By Pius Nwankwo
“Police is your friend” is the motto of Nigerian Police Force. I wonder how many Nigerians still believe this. Most ordinary citizens think that police is anything but a friend.
Nigeria, a country located on the western region of Africa, has three major ethnic groups and about 371 tribes. Her motto is “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress.” Recruiting police officers from different parts of the country and touting “police being your friend” help to promote this “unity.” But questions remain: Are police agent of unity? How far have they gone in fostering this unity?
The primary responsibility of every government is the welfare and security of its citizens. The enforcement of laws for the common good, and the maintenance of peaceful order are the primary reason for the establishment of a Police Force. The police primary job is protecting citizens` right.
Nigerian police officers are not exception to the enforcement of laws, and promotion and protection of human rights. They are saddled with the responsibility of promoting peace and unity in the country. Amidst many tribes and cultures in Nigeria, they must be agents of peace and unity. Unfortunately, this has been a challenging task for the officers, owing that they have other tasks to carry out without violating the fundamental human rights.
Allegations of human rights abuses by the Nigerian police officers, have hindered the promotion of Nigerian unity and raised serious questions about the integrity of the officers as agents of unity in Nigeria.
Nigerian Police Force
Section 214 (1) of 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended states that, “ there shall be a force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigerian Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.” Constitutionally, this implies that Nigeria Police Force is the only body recognized by the laws of the nation for the primary purposes of security of lives and property; and enforcement of laws of the nation.
Section 4 of the Police Act states that, “The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act. One of the basic laws for which the police is to enforce is seen in the motto of Nigeria, “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress.” Police as an offshoot of the Executive Arm is laden with the responsibility of promoting this “Unity.”
Constitutionally, police are empowered to help the executive government to enforce the laws and seek for the welfare of the nation. But some of their activities are not encouraging this unity, which Nigerian Constitution seeks to protect and promote.
Consequently, some police activities of the police are creating some troubles in the country. A close study at some of them, will help for better clarity.
Method of Recruitment
Nigeria is a nation with 36 states and Federal Capital. Also, had six geo-political zones. Although, the recruitments should be based on merit, but fair distribution should be given a serious consideration.
Maintaining fairness in the recruitment of police officers would no doubt show that police are leading by example in the promotion of the Nigerian unity. But when the reverse is the situation, then the public grows doubtful. There are cases whereby top officers would secretly be given openings to recruit their relatives and friends. The practice has allowed unqualified persons to be recruited and a regional imbalance on a national level. Statistics from 2017 show that the North has a greater number of senior officers than other parts of the country.
Recruitment and promotion are like two sides of same coin. If individuals are admitted into Nigerian police, they will soon be looking for promotions. Just like the recruitment, promotion should be based on merit. The Nigerian Police Service Commission (responsible for the welfare of Nigerian police) document on the promotion of officers, lists conditions for promotion. Top among these are: Fairness, merit and federal character principles (the idea of promoting fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructures among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria).
Like a melting candle, these top four are fast disappearing. These days promotion is not fairy distributed; federal character is no longer implemented. Each President has ignored federal character, thereby posing a great threat to national unity. The last six appointments of Inspector General of Police (IGP) showed that these top conditions are not observed. Five out of the six police chiefs are from the northern part of the country. Candidates from the Northern part of the country were heavily favored in among 243 senior officers promoted in 2017. And 90% of the security chiefs appointed by the current President are also from the North.
Officers from other parts of the country are equally qualified. The President should practice what he preaches and promote the unity of the country through observation of federal character in the appointment of IGP. And the Police Service Commission should have fair distribution in the promotion of officers. Only by doing this can Nigerian police become agents of unity.
Training and Professionalism
Plato in his political philosophy would say that “…either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately…there can be no cessation of troubles.” Plato was only emphasizing the necessity of education.
The training of Nigerian officers should include: Psychological, physical, moral, and intellectual health. Training should begin with intellectual background, in order to ascertain the level of understanding of each officer. A trained officer should be able to read and express himself, as well as to comprehend the situation around him. The psychological or mental disposition of the officers is also crucial because mental imbalance could lead to mishandling of situation. Mental alertness will make the officer to tolerate the behavioral attitude of the people, even when they provoke them. There are many cases where officers shot or brutalized people because of their attitude. In many incidents, officer shot directly at unarmed protesters on the streets. A thorough mental check is recommended for the officers to be admitted. Otherwise, innocent lives will continue to be wasted. Importantly, it is good to consider the moral make up of the officers. Some officers are inhuman in the way they treat those they arrested. There are so many cases of torture, ill treatment, and illegal detention by Nigerian police. Damian Ugwu, Amnesty International Nigeria Researcher said: “Our research has uncovered a pattern of ruthless human rights violations where victims are arrested and tortured until they either make a confession or pay officers a bride to be released.”
The Nigeria government adopted a law criminalizing torture in December 2017. Section 32 (1) of the Nigeria Criminal Law states that, “no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.” The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, hold similar view. For example, Section 8 (1) paragraph A states, “A suspect shall be accorded human treatment, having regard to his right to the dignity of his person.”
However, Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria said, “the systemic use of torture and other ill treatment by SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) officers for police investigations and the continued existence of torture chambers within the Nigerian Police Force points to an absolute disregard for international human rights law and standards.” Cases of torture and brutality abound. In March 2017, Miracle 27, who was a victim of police brutality, narrated his ordeal in police detention, “their leader directed them to go and hang me. They took me to the back of the hall and tied me with ropes. Then they started using all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks, inflicting me with all kinds of injuries. One of the officers used an external pipe to hit me on my teeth, breaking my teeth. I was left on that hanger for more than three hours…”
Police officers should be trained to see all people, including suspects, as human. Better training would increase the level of professionalism, build trust and allow citizens to see police as a friend.
Police Brutality and Extra-Judicial Killings
Many cases of police brutality and extra-judicial killing has been witnessed in Nigeria. Most of them are done by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a branch o Nigerian Police formed in 1992 to combat armed robbery and other serious crimes like kidnapping. These crimes began in Lagos, but by 2002, the wave had spread to all the 36 States of the federation, as well as Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Sadly, the mission of this group was defeated when they illegally arrested many people, especially the youth, detained them more than 48 hours, the constitutional duration for detention. Many people were detained for months and years without trial and were subjected to horrible inhuman treatments. Between January 2017 and May 2020, Amnesty International Nigeria had reported about 82 cases of victims of SARS brutality while detention. The treatments range from hanging upside down, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, and near-asphyxiation with plastic bags.
The 2013 report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law in Anambra State of Nigeria stated that, “many of the arrested and detained citizens by the Anambra Police SARS operatives in the course of their so-called combating of violent crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping in the state were butchered like animal.” Sunday Bang, 24, an amateur boxer who was arrested in Abuja, the nation
s capital by SARS, said that he was detained for five weeks without access to family, lawyer, medical care, and was not charged to court. While in police (SARS) custody, he was tortured and suffered bone fracture and other injuries. Some of the victims of extra-judicial killings include Emmanuel Egbo, Tina Ezekwe, Daniel Adewuyi Tella, Peter Ofurum, Godgift Ekerete, Modebayo Awosika, Tiyamiyu Kazeem, Kolade Johnson, the list goes on. 95% of these victims are youths from different parts of the nations. The police brutality and killings have triggered the recent peaceful nation-wide protest, which was tagged #EndSARS, #Endpolicebrutality. The protest, which lasted for two weeks from Oct. 7 to Oct 20, was a wake-up call to the Federal government to stop all the activities of SARS. Unfortunately, even (during or after?) the peaceful nation-wide protest, lives were lost as a result of shootings from police and military.
Twin sister to police brutality is extortion. My experience with a police officer from the northern region was a shock to me. He told me that they had to bribe their way to When I asked him why, he said that because the officers made a lot of illegal money from the public through various extortion means. From the illegal money gotten, they must settle their boss, otherwise the officers will face transfer to another state. It has gotten this bad! The extortion is done in many ways; some officers stand on local roads or highways, doing “stop and search.” In the process, officers will intimidate people, and collect money from them. Occasionally, money has been illegally taken from people who come to police station to enter a complaint. Police would either tell them to pay for the paper or pen or face the exit door. Sometimes, when they come to report a crime, police say that either there is no gas in their vehicle or that the vehicle is not functional. With that, the citizen must either buy gas or hire a vehicle for the them. Even, those who were arrested are subjected to this illegal bribery. Damian Ugwu of Amnesty International Nigeria said that, “SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality. In Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business.” One begins to question whether the officers are not properly paid? But, if the information about the salary structure of Nigerian police, found on the Wikipedia is to be taken to the bank, then I guess that their salary structure is not all that bad. The problem then is right attitude. Conclusion Section 15 (1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended states that, “the motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress.” Its subsection two states that, “Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.” These mandates fall squarely on the shoulders of Nigerian Police Force. They must be trained to understand that being professional in their duties could promote the national unity. The department of training should be well funded and encouraged, to regularly upgrade the officers training to meet the international standard.
Importantly, the Police Service Commission should be people of equity and fairness. Since, they approve officers for promotion and see to the welfare of police force; they should discharge their duties with every sense of nationality. Otherwise, anyone found wanting, should be not a member of service commission.
Unfortunately, many forces work against the implementation of these policies. Nigerian police will have to jump many hurdles to see to the unity and welfare of Nigerians. Some may be too difficult to jump over. Nigerians little to no confidence in them, because they have exhibited unethical conduct and disregarded fundamental human rights and unity of the citizens.
Pius Nwankwo is a Nigerian. Currently, pursuing his M.F.A in Digital Media Arts and Technology at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, United States of America.