With new Police Chief, old problems remain

It seemed like an act of God when in the same week that the governor of Imo state (as the alleged chief security officer of that state) instructed police officers to defend themselves with their guns when attacked by criminals, the inspector general of police who himself had fingered the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in the Monday attack on Owerri federal corrections centre–and threatened fire and brimstone–was sacked and replaced by a deputy inspector general.

For the school of thought who believed that this was President Buhari’s damage control move in a region he seemingly bears lasting animosity for, they couldn’t have been more deceived when unconfirmed stories were reported hours later that a security operation has been launched to fish out the perpetrators of the attack which has been denied by IPOB.

The politics that led to the emergence of Usman Alkali Baba as the new inspector general of police leaves a lot to be desired, especially considering that a more senior and qualified DIG Moses Jitoboh from Bayelsa was retired to make the emergence of Baba possible. Jitoboh’s crime was simply that he is from the “wrong side” of the country. With the new IGP’s emergence, the security and paramilitary leadership of the country is now actively skewered against people from the South South and the South East. Only the offices of the Chief of Defence Staff and the Acting Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service were given to people from the South South, with both men–Leo Irabor and John Mbraure respectively–from Delta state.

This ultimately means that enormous responsibility lies with the new police chief. The presidency has already set him up against his colleagues because of the unmeritorious manner in which he emerged as IGP. It would not be the first time the Nigerian government would eschew merit and seniority as a result of influence peddling. As a matter of fact the government even broke its new law on police leadership which states that the inspector general must not be kept one day further in office at the expiration of his tenure, when it extended the immediate past IG’s tenure by two months when it expired on February 1.

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What the new police boss will need to do first is to show his colleagues that he is up to the task. That would take effective demonstration of leadership in terms of officers’ welfare which has been neglected for so long, exacerbating the institutional rot in the force.

The pitfalls to avoid are many. Attacks on police formations in the geographic east of the country is on the increase, with the government’s response being the latest retaliation against criminals in Essien Udim LGA of Akwa Ibom state. The reactionary approach to policing in Nigeria robs the police force of initiatives for crime prevention. The new inspector general has to consider the welfare of his colleagues seriously, and work to boost the morale of police officers which have taken a huge hit since the ENDSARS protests of October 2020 which attracted criminals with a vendetta against police installations and personnel across the south.

Corruption within the force is a huge problem. However, corruption cannot be defeated without admitting that the problem exists. No serving inspector general has admitted this publicly in fear of endangering the “esprit d’ corps” principle. However, it sucks and eats away police efficiency in responding to the needs of the country. There’s no dispute in the fact that the police does not get all the money in the annual police budget due to a combination of factors ranging from dwindling government revenue to fears from government and military circles that an empowerment of the police is a grave threat to regime security, which various governments since the onset of military rule have sought to mitigate by significantly weakening the police force. However, the meagre sum the police force gets in budgetary allocations does not trickle down to the lowest police station on the streets in far flung towns remote from Abuja or the major cities. For instance, a May 2019 investigation by Vanguard showed that the police station in Burutu local government area of Delta state which serves 71 riverine communities have just two rifles and three police officers, because pirates had invaded the station and attacked officers on sight after raiding the armoury. The state has had no less than three commissioners of police since that incident in September 2018 and there has not been any change in the fortunes of the resident officers. It calls into question the allocation for weapons purchase and the rotational deployment of officers.

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Given the rough terrain police officers have to operate from, a commitment to the ease on the burden of officers is necessary. And for this to happen, the new inspector general of police must not inherit the ruckus his predecessor had with the police service commission over the recruitment of new constables into the force. A rapprochement between both offices is necessary in lieu of the mouthing security challenges in the country.

The anti police sentiment which led to the violence that coloured the October 2020 protests still lingers. SARS is yet to be ended. Police brutality is still rife. Dousing such tensions would require a paradigm shift by the new IGP from political and promissory statements such as an annual ban on roadblocks and checkpoints across the country, reiteration that bail is free when it’s actually not, to actually effecting operational of the force. Police officers are unruly and do not respect commands and directives from the top because the command system is broken as the inspector general seems far removed from the ground, allowing divisional police officers and their men to run their own fiefdoms. The lack of respect for authority is being borne as a brunt by hapless citizens who have had to deal with the daily realization that the police is not your friend, especially when one notes with concern what retired Assistant Inspector General of Police Rasheed Akintunde revealed a few years ago that 80% of police officers are deployed to act as orderlies to VIPs. Pronouncements recalling these officers have not worked. And this is because of a lack of will of enforcement.

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The tasks are many. For an officer who grew up through the rank and file of the force, he is in the best position to understand that a bureaucratic mess such as the Nigerian police force is change resistant. This means, if he gets sucked into the old ways of doing things which actually gave him a career, he would not only not be the first, Nigerians would be, as they have continued to be, the victims of such state dysfunction exemplified by the Nigeria Police Force.

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