By Zayd Ibn Isah.
The Nigeria Police Force is one of the fundamental agencies of government saddled with the sacred responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of Nigerian citizens. Apart from performing this primary function and conventional duty, the Nigeria Police also serves as a buffer to other law enforcement agencies such as the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Prisons, Immigration and Customs. The Police also engages in military duties within and outside of Nigeria;
they also operate within the ambits of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And according to the Constitution, the Police have the sole legal right to operate within every territory of Nigeria.
The Nigeria Police as it is known today was formed after the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates. Before the amalgamation, what was in existence were the Northern Nigeria Police which operated in the Northern Region, and the Southern Nigeria Police which operated in the Southern Region.
Since then, the Nigeria Police Force has moved from its humble pre-Independence beginnings to become a more robust organization with more than 300,000 officers and men deployed all over the country. The Nigeria Police Force performs important duties such as crime prevention, crime investigation, road traffic control, election security duties, controlling and quelling civil unrest, military duties, VIP protection services and sundry.
However, in spite of these important duties that officers and men of the Force perform to ensure adequate security for the country’s growth and development, there are still quite a lot of accusations of bribery and corruption levelled against the Nigeria Police from members of the public. These criticisms serve to highlight the conduct of a few bad eggs in the Force. To rid the Force of these few bad eggs, various policies and police reforms by the authorities are aimed at repositioning the Force to be more proactive and efficient in tackling criminality within the country. But police reform is not a zero-sum-game, as neither the citizens nor the police are at the centre of police reform. Rather, their mutual relationship is crucial to the success of these reforms. As such, the role of Nigerians in building a better Nigeria Police Force that works for us all cannot be overemphasized.
How can Nigerians play a greater role in building a strong and united Police Force? Simple: through participation. This is because the work of policing should not be left to officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force alone. Citizens must also get involved and work hand-in-hand with the police. The sooner this is done, the earlier we can all begin to enjoy the safe, secured and prosperous Nigerian society of our dreams.
Now, this is why the community policing initiative is one of the critical components towards building a better and stronger police force.
Still on the importance of citizens’ participation in policing affairs, the Dutch racing cyclist, Nikki Terpstra, once said, “Citizens are mostly involved in policing activities as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police by providing intelligence.”
For instance, when a person is missing, or on the run after committing a heinous crime, the police can quickly inform a large segment of citizens to be on the look-out for that person, significantly increasing the chance that he or she will be apprehended and made to answer for the crimes committed. One good example of a citizen participation story was an incident that happened recently in Nasarawa State, where a senior lecturer at the Federal University of Lafia — Dr. Fred Ekpa Ayokhai, led his family members to the house of a female student of the same university. Once there, they proceeded to brutalize and dehumanize the young lady over a silly misunderstanding.
Concerned Nigerians shared video recordings of the lady being subjected to various degrees of indescribable torture and promptly tagged the social media handles of the Police, as well as other relevant agencies. The Nasarawa State Police Command swiftly swung into action and arrested the culprits, much to the admirations of the general public. No doubt, there are other salient examples of citizens participation in policing activities in Nigeria.
However, this is not the only way Nigerians can assist the police in fighting crimes and criminality in the country. Van der Land, Van Stokkum, and Boutellier made a classification of a broad range of citizen involvement in policing their country. These areas of participation ranges from surveillance in the neighborhood, contributing to criminal investigations by providing intelligence, conflict mediation, advising the police about the main problems in the neighborhood, seeking personal contact with the police, and collecting and spreading information amongst neighbors regarding safety.
Unfortunately, citizensʼ policing participation in Nigeria is more pronounced on social media than in real life. Most Nigerians prefer to keep mum on vital security information, rather than to divulge such to the police in order for decisive and preventive measures to be taken. This is not a good thing, because if citizens don’t trust their police enough to divulge vital and potentially life-saving information, various acts of criminality will keep on being the order of the day.
All of this essentially bores down to the level of trust between the police and the policed. To rebuild and restore this trust, efforts must be made starting from the grassroots, hence the appeal and necessity of community policing. By communicating regularly, using surveys to gather feedback, properly dealing with errant officers, engaging the public in law enforcement training sessions and charging officers to always employ tact while dealing with citizens, the level of trust between police and public can be restored to new heights.
And once this trust is secured, citizens will be more than willing to participate positively in the policing process. There are various ways that citizens can participate in policing. They are:
Collaborative Participation: This involves partnership with the police, for example, by thinking out of the box and shaping policy, attending meetings with a neighborhood police officer, or answering questions/responding to surveys from the police.
Social Control: This concerns behavior regarding others in the neighborhood, such as being a role model for the youth, being alert for signals of inappropriate behavior, and discussing problems about crime and nuisance with neighbors.
Responsive Participation: This concerns behavior after a transgression has occurred, such as calling the police, reporting nuisance, and keeping track of, and mediating in, neighborhood quarrels.
And finally, Detection: This has to do with detecting crimes or criminals through joining neighborhood watches, citizen net or identifying offenders through the Internet.
While these components of police citizensʼ participation may be inexhaustive, the above listed ones show how citizens can be part of policing and consequently impact the security situation of this country for good.
In conclusion, building a better Police Force that works for the good of all is not a walk in the park. It is a difficult but rewarding task that requires the joint efforts of the government, the citizens and of course, the personnel. When all of us put our hands and heads together towards improving the efficiency of our Police Force, positive outcomes begin to surface, crime levels plummet and citizens then live freely without fear, while being assured that the security of their lives and properties is not at risk.
Zayd Ibn Isah is the Media Aide to the Chairman, Police Service Commission. He can be reached via isahzayd@gmail