In this ENDSARS Commemorative Guest Article, Chimezie Udechukwu reflects poignantly on the ENDSARS and the social contract theory and how this also translates to reforming the Nigerian Police Force.
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Conflicts around the world are increasing, whatever form they take or assume; whether as response to unpopular policies by governments, clashes among ethnic groups, border disputes, the struggle for resource control, religious crises or even the most recent and indeed frequent – terrorism. This projects an image of the Hobbesian state of nature where life is solitary, brutish, nasty and short – an era when might was right, when a strong man can be murdered in his sleep by another strong man and his estate plundered.
In explaining the evolution of state, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau advanced the theory of the social contract. Establishing in their separate treatise, the need for the formation of a central system of governance, where the weak can be protected and development can thrive. Thus, the modern state as we know it today is a function of the willingness of citizens to surrender their individual mandate to a central authority – the leviathan, who assures them of protection from external aggression and internal civil disorder.
Thus a contract was born between the governed and the governing class. A functional machinery to administer these contract known as the government was formed. The government’s duty is, to protect its citizens from internal disorder and foreign invasion, thus allowing them to go about their legitimate business in an atmosphere that promotes prosperity and sustainable development. The citizens on their part had the responsibility of obeying the rules and regulations and also contributing some money for their proceeds as maintenance of the government. This is how constitutionalism, the payment of taxes and, indeed the policing system began.
Prior to the colonial incursion into Africa, this system was practiced albeit using strategies that were unique to each peoples and cultures. There was a justice system that punished deviants and a reward system that rewarded conformists. This was the era when communalism was a major cornerstone of the cultural practices of our people. Although this piece is about the Nigerian Police and its records of policing the nation more than nine decades after its establishment, it is imperative that the above background is provided to contextualize the essence of our conversation.
Over the past nine decades, the Nigerian Police has remained on the front burner of national discourse. Year in and out, we hear of the high levels of corruption, brutality, extra-judicial killings and a general negative image in the eyes of the majority of Nigerians. But does this presuppose that the Police as an institution is all bad by itself? Could it be that the negative public perception is as a result of the nefarious activities of a few of its officers? Well, that is a question to be left to the courts of public opinion.
The earliest history of the Nigerian Police Force can be traced to Lagos in 1861 when a 30-member consular guard was formed for the Lagos Colony. Eighteen years later, a 1,200-member armed paramilitary Hausa Constabulary was formed. In 1896 the Lagos Police was established. A similar force, the Niger Coast Constabulary, was formed in Calabar in 1894 under the newly proclaimed Niger Coast Protectorate. Likewise, in the north, the Royal Niger Company set up the Royal Niger Company Constabulary in 1888 with headquarters at Lokoja.
When the Protectorates of 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. Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914, but their police forces were not merged until 1930, forming the nation’s first national police, the NPF, headquartered in Lagos. During the colonial period, most police were associated with local governments (native authorities). In the 1960s, under the First Republic, these forces were first regionalized and then nationalized.
While Section 214 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution provides for a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, Section 4 of the Police Acts and Regulations lists the duties of the police force to include: (1) the prevention and detection of crime (2) the apprehension of offenders (3) the preservation of law and order (4) the protection of life and property (5) the due enforcement of laws and regulations with which they are directly charged (6) the performance of such military duties within and outside Nigeria as may be required of them by or under the authority of the Police Act or any other Act.
The primary responsibility of a Police Officer is to act as an official representative of government who is required and trusted to work within the law. The officer’s powers and duties are conferred by statute. The fundamental duties of a police officer include serving the community, safeguarding lives and property, protecting the innocent, keeping the peace and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.
Juxtaposing this with the vision of the NPF which is “to make Nigeria safer and more secure for economic development and growth; to create a safe and secure environment for everyone living in Nigeria,’ many Nigerians may not agree with this. And this is especially in the light of current existential realities playing in the country particularly with regards to personal safety, police brutality, harassment and unlawful detection.
Amidst the worsening Covid-19 pandemic, Nigerians said enough is enough with regards to the wanton harassment and killings attributed to the Police, especially the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS. There were nationwide protests which drew international support. The #EndSARS movement was monumental and the climax was the Lekki shootings by the military on October 20, 2020.
One year after, despite public outcry over the impunity with which SARS operates, the leadership of the NPF is yet to prosecute any officer for the role they played. In what may seem as yielding to public pressure, especially the 5 for 5 demands, the Federal Government approved over N13.1 billion for commencing of community policing. The Inspector General of Police dissolved SARS.
Statistics show that currently, there may be more than 350 thousand men and women policing a country of over 206 million people. That translates to 1 police officer to 589 Nigerians. How can we expect effective policing? The stress of such work coupled with the conditions of service of officers lead to a heightened aggression which is then transferred on the citizens. This is a recurring scenario with regards to public institutions and amenities.
The SARS quagmire is a reflection of the entire Police architecture in the country. The problem is at the root of our policing philosophy which borrows heavily from our colonial experiences. The now scrapped SARS is a reflection of our policing systems, where we have problems of Police Brutality, Custodial Violence, Transactional Bail and a host of other barbaric actions.
It is an open truth that criminality evolves faster than law enforcement hence, there is need for a constant application of new approaches to dealing with deviants in the society. But first, it must begin by punishing offenders within its ranks, for that is the first step to win public trust and repair its battered image before Nigerians who see it as institution that is corrupt, repressive and brutal.
The Nigerian Police must understand that policing involves civil conduct, effective community relations and indeed the application of modern technology to fight and solve crimes. Like some other organizations responsible for security, the Nigerian Police is highly militarized and needs to not just dissolve, but also embark on a gradual disarmament program. Almost everywhere you turn to, you see a gun wielding policeman even while controlling traffic and the natural reaction to such sight is fear.
The popular slogan “Police is your friend” needs to be thoroughly practiced. The level of police brutality speaks of a defective philosophy in the Nigerian Police. Just like our Correctional Center is largely governed by punitive rather than rehabilitative principles, our policing is more of an oppressive institution rather than a law enforcement machinery. There may never be any change without deep reforms – consequential reforms that dwell more on a performance appraisal system tied directly to their career trajectory.
Again, it is time for the Nigerian Police to rejig its policing philosophy to be in tune with modern day realities. There must be regular trainings that focuses on intelligence gathering, cyber security and effective human relations. This is the time for the Nigerian police to invest hugely in human capital development. The Police must create a synergy with the National Orientation Agency to create best practices on how to civilly engage the Nigerian people.
And of course, the Nigerian Police must publish the names of the many trigger happy policemen who have committed crimes against the people. They must also be made to face the music for their crimes. Let the law take its course. Doing these will bring reprieve to the families of those killed by the police. Also, Nigerians will come to truly believe that the Police is our friend. That said, it not time to celebrate yet. This is only scratching the surface.
As the Nigerian Police Force marches into its tenth decade as an institution created to assist the government in keeping its own end of the social contract, it must ask itself certain questions especially as our world has been altered by the Covid-19 pandemic. As it approaches the final lap of its centennial celebration, certain reforms are needed. Hence, it must ask; what level of professionalism is needed from its officers? How can staff welfare be improved? Should it be a proactive or a reactionary force? Will the police hierarchy commit itself to the regular training and retraining of its officers especially in the areas of preventive conflict, peacebuilding and effect customer relations?
We may have ended SARS, it is time to end Police brutality!
Chimezie Udechukwu is a Communications Strategist, Policy Analyst and Concerned Nigerian. He writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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Chimezie Judemary Udechukwu
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