“Begin with the end in mind” is a saying well suited for the purpose of this piece which is to assert that the Nigeria Police is a colonial relic that is no longer fit for purpose and should be disbanded immediately. For an institution charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order, it has now become an oppressive and malicious entity bent on using extortion as a path to financial freedom and inflicting pain on ordinary citizens. The Nigeria Police, in many ways, now operates like a gang of angry, vengeful, and hateful individuals whose modus-operandi terrifies citizens and leaves many with unforgettable scars.
When the colonial regime set up the Nigeria Police Force in 1930, the masters meant to use the officers as a tool to keep their “subjects” in check, quell any dissent and uprising, and guarantee regime security. The mandate was never about citizens’ safety and security. Unfortunately, when the colonial government handed over power in 1960, they had made a monster out of an oppressive police institution accustomed to maintaining regime security and punishing dissenters. Regrettably, successive administrations in Nigeria, both military and democratic, have failed to achieve any reforms.
If the Nigeria Police was oppressive and, at the same time, quite effective in fighting crime and maintaining internal security, its excesses might be “excusable”, at least for the sake of not demanding perfection from a government institution. Sadly, from Sokoto to Kaduna, Ibadan to Lokoja, and across every state, the Nigeria Police has lost its soul. It cannot maintain law and order professionally and it still relies heavily on military assistance.
The Police has been demonstrably incapable of stopping cattle rustling as it has been incompetent in averting reprisal attacks from Fulani militia. It is hardly useful in the fight against banditry, neither has it played any critical role in the fight against terrorism. So, what does it then do?
Worth mentioning is that every study into the rise of non-state actors and terrorism in Nigeria has indicted the Nigeria Police as the chief instigator for their onslaught against the Nigerian state and its people. Boko Haram consistently mentioned the extrajudicial killing of its former leader, Mohammed Yusuf, as a significant grouse against the Nigerian state, and so have the bandits terrorizing the Northwest. For these reasons, the Nigeria Police has become a menace to the people of Nigeria. It is only fitting to believe that a complete overhaul of this institution might be our only hope for better internal security.
How is it possible to disband an entire police force, one might ask? Wouldn’t that lead to complete breakdown of law and order? First, it is essential to note that there are many ungoverned spaces in Nigeria, as numerous communities have very little protection. The Nigeria Police is ubiquitous in cities where strategic government and private sector assets require protection. Whether it has effectively protected those assets will require a different debate. That said, the fear that thugs and criminals will run over citizens should we disband the Police is legitimate, but the transition that I propose is strategic, not erratic.
We must begin by defining the kind of Police that we want, identifying the resources required, and channeling the political will and leadership needed to actualize that vision. It requires leadership to decentralize policing, give states and local governments the powers and legislative framework necessary to set up their own police formations. However, the federal government will reserve the right to set standards that states and local governments must meet in setting up their police institutions.
After political will, funding and where to raise it is the most crucial factor to consider. Undoubtedly, resources are scarce. But if we cut back on subsidizing petrol and electricity and divest from some strategic government assets, we will raise funds required to set up a morally sound and capable police force. The funds should go into training, upskilling, research, equipping police stations, and improved wages.
Raising the barrier of entry and enforcing strict requirements for enlistment into the Police is necessary in order to deter mediocres and incompetent applicants. We must reposition the Police as an elite institution that attracts the brightest from our universities, technical colleges, and polytechnics. Recruits should be from the top of the class and not the bottom, with nowhere else to go. That way, we can build an intelligence-driven police force with a deep understanding of today’s technological advancements.
You might wonder if this feat has been achieved before anywhere in the world. Yes, it has. Estonia did it, and so did Ukraine. Both countries disbanded a highly corrupt police institution and rebuilt one that was fit for purpose and greatly admired by its citizens. Our Police are currently in a more terrible state than that of the Ukrainians or the Estonians at the time they embarked on their separate reforms. It is not too late to begin ours.