By Kunle Sanyaolu
In theory, the Nigeria Police is playing its part when the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, on Saturday directed immediate commencement of stop and search operations throughout the yuletide. The aim, obviously, is to protect the lives and property of Nigerians, as well as ensure law and order in the society. These are core police duties, enshrined also in the 1999 Constitution. The apprehension of most Nigerians is that the IGP’s directive is meant more to assure citizens psychologically rather than seriously protect them.
Firstly, many Nigerians don’t know the difference between road blocks and stop-and-search. Common at both scenes are policemen parking motorists, demanding for their particulars, looking into their booths for weapons or other illegal items. Most of the time, the motorists are allowed to go after some explanations which are often backed by cash exchange. That was the root of corruption in the police.
Secondly, with the intricate structure of the police – the IGP, the Zonal Commands, the State Commands and the DPOs, must it require an instruction from the IGP to put in place what is supposed to be a normal police operation? Or perhaps the IGP’s directive is meant to strengthen the existing order? Even then, crime knows no bound in time and periods, thereby putting a fault on the impression that crimes are committed more during the yuletide. It will not be surprising that more crimes are committed on the highways in normal times than during festivities.
All the same, the police efforts are commendable; but they need to be matched with the appropriate seriousness. There is a wide perception now that the police are already overwhelmed by the enormity of their task of enforcing law and order. In truth, the police development rate is much slower than the rate of criminality in the society. To equalize the situation, police need more personnel, more equipment, greater sophistication and much greater motivation, loyalty and dedication to duties.
Of course, they will need more funds to accomplish these targets, but more than that, they need a complete restructuring which IGPs are never in a position to address, other than make some casual recommendations about community policing; for the obvious reasons of protecting their pecuniary gains within the short time available to them (most IGPs are only a stone throw to retirement), and tackling the wave of law and order problems constantly besieging the populace. Besides, in a setting whereby the authorities are reluctant to change the status quo, IGPs cannot be seen to be advocating for state police.
Yet, with the increasing sophistication of crime and criminals, the police in their present form will continue to struggle, no matter how much money is pumped into them. They will earn little respect from the public, not because they are lazy or inefficient, but because they are incapacitated by their structure from achieving their potential. This is the same police that was the pride of global bodies for the feat they achieved at international assignments. But that was long before they were overburdened and under-equipped.
For these reasons, the public will continue to nurse the perception that road blocks or by whatever name they are called, are synonymous with police extortion. Before roadblocks were banned by successive IGPs, they were seen as official toll gates where motorists, especially commercial transporters must part with money before they can proceed with their journey. Private transporters too, who could not produce valid particulars of their vehicles, or their drivers’ licence are also prone to the extortion. Under that regime, the police were more interested in how much they could garner from such road blocks than the crimes they could accost or prevent.
Each time the public voiced their exasperation on the phenomenon, the sitting IGP would quickly announce a ban on road block, and warn erring policemen of severe sanctions if caught flouting the rules. But these bans do not last, as police authorities usually look the other way soon as the public uproar subsided, a situation that gave fillip to speculations that policemen on the operations were ‘reporting’ to their superiors.
The Inspector General Ibrahim Idris has spoken well on the latest stop-and-search directive. He has emphasised the need for civility and politeness by policemen in dealing with the public. He has also stressed that the operations should be concentrated on flash points and black spots; certainly not to obstruct the flow of traffic. The police deserve the sympathy of Nigerians. But until they are reformed and restructured to be state-based and free of the high level bureaucracy in which they have been ensnagged, it will be difficult for Nigerians to fully appreciate them, or accord them their due respect.
●●Sanyaolu, a lawyer and Journalist, is Chairman of Editorial Board of everyday.ng