The Police and the Society, By Dele Agekameh
In recent times, the activities of the Nigerian Police have generated intense debate. Different opinions ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous have been canvassed on what a model Police Force should look like. Though it is difficult to know exactly where the pendulum of public opinion fully swings, the fact remains that due to the nature of their job, the police are only to be seen rather than being heard. It is in this vein that this column is constrained to look at the issue of the police and the society.
The public and the police exist as one. They are dependent on one another. The constitutional roles and the workings of the police as an organisation specialised in the overall peace and security interest of the public cannot be over emphasised. In spite of the often-held misconception by some members of the public who see the police as a compulsive interloper, there is a symbiotic link between the police and the larger society.
As British Home Secretary between January 26, 1828 and November 22, 1830, Sir Robert Peel, who is globally regarded as the father of the modern professional police force, established the Metropolitan Police Force for London based at Scotland Yard, in 1829. The 1,000 constables who form the nucleus of today’s British Police, were affectionately nicknamed ‘Bobbies’ or, somewhat less affectionately, ‘Peelers’. Although unpopular at first, they proved very successful in cutting crime in London.
As a result, by 1857, all cities in the United Kingdom were obliged to follow suit and form their own police forces. Still adored today as the father of modern policing, Peel developed the Peelian Principles which defined the ethical requirements police officers must follow to be effective. He once made a famous quote detailing the inseparability of the police from the larger society: “The police are the public and the public are the police”. A truism that is as natural as the legend of the egg and the chicken.
The Nigeria Police is a dynamic organisation with a clear constitutional mandate to ensure a safe, secure and orderly society by serving the community in accordance with extant laws of the country. Its responsibilities to the society include: Protection of life and property; preservation of peace, security and stability; preventing the commission of offences and misdemeanours as the focal point of the new approach to effective policing; detecting and apprehending offenders and their accomplices; assisting people in distress; in legal circumstances; providing security; monitoring and protection during elections and other national events, among others.
In performing these roles, the Nigeria Police and its personnel are expected to exhibit flexibility. This goes with the expectation that the rank and file should be open-minded at all times; be adaptive to changing patterns of policing, psychology and tolerate differing opinions and standpoints. Its personnel must exhibit leadership. That is, the rank and file is expected to be consistent and approachable while being committed to and inspiring the organisational values in others. They must demonstrate integrity, which simply means, they should act with honesty and respect for the right to fair hearing and due process for all while maintaining confidentiality and respect for those they deal with on day-to-day basis. Furthermore, the officers and men are expected to demonstrate moral strength, courage and behave honourably and impartially, at all times.
Other expected qualities include the display of professionalism. What this means is that they should not shift responsibility but be accountable to superiors and constituted authority, honestly, openly and consistently, while continually striving for excellence. This, they can achieve, through respect. Therefore, members of the Nigeria Police are expected to realise, embrace and respect the inherent diversity in languages, religions, cultures, lore and mores of Nigerian communities with no iota of bias. They must also have a sense of appreciation. Policemen are also expected to value other opinions whether dissenting or complementary, while appreciating and acknowledging the efforts of others.
In all of these, what the police need most is support. Apart from support by the public, officers and men should endeavour to recognise and reward the service and sacrifices of others through promoting professionalism and career development. This support comes in the form of synergy between the police and the community where they operate. This is necessary because the average policeman should always tap from his catchment community in the areas of community policing such as information sourcing and sharing, volunteer services and so on, while maintaining confidentiality of sources.
Above all, it is pertinent to note that the police cannot exist in isolation because the public justifies the existence of the police in the first instance, just as the public cannot prosper in chaos or the absence of law and order. It is the performance of this onerous duty by the police that sometimes brings them into bad reckoning in the minds of some people who probably do so after perpetrating or getting involved in certain heinous and prima-facie crimes and misdemeanours.
Generally, the average Nigerian views and interacts with members of the police force with measured suspicion and concealed distrust. In many instances, many people think the policeman or woman is an extra-terrestrial being with a clear agenda to make life difficult for people. This mindset is responsible for many Nigerians hoarding useful and essential information from the police, a behaviour that is responsible for non-resolution of many crimes especially murders, assassinations and other killings in the country. The reluctance of people to volunteer useful information, except, probably, for pecuniary purposes, has become bottle necks in solving an array of knotty criminal cases over the decades.
It is also of prime concern that the Nigerian public, particularly the political class, is in the habit of heaping praises and encomiums on the police when its actions favour them and demonising it when its actions do not favour them. It is good to note that under the new dispensation, the leadership of the police is opening up new vistas for working cooperation with the larger public in the areas of developing joint initiatives to target crime and criminality within the society by creating and supporting information and resource sharing. In doing this, policemen are expected to form active partnership with research and training institutions/organisations. They can also involve more people outside the force, such as volunteers, who will help in crime prevention and community policing.
Recently, the police hierarchy established human rights desks in all police formations nationwide. It was followed last week with the release of the code of conduct for human rights in the police. This is in tandem with the reformative process and the new orientation geared towards transforming the operational and psychological make-up of the police, especially in the area of maintaining law and order as a prelude to a peaceful election season in 2015.
Therefore, those who are currently trying to drive a wedge between the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian public, by skewing information and cooking up non-existent scenarios capable of bringing the police to public ridicule and odium, must seriously have a rethink. The public should be wary of those who seek to indoctrinate it with Goebellian propaganda designed to rubbish the police. Now that the political parties’ primaries are over and the candidates for the 2015 elections are known, the police should be mindful of those who are determined to use the instrumentality of the force either to cling to office or assume power at all costs.
The symbiotic link between the society and the Nigeria Police calls for a reappraisal because it seems the new genre of the political class has been creating dire situations designed to alienate and practically destroy the natural bond between the two segments. Perhaps, we should introspectively ask: Why is the Nigeria Police, the same organisation that has excelled in the various United Nations’ peacekeeping missions in other countries, being constantly vilified by a segment of the society? This is germane because apart from reflecting and mirroring the society, the success or failure of the Nigeria Police will certainly have a catastrophic cum collateral damage on the larger society.