The national security challenge is getting worse. The situation is so bad that Nigerians could be said to be literally living precariously sandwiched between dreaded terrorists, merciless bandits, cruel kidnappers, and ruthless ritual killers. It is as if Nigerians are under a siege by these forces such that wherever you live in the country if you are lucky to escape one, you might not be lucky to escape the other.
In the face of the growing insecurity, various solutions have and are still being proffered and many are being debated across the country to distil their merits and demerits in the light of the nation’s peculiar socio-political milieu. One of the solutions that has been thrown up is the adoption of community policing along with its various variants such as state police, regional police, local police, and a welter of other names that have cropped up. One salient aspect of the debate is the confusion that appears to be gradually enveloping the simple concept of community policing and how almost no two Nigerians, be they ordinary citizens or security experts, almost always do not come up with the same definition for community policing.
This trend of excessive debating of potential solutions to national challenges to the point where the concepts lose their very meaning has been with us for years. You may recall such concepts as “True Federalism”, and “Restructuring” which, over time and upon similar intense national debates, gradually lost their meanings until they became more clichés while the situations they were originally designed to salvage festered and got worse. There is, therefore, the need to refocus the debate on community policing in order not to have a similar fate befall it, at least for the sake of national security.
The rising insecurity has, no doubt, taken heavy toll on the reputation of the security agencies in Nigeria, the Nigeria Police Force inclusive. But even long before the escalating insecurity, many Nigerians found it difficult to relate the popular police axiom, “police is your friend”, with the Nigerian Police. They simply do not see men (and women) of the NPF as friends who are out to protect their interest. The reason for this is largely historical. What transmuted into the NPF was the colonial police that was essentially established to coerce unwilling “natives” to submit to colonial rule. The orientation and training of members of the colonial police was designed to achieve that objective.
Ironically, that orientation and training was carried over into Independent Nigeria. The result is a high-handed and supercilious police that takes pride in brutalizing citizens rather than protecting them. The various attempts at reforming the police appear not to have yielded much positive results. The “End SARS” protest of a few years ago was a clear pointer to the fact that Nigerian citizens did not yet see the police as a friend.
This is the root of the call for community policing. In simple terms and in relation to the Nigerian situation, the term community policing simply means a police that work in collaboration with citizens at the community level to maintain law and order. In other words, it is a police that is in words and deeds friendly and of service to the citizen. Bertrus Ferreira defines it as “a philosophy of full service personalized policing, where the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, working in proactive partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems”. The emphasis here is on “working in proactive partnership with citizens”.
A hostile, high-handed and supercilious police cannot expect citizens to work in proactive partnership with them. Thus at the heart of successful community policing efforts by the Nigeria Police should be a reorientation and training focused on seeing the welfare and security of the citizen as the reason for its existence.
While it could be argued that much mileage could be gained in checking the ballooning insecurity if the Nigeria Police truly adopt the spirit and letter of community policing, the truth is that it is a tall order to expect the NPF alone to effectively maintain law and order in the country. This is because, apart from the fact that they are over-stretched (they are not anywhere close to meeting the UN standard police citizen ration of 1:450), they are essentially a Federal Police.
Though they are empowered by the constitution to maintain law and order across the country, the federal command chain structure they maintain constrains them from efficiently policing every nook and cranny of the country as should be.
Nigeria has a three-tier administration system made up of the Federal, States and the Local Government Areas. The States and the Local Government Areas have their own legislative arms that make laws for the effective governance and order of those entities. It is sheer hypocrisy to expect a Federal Police that is over-stretched to monitor the laws passed at the State and Local Government Legislatures and effectively enforce them. The absence of effective enforcement of the laws made at the State and Local Government levels is part of the reasons why insecurity is growing across the country.
Orderliness and security in a society are basically the functions of the effective enforcement of laws. This is the reason why every entity has some form of law enforcement unit. At local social clubs or associations, there is usually an official known as provost whose duty is to maintain law and order during meetings. At the House of Assembly, House of Representatives or Senate, they have the Whips and Wardens who are charged with the duty of enforcing the regulations of the various parties and the house. So it is against natural justice to have a tier of government with a legislative body that makes laws for the good governance and orderliness of that segment of society but without an agency or unit that enforces those laws.
This is precisely the reason for the strident agitation for State Police which is very different from community police based on the definition of community police above. If a State Police is not designed, oriented, or trained to “work in proactive partnership with citizens”, then it is not a community police. This argument could be stretched further to embrace Local Government or Council Police (i.e. a unit or agency that enforces laws made by the Local Government legislature).
It there is any seriousness on the part of politicians and government officials to find a lasting solution to bourgeoning insecurity challenge, then they must look at these issues ranging from an overhauled Federal Police to State Police (or its regional version) and Local Government or Council Police organized along community policing lines. For as long as Nigerians continue to pay lip service to community policing and conflate the issues with the objective of rendering them inane, for so long shall we grope and groan in the web of insecurity.
Mercifully, the National Assembly has indicated its willingness to look at the possibility of amending and making relevant laws to help tackle the insecurity monster that is threatening to swallow us as a nation. It is hoped that this will help them cut through the strands of the various arguments regarding the propriety or otherwise of regional, state and local police and the place of community policing in the nation’s security architecture.
Alex Okumo is a journalist and a public affairs analyst.