Reforming the Nigeria Police – One Complaint at a Time, By Catherine Kyenret Angai
For many Nigerians, the Police epitomises corruption and everything that is bad with the Nigerian system. It does not help that for most Nigerians, the police is their first point of contact in their relationship with government. However, recent events have shown that there is some good within the Nigeria Police and exploiting this good could become the spark plug that can help us shine some light on all that is bad within the system. The establishment of the Police Compliant Response Unit (CRU) stands out as one of the many platforms to start the rebuilding of the Nigeria Police. As I sit back reflecting on the events of the last few days, I have come to realise that the job of reforming the Police is our collective responsibility.
On the December 3, 2015 at about noon, my parents and their driver, Saleh, had a run in with the police in Abuja. They had just crossed a traffic light and slowed at the next one – the legacy of the past Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister is that for every few metres you drive you come across a traffic light. Never mind that some of these traffic lights border roads in derelict condition. But I digress. A traffic officer jumped right in front of the car and claimed they had beat the red light from the previous junction. It continues to remain a mystery about how these officers are able to identify who beats the traffic light without actually watching the light. Perhaps they possess some ‘spiritual eye’ that enables them to see without looking.
Saleh had lowered the window to speak to the officer who opened the door of the car by reaching inside and jumped into the front passenger’s seat. He insisted that the traffic rule was contravened and that Saleh would be locked up in a police cell for several weeks while the car would be impounded for a week. My mum told him that she was a civil servant, she had served as Director of Public Prosecution for more than 10 years and was always complaint with the law. The traffic officer then obtusely stated that since they had appealed to him he was going to ‘reduce’ their punishment by issuing them a warning charge which was a fine of N15,000.00! My mum was exasperated at this point and asked him where they could pay the fine. He said he would direct them. She did not have cash on her and so he skillfully directed them to an ATM machine where the money was withdrawn. From there he commenced with giving them directions to the office where the fine would be paid. He directed them until they got to a certain point. He asked for the money on the guise that he would make the payment. Right in the middle of the highway he asked the driver to stop, at this point he got out of the car and made away with the money.
My mum later called me to narrate her experience earlier that day with the officer, concluding that that “the matter was left to God”. I told her that this one we will handle here as well. They had to leave Abuja that day so I took the case up. Initially various thoughts crossed my mind. The first was to ‘storm’ the place where this happened. We have this ‘gra gra’ way of doing things in Nigeria sometimes. When a junior police officer offends you, you call a senior ranking officer. Where a senior ranking officer offends you might even call the military to ‘open eye’ for them. But then again when the initial rush of blood to my head had eased I decided to think more carefully. I remembered that I had seen the tweets of the Nigeria police popularising the newly set up Complaint Response Unit (CRU). I checked out the handle @PoliceNG_CRU. I took down their mobile number and called. I made my complaint and was advised on the next steps to take.
By evening of the December 4, I received a call from the FCT Police Command stating that my complaint had been lodged with them by the CRU and they had been mandated to investigate the matter. I was invited to the office to discuss further. I went in the company of my husband. I could not believe that my complaint had been taken seriously. The police officer we encountered was very civil, very well spoken and assured us that he would not rest until the case had been solved. This was quite an unusual encounter, as most Nigerians will tell you, dealing with the police in any capacity is not a straight forward matter. He took us to see the Officer Commanding (O/C) Provost who assured us that the culprit will be found and brought to book. We were to visit Wuse 2 Police Division since it was under that division the incident happened.
On Saturday the December 5, we met up with the police officer we had met the previous day, who happened to be a provost marshall. I was made to understand that the Provost Department is something of the sort of the police of the police. They wear white caps and white belts. My experience at the Wuse 2 Police division was a moment I was proud of. The provost marshall had a sprint in his stride. He walked into the station with the swag of an FBI agent. He announced his presence and said he was there on the orders of the Inspector General of Police through the Compol FCT to arrest all the men on traffic duty at Wuse Zone 4. As we made our way to see the Divisional Traffic Officer (DTO) it was obvious our presence had caused a stir. I even overheard one of the police officers whispering to a fellow colleague “my mind just dey cut”. The DTO went over the facts and took action. They insisted however that one of the persons who was there on the December 3 needed to be around, so my mum’s driver returned to Abuja to help the police identify the traffic officer.
By Tuesday December 8, we received news that the traffic officer had been arrested. Saleh and I went to Wuse 2 Divisional Police Station to help confirm the identity of the officer. The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) spoke very bitterly about how the police is brought to disrepute because of such men. He informed us that the officer would be tried the next day. They were going to need Saleh to testify at the trial.
On the December 9, 2015, the officer was tried, found guilty and dismissed from the police force.
I could not believe that the police could be this responsive. The manner the case was handled made me so proud of the Nigeria Police for the very first time. One recurrent statement that all the officers kept making throughout the process was that they were grateful I complained and followed the process through. For the most time we overlook these occurrences and ‘leave it to God’ without knowing that we are also in the process inadvertently encouraging the rot within the system.
In a recent interview, the officer in charge of the CRU, CSP Abayomi Shogunle stated that the CRU is a project aimed at stopping impunity in the force and making the police a citizen-friendly force. He stated that it is a community-based reporting mechanism where members of the public can report their complaints and queries about policing activities and solutions are provided. He stated that in just 3 weeks of its inauguration, the CRU received over 300 complaints out of which about half of them where resolved within 24 hours.
There is no doubt that a whole lot needs to be done to reform the police force in Nigeria. There were obvious gaps throughout the investigative process. The police still remains under-resourced. It will probably take some time before we are able to have a truly and fully professional police force but until then, we must all recognise that the job of reform is a collective one, a responsibility we must take up as Nigerian Citizens to report police misconduct to the CRU. Through this, we can all play our role in reforming the police one complaint at a time.
Catherine Kyenret Angai is Programme Coordinator, Democracy and Accountability, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Abuja, Nigeria.