By Philip Agbese
When Presidential Spokesperson, Femi Adesina wrote the piece titled ‘A New Sherriff is in Town’, not a few of us thought he was simply doing his job as a spin doctor for President Muhammadu Buhari. Even when people started becoming believers in the premise advanced in the write up, the preconception was mostly around the anti-corruption drive and cutting down on overblown government apparatus. But in addition to these, we are seeing tremendous changes that suggest that Adesina’s new sheriff (PMB) has connected the Nigeria Police Force into his change agenda.
The changes also suggest that the Inspector General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase connected himself with Buhari. The harsh economic condition brought on by the global economic dynamics might have been largely responsible for not allowing us take time to review what has changed since Mr Arase came on board and keyed into the change agenda.
For one, police collaboration with the Nigerian Army, Department of State Services (DSS) and other security agencies to make the country safer is desirable. Aside the reduction in the frequency of terror attacks, the force has largely stayed on top of the situation such that the upsurge in crime that would have accompanied the prevailing economic environment has been prevented. Yes. Crimes still take place but it is remarkable that there has been no disproportionate spike.
Men of the underworld, who would ordinarily lay siege to the highway, got the memo that a committed IGP that answers to a no nonsense President is at the helms of affairs. The police has impressed it on them. Gone are the days when miscreants thought they could have jolly rides to their chosen crime scenes once they pay the N20 toll at checkpoints. The highways are now better policed without the displeasure of extortion that used to be the norm. Of course, there could be some bad eggs that persist in the old ways but it is up to members of the public to expose such people by reporting them using the relevant channels in line with the appeal from the IGP that Nigerians should report corruption, bribery and bad conduct in the force.
The modern policing techniques which he brought on board were once lacking in the police. For instance, permits for tainted cars were once obtained by proxy. The situation was such that the issuance of the permit turned into a charade and money spinning racket that defeated the purpose for its initiation. Anyone can simply hand cash over to connections in the police force and a permit is on the way. Under Arase however, anyone applying for the permit has to first register their particulars online and subsequently present themselves at designated locations for biometric capture. The icing on the cake is that the police said this process is free of charge.
One must also commend Mr Arase for the dispatch with which incidents involving misconduct on the part of policemen are being treated. Gone are the days of trigger happy cops now that policemen know that there is no longer room for extra judicial killings. Similar to extra judicial killings was the impunity with which policemen once treated citizens – like conducting warrantless search on phones, which the Mr Arase has fortunately put an end to.
The IGP’s directive that policemen who bear arms must undergo periodic psychological evaluation is a first in the history of policing in this country. The incidents of trigger happy policemen or excuses of accidental discharge partly have psychological issues at their roots so the directive is timely.
Fortunately for the Nigeria Police Force, the IGP has not neglected the vital aspect of training and it is heart-warming that he is bringing the international dimension to the game. This was amply demonstrated by the recent training from the United Kingdom (UK) Police at a seminar that brought our policemen up to speed on the United Nation’s manual on counter kidnapping.
Even though he is excelling at domesticating Mr President’s ‘Change Agenda’ in the Nigeria Police Force, one must not fail to point the IGP in other directions that will make our police more people friendly. He should strongly consider setting up an internal but independent unit to review all cases in which policemen had cause to discharge their firearms whether they led to deaths or not. This will further help reduce the incidents of extra judicial killings.
He must address the tendency for policemen to be the lawbreakers as opposed to enforcing the law. Police convoys routinely drive against traffic thereby encouraging other road users to copy them. This has to stop as the image of the police as a law abiding institution will do a lot to build trust that will enable Nigerians relate better with them as collaborators instead of the previous tendency to treat policemen as the enemy.
Furthermore, the police under him should execute real time information sharing across commands using the national biometric database and a database of criminals that should be accessible to all commands round the clock. This should further reduce the ability of criminals to freely operate across the country since they have the tendency to relocate across state boundaries when the heat is turned on them in places where they have committed crimes.
The IGP should also impress the need to retool the police on Mr President and the Police Service Commission. Most of the policemen bearing arms often have assault rifles and high caliber firearms even when they are covering carnivals or children’s parties. The desirable thing is for the larger number of arms bearing policemen to use sidearm as opposed to assault weapons, which should be consigned to those in the anti-robbery and anti-terror squads.
Mr Arase has taken policing in Nigeria beyond the concept of roadblocks where ‘wetin you carry’ used to be the in-thing. He must thus have the cooperation of Nigerians to get the Nigeria Police Force to the next level. This is where he needs the support of Nigerians and we will all do well not to deny him this.
Agbese is an international public affairs commentator based in the United Kingdom