Globally, policing has been going through a transition since the start of the millennium. With diverse pressures and diverging expectations, financial paucity, the concept of policing has been seeking a self-adaptive mutation for acceptance without universal success.
In a major report in 1999, Lord Patten reflected in his submission on the review of policing in Northern Ireland by expressing the dilemmas faced by the modern police when he said:
“How can professional police officers best adapt to a world in which their own efforts are only a part of the overall policing of a modern society?…There is no perfect model for us, no example of a country that, to quote one European police officer, ‘has yet finalised the total transformation from force to service”[i]
The predicament facing the police globally are being fuelled by certain key transnational developments, salient of which are:
- Transnationalism and ever increasing globalisation (Bottoms and Wiles, 1996).
- Rapid rate of Social and Technological Changes.
- Government pressure from restive citizenry dissatisfied with police status quo (Leishman, Loveday and Savage, 1995).
- Increase in non state actors aggression attacking nations from within, such as terrorism and violent militancy.
- The spread of intra-national paramilitary organisations who are challenging the settled belief of the police as the custodian of state monopoly to use force.
All these have led to a global debate on the purpose, ethics and operational parameters of the police institution. Although Lord Patten went on to declare that the purpose of the police is the protection of the human rights of the citizens; in the African and particularly Nigerian context, a slightly amended submission is required.
Despite being signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its African version, most nations in African and Asia have slightly different posture on the universality of some rights based on their constitutional provisions. For instance, some nations have a constitutional ban on Homosexual relationships, by some do not. Hence it is more appropriate to see policing in Nigeria and the sub-region from the prism of the need for the protection of Constitutional rights of its citizens, rather than just human rights.
So in assessing the operational effectiveness of the Nigerian police, Constitutional rights of Nigerians should be the focus of analysis and not simply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as many tend to do. The Nigerian constitution has many borrowed language of universal rights, but there are national peculiarities that need to be noted. For instance; the universal declaration protects the right to Family Life. While this provision will be widely interpreted in many Western societies to include ALL manner of ‘Family life’; But in the Nigerian context, same-sex couples are not recognised as “Family” as there is a prohibition against such relationships. You can now begin to see elements of national peculiarities to these rights.
Chapter IV of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended) lists the fundamental rights of the citizens. These are similar to the European Charter of Fundamental and Human Rights, which reflects the provisions of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human rights. In summary, these rights are stated in the Nigerian as follows:[ii]
- Right to Life
- Right to Respect for the dignity of a person
- Right to Personal Liberty
- Right to Fair Hearing
- Right to Private and Family Life
- Right to Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- Right to Freedom of expression at the Press
- Right to Peaceful assembly and association
- Right to Freedom of movement
- Right to Freedom from discrimination
- Right to Acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria
So the expectations on the Nigerian Police should be the protection of Constitutional Rights of the citizens. This allows for national particularities to be taken onto account. The banal use of the phrase “Human Rights” could be slightly misleading in the Nigerian context. Many nations have their own esoteric interpretation of what constitute elements of the universal rights as we know it. So Nigeria is not unique in this position.
To understand the sad state of the Nigerian police, a recent historical context is needful. After the military coup of 1966, the military co-opted the police into government by making two of their ranks Governors. According to Asemota,[iii] the Military needed the police after the 1966 coup as the police were the only institution that had communication links all over Nigeria and had presence in every town in the country. Hence cooperation of the police was required to sustain the military rule, especially given that at that time the army was very small in comparison to the population.
Coming out of the civil war strengthened in number and infrastructure, the military felt they no longer need the police. So after the coup that brought General Murtala Mohammed into power, the police were no longer represented at all in government. This reality many believe was the beginning of the modern neglect of the police. It has been argued by some, even within the police in Nigeria that the previous military governments that ruled Nigeria for more than half of its Independent years, made deliberate efforts to emasculate and disempower the police.
This many argue was intended to ensure the police did not develop the competence, skill and capability to challenge the military through the many coups that brought the army into power. A salient champion of this school of thought from within the police, was a police Public Relations Officer for Lagos state during the Babangida military regime in the 1980s, who was suspended and dismissed due to his “radical” claim of the disempowerment of the police by the military juntas.[iv] His name is Alozie Ogubuaja.
According to Ogubuaja:
“A military government will want a weak police force so that they can twist them as they want. The military want a weak police so that they can be used to do their biddings, the good, the bad and the ugly. Secondly, a weak and inefficient police force raises the profile of the military as masters in power. Thirdly, a strong and efficient police force is a threat to the military because there can not be two captains in one ship. The military would want a monopoly of power, to dominate and rule”.[v]
While the military when in power invested and modernise themselves infrastructure wise, the police was largely under funded and neglected. But the continuing negative public perception of the role and capacity of the police is a major source of concern in a democracy.
Hence the police remain the most misunderstood profession by the general public in Nigeria. Many expect them to work magic despite the limitations and constraints of their tools and service conditions. Their performance is weighed with misconception and ignorance, resulting in an out of context assessment of their activities. Ignorance of the inner workings of the police and the penchant for secrecy by the Nigeria police had led to little public confidence in the service, plenty of misconception and depleted public support and cooperation with the police.
The Nigeria police are saddled with the constitutional responsibilities of prevention and detection of crime.[vi] Given the foregoing pivotal and all-encompassing roles they play, the police have become a key institution for social order in Nigeria. Since no law operates in a vacuum, police enforcement gives value to the law and helps to regulate traditional tension between the antagonistic forces inherent in Nigerian and all human societies.
From colonial era, through military rule and the democratic dispensation, policing in Nigeria has been a tough task. Conflicts arising from social inequalities, political, religious and cultural differences appear to have widened the role and function of the police beyond the traditional law enforcement to other social services functions. So police are working in tense environments, in which their actions or inactions do have national ramifications.
However, the Nigeria police have been under lots of public criticism, especially since the late 70s over its apparent inability to effectively prevent or control crime. Several factors have been attributed to this sorry state of affairs. Some of the key complaints are:
- Lack of professionalism, generally attributed to the recruitment policy which has on the quality of manpower.
- Poor training and institutional lack of discipline.
- Corruption and culture of bribe taking.
- Few numbers of manpower and poor equipment.
- Bribe collection to work against the interest of justice. The highest bribe payers tend to get the police to support their position.
The consequence of these institutional problems is the resulting distrust and poor image and regard for the police by the citizenry. So my key question is; Is the Nigerian Police in Transition or in Crisis? Evidence will suggest both. The scale of the change that confronts the Nigerian police suggests a crisis of immense proportion, even as it suffers from an identity crisis and transitioning to a more ethical force in an unethical criminal justice environment.
A national police force is trying to cope with a world more joined up in trade, technology and of course transnational crimes and terrorism. Its legitimacy, authority, knowledge base and competency are being challenged by these multilateral pressures. And from the evidence available, the Nigerian police appears to be an analogue force fighting in a digital age.
They are simply over their head with the challenges facing them and there appears to be no strategic review of practices and procedures and well as tools and equipment to better respond to the multiple global-scale and global-inspired challenges confronting the police in Nigeria.
I am positing that a new policing settlement focused on protection of Constitutional rights of citizens, may offer the police a fresh basis for engagement, legitimacy and acceptability by Nigerians. How this can be constructed and achieved in Nigeria will be the focus of my concluding part of this article.
[i] Patten Report (1999), Paragraph 1.5
[ii] Chapter IV, Section 33 (1) of the Nigerian constitution
[iii] S.A Asemota . Policing Under Civilian and Military Administrations”. in Policing Nigeria, Past, Present and Future, (eds.) Tekena Tamuno et al, Malthouse Press
[iv] He was dismissed in 1988 from the Nigeria Police Force by the military rulers
[v <https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/NIgerianWorldForum/conversations/messages/42023> accessed 22 July 2016
[vi] Section 4 Police Act. Cap 359, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990
Dr Charles Omole is a lawyer, Transformation expert, Corporate strategist to governments around the world. He is the author of a new book on policing titled, Developing Good Governance in Law Enforcement in African Societies – The Case of the Nigerian Police Force.