After working 15 years with the London Metropolitan Police, 6 of which were spent working (and socialising) quite closely with uniformed officers, I was fortunate enough to learn and understand to a considerable extent, how the Metropolitan Police has managed to be on the forefront of world class policing. This places me in a unique position to comment on the true problems facing the Nigerian Police Force and how they can be resolved.
And it is not just about increasing salaries and wages.
The problem of the Nigerian police goes far beyond the issue of inadequate wages and salaries.
Yes, the boys in black are terribly and woefully underpaid, and this pathetic treatment of Nigerian policemen is mainly what has reduced our law and order officers to “Beggars with Guns”. But no matter how much we argue this point, it is not necessarily the main issue or cause of police brutality.
The typical cop on the street is filled with his own overblown feeling of power, entitlement and invincibility, topped up by serious deepset bitterness
The assumed superiority complex is generated by nothing but the uniform and the weapon he carries. This dangerous mindset is not limited to the mostly illiterate Nigerian policemen. It is the same attitude you will find among the majority of coppers in the US. The reason we do not have similar incidents of police brutality in the UK is because the police here is not routinely armed. And many UK officers have constantly reiterated their preference for not carrying arms as the temptation to use them will be too powerful to resist.
Which is basically why people submit unquestionably to the most ridiculous demands, extortion and threats of even the most illiterate, uneducated and unexposed rookie policeman on the roadside. Such cops hide behind their uniform and their guns to manipulate, terrorise, threaten and subdue the public. After all, no one in their right senses will dare argue with a man pointing a loaded gun at you. An armed man in uniform who is also almost likely high to his eyeballs on drugs and most definitely filled with so much hate and resentment in his heart.
The typical policeman in Nigeria is not obsessed with keeping criminals off the streets.
He is more interested in how much he can extort from fellow Nigerians that he secretly hates in his heart, and warpedly believes are better and more successful than him. So he tries to extort (beg) for handouts and when that fails, he resorts to violence.
A typical policeman in Nigeria will loudly hail a criminal or ritualist who throws wads of Naira or Dollars at him, and even carry his wife’s bag or hold an umbrella over her head to shield her from the sun.
The typical illiterate cop believes every University student is a child of a rich politician, with far better opportunities and prospects than him. So he immediately transfers his bitterness and feelings of inadequacy and limitations to the poor student whom he terrorises and brutalises.
Many innocent students and young people have been summarily murdered by Nigerian policemen under these circumstances.
The typical illiterate police will see any young person in possession of everything he wishes for but has no access to himself (top grade mobile phone, ipad, laptop etc) and immediately his bitterness translates into suspicion.
His lack of exposure or knowledge of youth culture is what makes him see a young person in street fashion and label him a criminal.
The roadside policeman sees himself through the eyes of others and not through the work he signed up to do.
He sees members of the public either as a threat to his psyche or as a meal ticket. Never as on ordinary law abiding citizen. There has been several cases of victims of crime or mere witnesses ending up as suspects to be locked up for days or in some cases months because the hapless officers are too lazy to conduct deep investigations.
There is no real understanding of his role or indeed how to carry it out. Which is why the tag line “the police is your friend” is such an irony.
No policeman as far as I have learnt is anyone’s friend. Especially not the Nigerian policeman. And definitely not if you are black in the UK or in the US!
Increase the police salaries even 100% but without a change of organisational mindset, it will be the same coppers in the same uniform with a few more Nairas in their pocket. But the attitude and behaviours will remain unchanged.
Not without a massive organisational restructuring, restrategising and reformulation of the entire force. Recruitment and training strategies need to be completely overhauled and potential recruits subjected to serious and stringent psychological assessments which will continue throughout their period of employment.
Entry requirements need to be raised and compulsory verbal reasoning tests must be taken.
And the routine arming of Nigerian police must be abolished, Only mild/medium incapacitators such as pepper spray and stun guns must be issued to all policemen. A SWAT like team that can attend at moments notice can be established to respond to serious incidents.
Police officers must cease to be utilised as errand boys for the rich or glorified body guards for politicians and their wives. And it must become a serious disciplinary offence for any officer to receive or be given any gifts monetary or otherwise from any member of the public
And most importantly, the leadership must be thoroughly and widely cleansed, properly trained in real leadership strategies and public service awareness.
Until the Nigerian Police Force is re-established as a modern organisation of well paid trained and skilled professionals, they will continue to be a body of hungry and bitter trigger happy thugs.
By Olajumoke Ariyo
Change and Improvement Strategist