From the tenor of media reportage of the opening ceremony of the ongoing National Conference in Abuja, it is crystal clear that the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has scored significant mileage by its convocation.
However, beyond the mundane or rather the convivial significance of the National dialogue, one thematic item in the agenda highlighted by President Jonathan’s speech, a major concern for most Nigerians is the task assigned to the conferees to debate the merits or demerits of the establishment of state police.
There is a universal unanimity of opinion that police as an institution is integral and strategic to the security of any sovereign nation given that a central duty of this body is to detect, prevent and protect the society from crime and the consequences of disrespect to the time honoured principle of the rule of law.
In contemporary Nigeria, even the infants in the lowest strata of the educational institution must have been inundated by the visible threat to the security of lives and property of Nigerians.
Citizens of diverse status have therefore asked to know why government at all levels has failed to keep faith with the tenet of the constitutional provision which emphatically charged officials of the Nigerian state to see the security of lives and property of Nigerians as the most primary purpose of government.
The Nigerian constitution in section 14 (2) (b) provides thus; “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
The constitution also recognizes the Nigeria police as the most primary enforcers of the laws of Nigeria which are strategically tailored towards providing efficient, effective and water tight security to the lives and property of the citizenry.
Section 214(1) provides that “There shall be a police force for Nigeria which shall be known as the Nigerian Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section no other Police Force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.”
But from the abundance of empirical evidence it is clear even to the most incurable optimist that the Nigeria Police Force has failed to carry out this sacred constitutional duty thereby leading to the serial killings of Nigerians by armed hoodlums in all parts of Nigeria.
In almost all North Eastern States, armed insurgents have reportedly ransacked majority of the police stations thereby exposing the civil populace to a harvest of intermittent orgy of killings of villagers by these freelance armed terrorists. There is a total break down of discipline by the officers, rank and file of the current Nigeria Police Force even as most operatives of this national outfit are deployed to do domestic duties such as escorting wives of political office holders to markets and schools to drop off their children. A former Inspector General of police with whom I discussed this topic told me that virtually all traders with the six digit deposits in their bank accounts now parade around with police escorts since operatives of the Nigeria police are now for the highest bidder.
The need for the delegates to the national conference to devote quality time to work out the best form of policing institution for a post-national conference Nigeria can not therefore be over emphasized.
What kind of policing institution do we need in Nigeria to save Nigerians in their villages from becoming endangered species? To answer the interrogatory I will look towards the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction for possible solution.
The British society have successfully placed serious premium on the formation of what is called neighbourhood policing institution grounded under what the British Association of Chief police officers rightly code named as “the Peelian principles.”
Neighbourhood policing and the Peelian Principles are the heart and soul of the British model. This is the aspect of policing that most people related to and evidence points to increases in public confidence directly linked to visibility of police officers and staff.
Findings from the British society by experts shows clearly that public confidence underpins police legitimacy and has practical benefits. These include gaining intelligence about criminal activity within communities, opportunities for engaging with neighbourhood groups and boosting recruitment of those either wishing to volunteer or join through the Special Constabulary.
The Peelian principles are grounded as follows: The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder; the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions; police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
Over the years of successful policing work, the British Police officials know that the degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force; and that the police should seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
Other aspects of the Peelian Principles are that; police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient; police, at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
Other Peelian Principles are that; police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary; the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
It is therefore safe to state that the British model of policing if experimented in Nigeria may help to curb these persistent attacks of communities by armed freelance terrorists.
Besides, the United States also practices local and state policing institutions and from transparent media reporting of the crime statistics, it is clear that no single crime has gone unpunished but in Nigeria even operatives of the Nigeria police are glad to see that heinous crimes are swept under the carpet.
This is the fundamental reason for the regime of impunity that reigns supreme in all parts of Nigeria making it all the more imperative that the moribund and dysfunctional Nigeria police force must be comprehensively reformed.
The delegates to the National Conference should go into the government archives to read volumes of reports submitted to the central government by successive federal administrations on suggested modes of reforming the police. The delegates should therefore sift from the volumes of recommendations, the best approach to physically and concretely reform and transform the Nigerian police.
If you ask me, I am for state police in such a way that the federal policing institutions should be significantly scaled down, thereby allowing those neighbourhood police operatives drawn largely from the various communities to stamp out crimes and criminality from their neighborhood terrains. The federal police should only operate as an interventionist force whenever the State police demands their presence.
Now that virtually all parts of Nigeria have felt the pinch of policing inefficiency by the current structure of policing in Nigeria, it is hoped that the elites at the National conference from a section of the country will not scuttle any patriotic move to recommend the institutionalization of state and local police for Nigeria.
My conversations recently with a former Inspector General of police shows that Nigeria sits on a time bomb if the current structure of the Nigeria police is not fundamentally reformed. The ball is in our court.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.huriwa.org.