Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nigeria Police and Record Keeping

When recently the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro admitted that he did not know the actual number of policemen in the country, not a few people felt embarrassed. However, given the nation’s notoriety for poor record keeping, we are hardly surprised. What is true of the police is, unfortunately, also true of many government agencies and ministries.
What is also interesting about Okiro’s confession is that it makes it easy to understand why the police seem to be overwhelmed by criminals who increasingly terrorise the society. All the argument about Nigeria being under-policed would then seem to be based on mere speculation. While it may seem obvious, there is no data to prove it. It is also only when the strength of the police is known that it is possible to make a case for more men or otherwise.
For an organization that is charged with the maintenance of law and order, the question of its numerical strength is of critical importance. Apart from the sheer number of its men, there is also the need for proper and specific identification of these men. We are aware that policemen are usually assigned service numbers and that those who are deceased are de-registered. Why then is it difficult to keep track of the number of men in the organization?
It is hard to imagine how the police authorities can do any meaningful planning without accurate information on its population. It is only when we know the current strength of the police that we can say if it needs more men or not. Besides, it is hard to determine the other demographic facts—age, gender and distribution—about the police without an accurate database that is regularly updated.
From the inspector-general of police’s admission, it is only fair to assume that even the Police Service Commission which claims that there are 377,000 policemen in the country, is just speculating. If such information is to be relied on, the I-G ought to be the right person to authenticate it. But by his own admission, whatever figure is being bandied about on the number of policemen in the country, is at best, an estimate.
This is not good for crime fighting at a time when criminals are becoming more desperate and more sophisticated. It is indeed scandalous that all these years, the police authorities have no reliable records on its personnel. Little wonder that policemen are sometimes involved in criminal acts without being easily identified.
With Okiro’s admission, we cannot even begin to imagine if the police have records of criminals, especially hardened criminals. In an era when crime fighting has become scientific, how computerised are the operations of the police in Nigeria?
It is fair on Okiro’s part for him to have confessed. But he should follow it up with immediate action of updating police personnel records and indeed those of criminals. It is an issue that needs not be treated lightly. How can we be certain that the nation is under-policed if we do not know the current strength of the organisation? Indeed how can we plan for arming the police without accurate information on the number of men to be provided for?
The IG and the Police Service Commission need to tackle this challenge immediately so that the nation can reasonably provide for the organization. Computerising the activities and records of the police is the best way to go about it. It is not something to be paid mere lip service. Concrete steps should be taken to actualize it. What we say to the police also goes for other government agencies where record keeping is equally in shambles. A nation that toys with record keeping is a nation that is not ready for real development and where projections are like a leap in the dark.