•Nigerians angry over large number of cops guarding private individuals

Cosmas Omegoh

It was received with considerable shock. And, gradually, the initial disbelief has metamorphosed to outrage among many Nigerians.
Chairman, Police Service Commission, Mr. Mike Okiro, a retired Inspector-General of Police, had informed Nigerians recently that, of the 400,000 police personnel in the country, 250,000 were attached to private individuals and unauthorised persons, leaving just about 150,000 to secure close to 200 million people.
“We cannot afford to have more than half of the population of the police in private hands.” Okiro had said.
He stated that his commission, in collaboration with the police, had started a gradual withdrawal of policemen on private guard duties but regretted that the effort was being hampered by paucity of funds. He condemned the practice of allowing a large number of the police to guard private individuals at a time when the police force was lacking manpower.
Besides Okiro, another top police officer also told Nigerians that only a paltry 20 per cent of the country’s policemen and women are engaged in regular police duties. The other 80 per cent serve as guards to some notable people in the society, many without authorisation.
Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Zone 5, Benin City, Rasheed Akintunde, who stated this, had noted that: “Every big man wants personal security; they want a number of policemen to come and secure them and their family members, instead of supporting the police to work and ensure a safer environment.”
Daily Sun gathered that Nigeria employs an estimated 371,000 policemen and women charged with the core responsibilities of maintaining law and order and protecting life and property.
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, the United Nations (UN) in 2006 had advocated a benchmark of 300 police officers per 100,000 civilians of the population. This is the ratio of the size of national police forces and police per head in every country.
In 2012, according to a UN report, the staff strength of the Nigeria Police stood at 350,000. But three years later, that number was considered inadequate to cater to the country’s growing security need. This perceived inadequacy spurred the House of Representatives to urge the Federal Government to urgently recruit more personnel for the force. This came on the sidelines of a motion moved by Chief Uzoma Nkem-Abonta and adopted by the lawmakers during plenary. The House had agreed that the move was necessary to mitigate the effects of the shortage of manpower in the force. The idea, it was believed, would help in tackling the spate of insecurity in the country.
At that time, the lawmakers regretted that the police workforce did not meet the UN’s new 222 police per 100,000 persons threshold.
At the moment, Nigeria’s population is estimated to be 170 million people. Out of this number, the people-police ratio per 100,000, judging by the UN benchmark, is expected to be in the region of 377,400. This is considered inadequate still in the face of the current 371,000 Nigeria police strength.
In the light of the claim that only an insignificant 20 per cent of the current 371,000 police manpower is engaged in regular police duty, leaving the rest at the service of private individuals, some Nigerians have been speaking.
“Only 20 per cent of the police engaged in regular police duties? This is an aberration,” Rev. Olu Martins, an activist and a public affairs analyst, thundered. Unhappy with the development, he said: “Recently, a police public relations officer informed us that every state governor has a minimum 221 police officers attached to them – in their guest houses, lodges, mothers’ homes, name it. They make policemen redundant. They reduce them to houseboys and use them to open doors.”
Mr. Don Iroham, a retired AI, on his part, expressed surprise at the turn of events in the police.
“In the first place, the police are not supposed to be security guards. Rather, they are professional men and women who are supposed to be on their beats securing the people. They are not supposed to be attached to private individuals. That is why it is unfortunate, if what we are hearing is true, that 80 per cent of the police are working for some private individuals,” he said.
He noted that, although some policemen were often seen with some individuals, the claim that the number was up to 80 per cent was bogus.
“When I heard the figure being mentioned, I was surprised. Then I said to myself that ‘if this figure is true, it is unfortunate.’
“I have not for once done any research to ascertain if that staggering number mentioned is true or false. So, if we are to believe that claim, the question now is ‘who conducted that research? Who came out with such a figure?’
Rev. Martins believes that, if the police have a staff strength of 400,000 men and women, for instance, and 250,000 of them are attached to private individuals and government officials, then, only 150,000 would be left to guard the remainder of 170 million Nigerians in the country. What that meant, according to him, was that one policeman would be left to guard nearly 1,000 people, and he wondered how effective that policeman would be.
He noted that the scenario was a pointer that state and community policing was the panacea to the problem. He insisted that the development was a clear indication that the country was grossly under-policed.
While admitting that, over time, thousands of policemen and women had been working with some individuals, he said some inspectors-general of police had attempted to stop the practice.
He said: “But given the high level of insecurity in the land, when people who can afford the police complain that they are being threatened and apply for security men you give them. After all, it is the duty of the police to provide security to the people. So, it is a two-way thing. If one is threatened, it is the duty of the police to get them secured. But that privilege should not be abused. When the insecurity around the individual has abated, then the policemen attached to them ought to be withdrawn.”
However, a worrisome angle to the practice, according to Martins, was that some top officers in the police were making money from the situation: “If you look around, you see policemen and women attached to banks, oil firms, multinational firms and individuals who can afford to pay for their services. So, the question now is: does the money realised from the engagement of these police personnel go to the government purse?”
All this, according to Mr Iroham, is happening because Nigeria is a peculiar place.
“Elsewhere around the world, this is not the narrative. Nigeria is about the only place where worse things than what we have at the moment happens. We have heard how people steal big money and flee the country. And when they come back, they are reabsorbed into government and even promoted. The bottom line, therefore, is, let Nigerians obey the law,” he said.
The former police boss expressed disappointment with the current staff strength of the Nigeria police, regretting that the serving officers were over-stretched beyond their limits.
“The number we have at the moment is inadequate. If the UN recommended that one police man should police 400 individuals and our population strength is about 200 million people, that leaves one imagining how effective that policing will be. So, it is easy to guess that the situation is now worse with the number of policemen said to be attached to private individuals.
“If you have ever lived in the barracks before, you would appreciate how difficult it is sometimes to raise a team of policemen for a quick operation. That shows you how difficult things can be sometimes.
“But it also needs to be said that, if there are enough policemen, there should be enough materials for them to work with. In some other climes, there are installed CCTV cameras, which help the police to do their jobs in an effective and efficient manner. In case there is a crime, the police easily play back the cameras and quickly get to the end of the situation. But here in Nigeria, things are different. Where there are CCTV cameras installed, they are vandalised. So, one can only say that Nigeria is not working. The country has to work first for the police to work,” he said.
This Nigerian factor is one thing that demeans the police, according to Martins: “Some of them achieve excellence when they go outside the country for police duties, but upon their return they perform woefully.”
He also called for regular training for the police but noted that the officers must first try to win back the peoples’ confidence.
“The average Nigerian has lost confidence in the police. The police will tell you that bail is free, but is that the case when you go to any police station in the country?
“They tell the populace to regularly give them information – and I agree, since they can’t be everywhere – to be able to combat crime. But sometimes, they turn around to give away their informants when the chips are down.”
He, therefore, tasked the Federal Government to urgently recruit more officers into the force to tackle the rising incidence of insecurity across the country.
“The way the country is at the moment, we ought to have nothing less than a million police personnel guarding the country because there are flashpoints everywhere,” he said.