Crime is inevitable in every society; There is and will continue to be a breach in law and order in societies. While these misconducts of various kinds can not be completely eradicated, they can be managed. This conscious bid to check and bring societal disorders to their barest minimum is the reason why law enforcement agencies are put in place and policing is encouraged in every society.
The police force is an agency of the executive arm of government that maintains law and order in any society. Unlike the military, the police investigates and prosecutes cases in the law courts. It plays an essential role in ensuring peaceful coexistence among the citizens without which the society would be a jungle.
Like any other country ladened with daily issues of crime and law related crisis, Nigeria has a police body known as the Nigerian Police(NP) formerly the Nigeria Police Force.
According to records, the history of the Nigerian Police can be traced back to 1820 when the first Nigeria Police force was formed. It began with officers from the Eastern part of Nigeria, especially present day Imo state. In 1879, the Lagos Police was established. In the North, the Royal Niger Company set up the Royal Niger Company Constabulary in 1888. A similar force called the Niger Coast Constabulary was also formed in 1894 under the newly formed Niger Coastal Protectorate.
When the protectorates of both Northern and Southern Nigeria were proclaimed in the early 1900s, part of the Royal Niger Company Constabulary became the Northern Nigeria Police and part of the Niger Coast Constabulary became the Southern Nigeria Police.
After the British had merged the Lagos Colony with the Southern and Northern protectorates and named the new colony Nigeria, the Northern and Southern regional police forces were later merged in 1930 to form the colony’s first national police force, the Nigerian Police Force(NPF) currently known as Nigerian Police.
The Nigerian Police is designated by section 194 of the 1979 constitution as the National Police of Nigeria with exclusive jurisdiction throughout the country. It is the principal law enforcement agency in Nigeria, consisting of commands in all 36 states of the federation. The motto of this agency is “Police Is Your Friend”.
Some 88 years down the road since its inception, it is safe to say that Nigerian citizens have become impatient and have lost confidence in the principal law enforcement of the country.
This growing impatience is a justifiable one as members of the Nigerian Police have a track record of engaging in unlawful conducts and being anything but friendly. They are now viewed more as fiends than friends, predators who violate human rights and assault the citizens they are assigned to protect.
This police menace is an age long one which dates back to the 1800s. It is on record that in 1891, the consul general of the Oil Rivers Protectorate in what is presently Eastern Nigeria expressed shock at the ‘numerous acts of lawlessness and pillage’ by the police who were commonly referred to in the community as the ‘forty thieves’ in police uniform, thanks to their conducts. Similarly, in 1897, the governor of the Lagos Colony acknowledged that the Hausa Force ( what the 100-men contingent formed by the British Colonial Administration in 1861 were referred to because of the ethnicity of the men recruited into the unit which was based in Lagos), ‘no doubt behaved very badly in the hinterland by looting, stealing and generally taking advantage of their position’.
Decades later, this hasn’t changed as the Nigerian Police is still a symbol and an agent of corruption, mismanagement, abuse and a lot more of everything they were known for many years ago. The plague in the Nigerian Police has continued to grow with each passing day.
The late American Politician, Richard .J. Daley once said, ” The police are not here to create disorder, they are here to preserve it”, but that unfortunately is not the case with our Nigerian Police.
With the NP, crime is on the increase because of the agency’s inability to respond effectively. The incompetence, misconduct and corruption of the Nigerian Police has fueled rather than reduce crime and violence. Hence, the relationship between the Nigerian Police and Nigerian citizens continue to be characterized by lack of respect and ‘mutual hostility’.
Over the years, members of the Nigerian Police force have engaged in:
UNLAWFUL DETENTION AND EXTORTION;
We have lost count of the number of stories of unlawful detention and extortion involving the Nigerian Police. Many Nigerian have at one point or the other been victims of unlawful detention or extortion, or have witnessed it. Some Nigerians get detained by the police for no legitimate reason, allegations simply get laid on them. The police gets to a place where a crime was committed (when the criminals must have gone) and arrest everybody they meet there and those arrested are made to give money to the Police in the name of ‘bail’, which is actually said to be ‘FREE’!(check behind the counter when next you find yourself at a police station, you’ll see the ‘bail is free’ sticker).
A refusal to pay for bail, might most likely lead to a ‘re-arrest’ and at this point, they will feel they have a cogent reason for arresting you. Need I mention the fact that there are situations where people have been made to pay for reporting criminal cases. I don’t know where it’s written that a person reporting a case to the police must pay before it gets attended to.
We know that a checkpoint is a place where travelers are stopped for inspection. Well, Nigerians dread police checkpoints because, they are more of harassment/extortion points than inspection points. The main purpose of checkpoints have been overlooked by those positioned there, now all they do is collect money from road users without checking some of those cars and end up letting those with contrabands drive pass.
Drivers who are trying to make ends meet in this ‘harsh economy’ are made to pay at least #100 and this has nothing to do with if they have complete ‘particulars’ or not, it is now a norm and any form of ‘refusal’ from the drivers to comply to this unconstitutional ‘taxation’ is met by brutality from our so called ‘friends’, the Nigerian Police. And this leads us to the issue of killing by the Nigerian police.
EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLINGS: There are many cases of innocent Nigerians who have been murdered by ‘trigger-happy’ policemen. Drivers have been shot dead for refusing to pay #100, an unstipulated fee. People have been killed for ‘confronting’ the police over their rights. There are reported cases of how unarmed citizens who embark on peaceful protests have been manhandled by the police. Most times, the involvement of the police usually leads to a face off between the police and the protesters and this very often ends with at least one death record.
In most cases, such murders are covered up by the authority, probably to save the image of the police. Some murderous policemen have, however been punished because of the status of the victim(s) and the amount of public condemnation generated.
So much to be said about those billed to maintain peace, prevent crimes and protect lives and properties and this is to mention a few of their ‘wrong doings’. Like the American author, David Mamet said, “Policemen so cherish their status as keepers of peace and protectors of the public that they have occasionally been known to beat to death those citizens or groups who question that status”. If this doesn’t describe most actions of our police here, I wonder what would.
However, despite these ugly reports, it has been established that some Nigerian Police officers conduct themselves in an exemplary manner, working in difficult and often dangerous conditions. But like Marry Frances Berry, the American Historian said, ” When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe”. This is clearly the case of Nigerians and the Nigerian Police. It’s hard to believe there are good policemen out there who hold their job in high esteem, have a working conscience, are diligent and actually carry out their duties lawfully, because everyday Nigerians seem to run into the unlawful ones, simply because they are more.
To Nigerians, the police is just another lost cause, like most things in this country and a lot has been written on the Nigerian police and their conducts and more writings will come through until drastic measures are taking to address this police menace.
It’s been claimed that the Nigerian police isn’t well catered for and that is why some of them resort to corrupt practices to make ends meet. If that is the case, then the police force should be given more attention. Officers should be well trained, good remuneration should be given, conducive accommodation and modern equipment should be provided for them and officers who abuse the law should be duly punished. Because we want a police force with officers who are passionate about their job, officers who will respect and protect the citizens as they have been designated to do. Police officers who are really our friends and who in Earl Warren’s words ‘Obey the law while enforcing the law”.