions. They are challenged by political pressure (e.g. Rivers State Police Commissioner, MBU in the Jonathan/Amaechi saga), financial pressure, limited investigational aids, corruption and insufficient/ineffective training regime that may expose them to the nature, extent and essence of police duties.

Operating under these conditions, the police have over time unconsciously fashioned out a policy/culture that has alienated the force from the people. The people view the police with suspicion and contempt; the police, on the other hand, have no sympathy for a people that have come to view them with a settled negative mindset. The result of this “mutual negation” is as glaring as the problems themselves, both the police and the people have long been suffering from little or no conscious effort on either side to redress this anomaly.

There is no gainsaying that a positive bilateral relation involving the police and the people is a sine qua non for effective detection/prevention of crimes and the execution of other police duties. The challenges faced by the Nigerian police today are multifaceted. They are undermanned, ill-motivated, poorly funded and poorly accommodated.

STRENGTH

Again, the issue of the strength of the police force may be disputed against the fact that more than half of police personnel are deployed illegally and or needlessly to “big men” citizens to the detriment of our collective security. Almost every serving, retired government officials, their wives, hangers-on, big medium entrepreneurs, other influential Nigerians and even ex-militants have policemen attached to them for their personal security. Successive police authorities declared this anomaly illegal, shouted themselves hoarse only for public consumption; they never mustered enough will to curtail this shameful practice.

WELFARE

The responsibilities of enhancing the welfare package of the policeman have for long been unnecessarily politicized. The police and concerned citizens may need to come together, to clearly, consistently, and persistently voice out the needs of the police to the relevant authorities, until their problems are wholly addressed.

As for back 1965, a motion for the enhancement of the deplorable state of the condition of service of the policeman was moved by Mr. I.O. Chidozie, of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C.) Enugu; responding to the motion of the then Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Abubakar Balewa said to the House of Representative –

“That the increase in the welfare of the rank and file was under consideration.”

The Prime Minister also assured the House that policemen would be constitutionally accommodated to enhance their efficiency. Sadly the whole exercise turned out a futile one. From that time, till date, we have experienced only glimpses of halfhearted attempts by successive governments to improve the general state of the police without success. This is because the decay caused by long years of neglect have eaten deep into the root of the police force in Nigeria and only a radical and holistic approach can salvage the situation as it stands today. However, there is commendable improvement per the remuneration of the policeman today. A constable earns N47,000 per month which is still a far cry from the recommended N100,000 salary. Sadly, in the month of July 2013, the authorities illegally deducted the sum of Five Thousand Five Hundred Naira (N5,500) from all police officers (without their consent) under the guise that the money will be invested on their behalf in company shares.1 While we are still trying to come to terms with the dizziness we suffered from the police pension fraud saga which till today we are still fed with legal jingoism and corrupt prosecution, these fellows are still conjuring another funny scheme.

ACCOMMODATION

Till date, most of the policemen are not accommodated. The few ones who are lucky to be accommodated live in barracks that are in a deplorable state, with facilities that are long due for complete replacement. The recent revelation on the state of the Police College, Ikeja, where about fifty (50) trainees were made to share one head of fish, is a national embarrassment.2 It is baffling that policemen who are armed with guns and vested with the responsibility of protecting lives and properties should be made to work under such frustrating conditions. Most of the policemen find it difficult to be committed to their duties because of the distractions they encounter on a daily basis, especially the necessity to survive under prevailing economic conditions.

VIOLATION OF RIGHTS

It is trite that one of the greatest challenges of the police today is the issue of incessant complaints about their violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. These rights are inalienable rights and their protection is very fundamental to the very existence and general wellbeing of the citizens and indeed the nation.

 
All over the world, the issue of the protection of the rights of the citizen is no longer treated with levity and Nigeria should not be seen as an exception. The police need to realize that they are expected to be civil and not to employ violence in effecting an arrest; except in obvious cases where the suspect becomes violent in order to escape arrest. The police are also expected in the performance of their duties to:

  • Be fair and employ their knowledge to determine whether there is a genuine case against the suspect before making an arrest. They should resist the practice where innocent citizens are detained and prosecuted for either civil disputes or trumped up charges only on the ground that the complainant is influential or has influenced the investigation or is the first party to report the case.
  • They should resist the illegal practice of arresting innocent relations and friends (i.e. hostage taking) of a suspect. There is nothing like a vicarious criminal liability in our statute books. No matter how closely related a person is to a suspect, you cannot hold him or her responsible for the of the latter. Recently, the police arrested the wife a suspect they couldn’t trace and this woman was nine (9) months pregnant. Such practices are illegal and reprehensible.
  • There is a need to adequately finance the police especially in areas of operations, i.e. working materials, transportation and logistics. The practice of urging complainants and accused persons to pay for investigative materials, bail and transportation required to effect the arrest of the suspect may influence the outcome of the investigation. Recently, some D.P.O’s revealed that they source for funds to make their stations functional. This explains the practice where policemen are asked to render “returns” to the station. They thereby extort motorists and receive monies from influential Nigerians, including hoteliers, banks, etc to meet with their periodic returns and which perhaps may influence cases. Policemen struggle to be posted to where they term lucrative “beats,” where they extort money illegally from citizens with tacit support from their stations/D.P.O’s. More lucrative postings are usually determined by how much “returns” the policeman is able to make to the station.
  • A suspect is not supposed to be detained beyond the constitutional limits of twenty-four (24) hours and in some special cases forty-eight (48) hours before taken to court or released on bail. Sadly today this is observed more in the breach.
  • The right to bail is one right that has been abused so often, as it is difficult for a suspect to be granted bail without paying for it (in any police station in Nigeria).
  • There are established cases where the police are so sure the complaint is frivolous, nevertheless, the suspect is still detained and later prosecuted to justify inducement they received from the complainants.
  • The average policeman generally enforces laws that are beneficial to them. Today since the introduction of the motorcycle (Okada) restrictive law in Lagos, virtually every policeman has acquired motorbikes seized from poor (motorcycle) riders. They struggle to apprehend these motorcycles as if their lives depend on that task, even at the risk of injuries or loss of life. In the evenings, you will see policemen on motorcycles in their numbers, conveying passengers who have the money to pay the exorbitant fares especially through the horrendously inexplicable Lagos-Badagry Federal express road.
  • Doctors persistent requirement for the police report before treating bullet wounded patients have been responsible for the death of so many armed robbery victims. This practice though has no known legal backup, is still common in our hospitals. The Nigerian Medical Association Lagos Branch, the House of Representative (2008), and so many other stakeholders have urged doctors to treat the patient first to stabilize him and then report to the police later, where the circumstances surrounding the patient’s admission is suspicious.
  • Discrimination against policewomen – A policewoman is expected to serve the force for about eight (8) years before she can apply to get married (and/or get pregnant). This rule clearly at variance with section 42(1) of the Nigerian Constitution which states:
  •  “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place or origin, SEX, religion or political opinion shall not by reason only that he is such a person

             (A)  Be subjected either expressly by or in the practical application of any law in force in Nigeria or any Executive or administrative action Of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, SEX, religion or political opinions are not made subject”.

    A practice where a woman, most of them who join the force in their late twenties and early thirties or further, (especially at this time of falsification of affidavits of age declarations) are prevented from getting married for eight years of her most attractive/productive stage in life, should be seriously condemned. Why would only the policemen be given the privilege of getting married without restrictions? Recently, a policewoman who was trying to fast track the process of eligibility for marriage almost got fired. She was already eight years in service, and got pregnant without “approval.” The man in issue was made to write an application for “intention to marry.” He started the stressful journey from the division where he bought drinks and “settled” some of the officers. He continued the process at Zone II of the Police Command, where they were subjected to all manner of interrogation, questioning and settling. Thereafter he went to Alagbon (Federal Criminal Investigations Department) for forensic purposes where they took his photographs and fingerprints. Finally, he had to lobby to fast track the approval; what illegality and what rigours.3

  • The Monitoring Unit – This unit vulgarly referred to as “Mosquitoes” by other policemen is a special unit set up to monitor and apprehend policemen who are engaged in corrupt practices. Sadly, today they arrest these policemen, collect bribe or “bail” from them and set them free.

CONCLUSION

The police posts, divisions, area commands, state commands, F.C.I.D, zonal commands, special squad and even the force headquarters are all enmeshed in these corrupt practices. The officer cadre should take the lion’s share of the blame and not the rank and file they send out to do their biddings and bring “returns” as is the case today.

There must be a concerted effort to rescue the police force from the strong grip of corruption. We cannot genuinely flush corruption from our polity and entrench genuine progressive democracy with this kind of police force. Government officials know this and will only do little to rescue this police force. As it is today, corrupt government officials compliment corrupt police officials ditto the corrupt civilian populace. It is a shame that majority of Nigerians have resigned themselves to the belief that we cannot do anything about this corruption and retrogressive system. I personally believe, like U.S. president Obama, “Yes we can” change things if only we can try.

GOD BLESS NIGERIA.

ENDNOTES

  • I work closely with the police and military, by virtue of my inclination to human rights protection. The N5,500 deduction is a verifiable fact from any Nigerian police personnel. It was an issue several policemen wanted me to seek redress in court on their behalf.
  • Channels Television, Documentary – The Deplorable State of the Police College Dormitory, January 16, 2013.
  • I personally accompanied a friend (who eventually married a policewoman) through these processes. It is a standard police procedure
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