Jun 24, 2014

The Under-Policing of the Nigeria Space

Image source: Th Nigerian Presidency
I search, online, the database of the Nigerian Population Commission, NPC, for the population figure of the town of Vom Vwang in Jos South of Plateau State, to no avail. Through other benchmarks however, one could give a picture of how big or small the town is. 

The town of Vom Vwang has eight secondary schools, each with an average population of about 250 students. In the same town, there is the Vom Christian Hospital which was founded by the Church of Christ in Nigeria in 1922.  The town also boasts of a College of Nursing and Midwifery. It is sad that a town of this magnitude has only four police personnel.

It is very easy to see the under-policing of Nigeria on the roads or highways. At a busy Junction, a female police officer directed traffic one evening. It was a T-junction. She grappled with traffic from the north, south and eastern ends. Some naughty boys down the road rode tricycles in the wrong direction, a situation that would lead to a traffic squeeze. She wished a colleague was around to handle the boys, but there was not. She couldn’t leave her primary assignment to walk down the road and deal with the boys. Eventually, the boys caused the stalemate she worked to avoid that evening. It rendered her effort of the evening a waste.

In Nigeria, it is a cliché to see vehicles making violations along the road. Vehicle owners drive across kerbs, along pedestrian paths in the wrong directions, causing inconveniences for pedestrians and panicking law-abiding road users. So long as the roads seem clear, some vehicle owners move on when traffic lights “say” stop. These are all caused by the hasty and intolerant culture of Nigerians and what is seen on the streets and highways is actually a microcosm of what one finds in the general fabric of the nation.

Years back, road users in Nigeria were scared of traffic violations, fearing the law would catch-up with them. The lawful usage of the roads started fizzling out however, when it became clear they could get away with their highway misdeeds, leading to a culture of road madness and the sour ripples always tied with it.

Road offenders get away with driving crimes because there aren’t enough police personnel along the roads or highways to discourage the illegalities. If under-policing means that crimes are not sufficiently fought, the forgotten plight of the force makes it even worse. The “I-don’t-give-a-damn” posture of the authorities has created an ambiance where taking bribes to turn a blind eye on criminal acts has become so entrenched that it is seen as an acceptable custom.

It is also the reason why the officers often transfer their traditional beliefs into the profession. Nigeria, a country of my birth and which I love so dearly, is a theater of, sometimes, deeply hilarious drama in which some police officers believe there could be crime scenes where the criminals are invisible and fire visible and deadly bullets.  At such instances, it is needless to engage the criminal. Instead, you go back and just wait for the month-end to receive a pay for crimes not fought. This represents an unquantifiable degree of under-policing.

The Nigerian Police and its affiliates are exclusive appendages of the Federal Government (FG). The FG recruits a handful of men and women into the force and disperses them to the thirty-six state and the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT) commands across the country. Often, the only things that follow are the regular entitlements of the recruited men, entitlements that often arrive famished due to the rough paths the benefits often pass through. Since there are always inadequacies of working resources for the men and women of the force, state governments often shoulder these responsibilities, mostly the provision of operational vehicles, despite this being the constitutional liability of the FG. The rationale behind this generosity is in the knowledge that such goodwill will only work to keep crime levels low in the donor states.

When Plateau State suffered a sequence of conflicts between polarized groups, the tragic events played up the need for state police in Nigeria. The Plateau State Governor, Jonah David Jang, observed that each time trouble started, police reinforcements were often required and since he hasn’t powers to mobilize a police contingent from other parts of the country, it was the reason why succor often came late. Furthermore, the police command in his Plateau State isn’t really answerable to him and where the President fails to promptly give an urgently needed directive, it leads to regrettable damages. He was motivated, by these realizations, to propose the idea of state police in Nigeria. Support to his proposal was divided; northern governors and legislators kicked against the proposal while their counterparts from the south supported the proposal. Since the FG was not in support of the proposal, it did not endure through the night to see the light of day.

Then the problem of Boko Haram surfaced and became a monster, messing up the Nigerian nation direly. At a point, Shettima Mustapha, the reigning Governor of Borno State, where Boko Haram is headquartered and largely operates, was ignorantly blamed for his inability to end the bloody chaos. His respond was that he hasn’t any control of the security apparatus in Nigeria: the police and the military are all organs of the FG. Also the Ombatse problem in Nassarawa State broke out and the Governor of Nassarawa State, Tanko Al-Makura was also berated for allowing the recurrence of the unrest. His respond rhymed with the respond of his counterpart from Borno State. Thus the true presence of a manpower vacuum in the force led colleagues, who initially opposed Governor Jang, to subconsciously gravitate to his position on the debate.

It is obvious that the FG’s refusal to support the idea of state police is founded purely on the pedestal of morbid interest as the force is often deployed to serve them, especially during elections when it is used to bully political challengers. The significance of humanity must, however, be stressed. The FG must see the damage the deficiency of manpower in the force causes the nation and recruit the thousands of men and women needed to close the manpower gap. On the reverse, it can legislate to allow states to own police forces to guarantee effective policing of Nigeria.

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