IGP Idris and a new police order, by Ken Ugbechie
The news of the week, last week, was not the alleged warehousing of millions of naira in raw cash in a judge’s toilet. And it was not the mild anger of the Supreme Court which awarded cost against a lawyer for abuse of judicial process in the convoluted case to determine who the real candidate of the political liability called the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Ondo State governorship election is, either.
The big story happened to be the dismissal of 14 policemen for offences ranging from aiding and abetting serious crimes, conspiracy with militants and disappearance of explosives. The police said those affected erred and compromised in the discharge of their duties and betrayed the official oath of office. They were therefore arrested, subjected to internal disciplinary measures and punished according to the gravity of their offences.
I scanned through the list of the offending cops which included an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and I noticed that most of them were from the North, the same geographical area where the Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris, hails from. Ordinarily, this should not be a big deal but in a country where people are wont to argue and evaluate issues on the fault-lines of religion and ethnicity, it is a big deal. This is why the Police Service Commission and IGP Idris deserve my pat on their back.
Back to the real issue of the Nigeria police. It’s trite knowledge: there are good cops and there are bad cops. Both the good and the bad are products of the larger Nigerian system brimming with good men and women, character-challenged persons and all manner of delinquents and villains. And here is the logic: if the society is clean, the police would be clean. I concur, but only to the extent that such argument is premised on the convention that apple begets apple. But the police are not just the society. They are watchers of the society. They are the ones constitutionally licensed to protect the people. They are the anti-crime unit of society. Therefore, they ought to be above board. An anti-crime officer should not be associated with criminality or banditry in any guise. To be so labeled is anathema.
Police is a vocation of honour. The uniform of the police anywhere in the world symbolically confers on the wearer a high degree of integrity and respect from the public. But we have seen a few bad eggs since the history of policing. In Nigeria, the concept of policing as a symbol of honour takes a different dimension. Some cops simply desecrate the institution that ought to be the bastion of morality. And it has nothing to do with hierarchy or educational attainment. We have seen top cops engage in mindless looting and grotesque misconduct that questions their claim to being human. The conviction of former IGP Tafa Balogun who stole money meant for the welfare of the police personnel under his watch indexed the fact that the hood does not make the monk. Balogun was rated a Super Cop. Of course he should be to merit the national decoration as IGP. But he was a thief; a character-challenged human tank who abused his office and denied the rank and file their basic entitlements.
The IGP Balogun saga was one of the high-profile cases of graft in the Force but there have been other cases of rank and file cops shooting bus conductors over 50 naira bribe; there have been cases of serving policemen caught in robbery operations including bank robberies. Some social commentators argue that there is corruption in the NPF because the cops are poorly remunerated. I disagree. Today, a fresh graduate who joins the police earns better than his counterpart who joins the civil service and many others engaged in the private sector.
The problem of corruption in the anti-corruption agency goes beyond remuneration. It is the inability of the Force to insulate its members from being sucked into the miasma plaguing the larger society. Today, the police are better paid yet some cops still luxuriate in the gutter of 100 naira extortion. Some still engage in brazen robbery or lease their guns to criminals.
But the NPF is not all about bad cops. There are many good cops in the fold. If anything, the bad ones are in the minority. They are the ones that sully the image of the rest. The challenge is for the police authority to cleanse the lot of the toxic effect of the devious few. The name and shame and subsequent dismissal action taken against the errant 14 cops is commendable. However, internal vigilance is key at all times.
In a militarized nation where any uniform including those donned by local government employees is seen as a licence for extortion, there is a tendency for an armed uniformed person which is what the police are to see himself or herself as the lord of the Manor who is at liberty to deploy the power of the gun for personal enrichment. It is worse if such uniformed and armed person has a predilection to criminality.
And that is the real crux of the matter: the psychology of the cop. At the point of recruitment, many diehard crooks had been admitted into the fold because the recruitment process does not lend itself to background checks and scrutiny of the entrants. A referral from top government officials or the high and mighty is a passport to join the Force rather than a pedigree of integrity, academic excellence with unimpeachable character.
The Police Service Commission (PSC) may need to innovate a smarter way of recruitment just so it does not bring into the Force proven cultists, armed robbers, raw assassins and persons of shady disposition. For cadet recruitment, for instance, the PSC may insist on the presentation of letter of attestation by the candidates from their universities or any higher institution as the case may be. Every higher institution knows the criminals among its student community; they know the cultists. They are in a better stead to attest to the character of their graduates; not the Senators, Governors or those in the Presidency and elsewhere who influence the recruitment of their candidates.
But no matter the evils of a few cops, we must preserve and protect our police just so they can preserve and protect us. Those who use their offices and positions to influence the recruitment of criminals into the Force should have a rethink. Nigeria does not need millions of policemen with questionable character; the nation needs a few hundreds of thousands policemen who are committed to the tenet of their duty: to preserve and to protect.
IGP Idris upon assumption of office said: “The NPF shall henceforth be guided by the international core values of policing with integrity, ensuring that the rule of law prevails in our actions and activities and to strictly respect diversity, courage, compassion and professionalism”. This is inspiring. By shooing 14 cops out of the police fold in the manner he did last week, he has begun the process of policing with integrity. The IGP must not derail from this cause. Aiding and abetting serious crimes, conniving with militants and causing explosives to disappear from police custody are grave crimes which clearly suggest that there are criminals within a body constituted to fight crime and arrest criminals. This is a cruel paradox. It is troubling and much more so because there are still others not yet unearthed. The buck stops on IGP Idris’ table. He must make a mark by cleansing the Force of crooks. The image of the Nigeria Police is puckered. It needs an urgent makeover. Can this Idris step up to be the plate? If he does, then he would have become the real McCoy.
First published in Sunday Sun, November 27, 2016