Monday, August 24, 2009

Policing for Public Good

With a little over 377, 000 policemen, Nigeria, a nation of over 140 million people, is one of the most under-policed nations in the world. Nothing perhaps demonstrates this inadequacy more than the general atmosphere of insecurity of lives and property and the increasing wave of crime in the land in recent times. But it is one of the many ironies of our situation and inherent contradictions in our polity that almost one-third of this paltry police personnel are engaged in duties outside their regular calling, providing private security and even domestic services to few well-placed individuals while leaving the general security needs of the larger society unattended to.
It is against this bizarre background that we commend last week’s decision by the new Inspector General of Police, Mr Ogbonna Onovo to withdraw about 100, 000 policemen illegally posted to guard private individuals who are not entitled to such privileges.
In a move suggesting the dawn of anew era, Onovo, while handing down the order, gave the affected policemen seven days to return to their various service commands for retraining and reposting. The IG deplored the abuse of the services of policemen by members of the public and vowed to henceforth appropriately deploy the force’s manpower to police the general society instead of restricting them to some privileged few. This, indeed, is a commendable right step forward by the new IGP.
Onovo’s decision is also a welcome amendment of a Federal Executive Council (FEC) directive earlier in the year ordering the withdrawal of police orderlies from judges, commissioners, lawmakers and some other public office holders. Needless to say that that earlier directive, which kept silent on the fate of those attached to unauthorised individuals, mostly politicians, businessmen and even conmen, was greeted with widespread condemnation before it was eventually dropped.
Illegal posting of policemen as orderlies, guards and escorts to unauthorised citizens is an extension of our ingrained culture of impunity whereby public resources are often cornered by influential individuals for their personal convenience. Thus, in the face of general insecurity in the country, few people of means and power do not see anything wrong in beefing up their own security with some personnel from the regular police force whose full service complements are even inadequate to police the entire nation of 140 million people.
But then, the security situation in the country appears to have so far defied the heavy security deployment by even the privileged individuals, as, in most cases, the security details are often overpowered by the superior fire power of armed robbers, hired assassins, kidnappers and other hoodlums whenever they strike. Examples abound where many of these “big men”, with an array of security personnel swarming around them, have fallen victims of criminal gangs. It would appear therefore that most of those who retain the services of police orderlies do so not for any strict security reason but as an instrument to intimidate political opponents or business rivals, a duty these straying policemen appear to be well-versed in.
However, one pertinent question that must be answered by the police high command is: who authorised the posting of those policemen to those individuals in the first place? To be sure, this could be one of the pervasive underhand deals in public institutions that have continued to make our police force, in particular, the den of corruption. Therefore, it is not enough to recall those policemen on illegal duties. The police authorities should find out who sent them to their unauthorised duty posts with a view to applying appropriate sanctions for the aberration.
But more than this, the new IGP should take the issue of police welfare more seriously, as most of the personnel lured into guarding unauthorised persons went there in search of extra dough.