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Law Enforcement: A New Era Of State Policing By Onakpoberuo Onoriode Victor

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There is hardly a Nigerian who has not encountered in some ways police harassment/intimidation. The troubling part of this unfortunate experience is that we have all grown to accommodate these lawless acts as part of national culture and by the common attitude of disobedience to rules, we have opted for gratification or bribery as a faster route to justice, obtaining a government service (permits, tax clearance, licenses etc). It is this scenario that has helped in creating a parallel government within our government, such that right now, some law enforcement officers now see themselves as Judges and their stations or beats as the “Market of Justice”, where justice is defined in terms of cash.

Law enforcement is not synonymous with militarization, torture, impunity or the flagrant disregard of the dignity of the human person. If anything, it is simply the civil implementation of the wishes and resolve of a people; how they have chosen to govern themselves and by what rules. Law enforcement is therefore the enforcement of rules by an assigned officer, with great consideration for the worth and dignity of the human person.  The foundation to this is sections; 34, 35, 36, 38,39,40,42 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 as amended. This is how I see it personally. In fact section 34 clearly states;

Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly: no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment

Wikipedia has a similar definition of the subject;

“Law enforcement is any system by which some members of society act in an organized manner to enforce the law by discovering, deterring, rehabilitating, or punishing people who violate the rules and norms governing that society.[1] Although the term may encompass entities such as courts and prisons, it is most frequently applied to those who directly engage in patrols or surveillance to dissuade and discover criminal activity, and those who investigate crimes and apprehend offenders,[2] a task typically carried out by the police or another law enforcement agency. Furthermore, although law enforcement may be most concerned with the prevention and punishment of crimes, organizations exist to discourage a wide variety of non-criminal violations of rules and norms, effected through the imposition of less severe consequences”-see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_enforcement. By this definition it means the traditional Police Institution is not the only law enforcement or Policing body a state can have.

IT IS ABOUT VALUES OF THE PEOPLE

When a crime is committed in any lawful society, though there may be a direct victim, however since the criminal act is a violation of the sovereign resolve of the people, it is seen beyond the primary victim of the crime. The people (state) whose wishes have been violated by that criminal Act in a sense, team behind the victim to seek for justice. This is the reason for the common expression in the filing of criminal matters; “FRN vs Mr X. This means, the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are in support that the victim should have justice for the crime committed against him by Mr X. This means law enforcement must be accompanied with education for it to be effective, especially in the area of change in behaviour and the acquisition of the National culture. The people must know these values and how they directly link up to having a better living standard for everyone. So rather than having an anti-drug abuse campaign focused on the penalties of abusing drug, youths should be educated and motivated along the thought that; “not abusing drugs will give them the mental fluidity to pursue a career and become a honourable  person of society”.

NOT ABOUT ARMS, UNIFORMS

Law enforcement is not synonymous with the wielding of arms or adorning of military fashioned uniforms or paraphernalia. A law enforcement officer is a citizen who for the nature of his job has been given certain privileges/immunities by the people. These immunities and privileges are not intended to make a super citizen out of the law enforcement officer, but so that in the discharge of his duties he does not suffer any liabilities accessioned upon the legitimate performance of his assigned schedules and also that he performs his duties with relative ease. This means a law enforcement officer is not only people who dress in special uniforms and bear arms. Following from the foregoing, the following are by their mandates law enforcement institutions; ICPC EFCC, CCB, NEITI, NDLEA, NAPTIP, SON etc. If you notice, some of these agencies do not bear arms nor have their officers dressed in particular uniforms in the course of enforcing their mandates. However, the presence or absence of arms or uniforms does not increase or retard the powers, privileges and immunities of the officers of these agencies of government. This is because the power is not in the arms or uniform but in the statutes setting up those agencies. However, because the earlier image of the concept of “Policing” was to some extent associated with force and intimidation, the public has grown to define policing in terms of the element of, force, arrogance and general disregard for the worth and dignity of the human person.

NOT INTIMIDATION, ARROGANCE, OR SHOW OF FORCE

Law enforcement is not synonymous with intimidation and the unrestrained show of martial force or abuse of the laws a law enforcement officer should have been enforcing! His immunities whatsoever, does not absolve him from criminal liabilities or prosecution. The caveat in the enforcement of his immunities is that his conduct should at all-times be governed by “good faith”. Meaning for example, if a law enforcement officer takes a one-way traffic lane and he is unable to show good cause, that is the “good faith” behind his action, he is liable to face the normal consequence of the violation of traffic laws applicable to all other citizens. “Good Faith” here refers to an act in the course of duty that clearly shows that the officer was acting in the best interest of the State and that, at the material time; he had no other humanly possible option. So, if there happens to be no traffic jam, a law enforcement officer taking a one-way traffic route may not be able to successfully hold up the “good faith” argument in court (should he incur any liabilities from that action). For example; causing an auto crash, leading to the death of a passer-by”. According to the National Institute of Justice, “the use of force by law enforcement officers becomes necessary and is permitted under specific circumstances, such as in self-defense or in defense of another individual or group”-see; http://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/officer-safety/use-of-force/pages/welcome.aspx. The context here clearly eliminates the use of intimidation or harassment as law enforcement strategies. This tells me a law enforcement officer should not be seen in terms of someone who has power to compel a person to act against their will, but rather someone who is civil in conduct, yet firm enough to guide citizens to becoming law abiding. In the case of an arrest, the procedure has been clearly stipulated in sections 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. Citizens should obtain the document and be informed of their rights. The Act in section 7 actually prohibited the practice of “arresting in lieu” (arresting another person in absence of the suspect), while sections 8 reaffirmed section 34 of the 1999 constitution.

TWO HISTORICAL EXPERIENCES

Two historical experiences may have conditioned the use of martial force and show of arrogance as a characteristic disposition of some law enforcement officers in Nigeria;

  1. Our oppressive colonial past and 2. The years of military rule.

Oppressive Colonial Past

I will like to restate here what I wrote on the subject in another article so that you can understand how the conditioning may have taken place;

“There is the belief that when White men left after 1st October, 1960, the psychological conditioning of powerful versus subjugated did not totally leave the minds of the black men left behind, especially for those in the main-stream public service. Our fathers may have admired from a distance the way the White Colonialists wielded so much power and control, to the extent that all they had in mind, on the average was to gain approval by speaking, dressing and acting like a Mr. Clerk, Robert or Philips!  I believe we may have lost our African Identity in this conflict to escape powerlessness. We have instead developed to desire the wielding of influence as opposed to being law abiding leaders/Citizens. I believe influence peddling, self-aggrandizing inclinations are two major drivers of corruption because of this acquired arrogance. The implication here now is that in the Civil Service/Public Administration, corruption may have been entrenched because some of the human drivers there who are supposed to power growth and development don’t really have the development of Nigeria as a top agenda. You only need to walk into a government agency and within a few seconds you will readily observe the direction of the prevailing work culture. What appears to be a popular culture is influence wielding and peddling. This means in some instance when a person gets into office, it really is not about service in terms of assigned schedules, but about how much one can achieve for himself with the powers and privileges of his office. Now this culture of gratification has filtered sufficiently into the average expectation of the general masses. So what is commonly used in rating performance and effectiveness is about matters tied to interests other than those related to the assigned schedule”. For example;

  • How many people you gave their children admission?
  • Influenced NYSC deployment and PPA?
  • How many persons you gave jobs?
  • How many cars and houses you have?
  • How many persons you assisted to get out of police case, traffic violations?
  • How many people you influenced their bid for contracts?
  • How much of government property/assets you were able to convert for personal use etc.

However, the contrast to this is that, the so called arrogant White man we were dreaming of assuming his powers, went back to his country simply as a law abiding “Mr” or “Sir”! This tells you his arrogance while being here was simply personal racial prejudice and not a matter of rule of law! When it came to matters of rule of law they knew the marked difference and in their home country what they exhibit is not pride or arrogance but rather civic obedience to rules. In fact it is a thing of great pride to be addressed as a “gentle man” (which socially implies a well behaved, law abiding citizen)”.

The point here is that the drive to escape powerlessness ignited a passion to acquire power and command respect just as the Colonial Masters had while they were here. It is this drive that has sustained through the years mental attitude of having “the Conquered vs. “the Conqueror”.

The same conditioning effect also resulted from our long years of military rule. So the element of “FORCE” and “ARROGANCE” in law enforcement today may be hinged on these two historical experiences. The implication now is that for us as a people to move the law enforcement institution to meet up with global best practices, especially as it concerns according regard and dignity to the human person, there is need for serious investment in our law enforcement institutions. This should cover law enforcement in the service sectors, manufacturing, health, prohibited conducts, public service etc. The effectiveness of our law enforcement institution would largely be determined by the quality of the human drivers there. A quote from one of my article is fitting here;

“Institutions are legal entities established for ensuring the well-being and good governance of a people. However (looking at the functional aspect of things) institutions are run and organized by humans in accordance with the established statutes setting up those institutions, process or service! Every institution has its character disposition that must be learnt and acquired by the human drivers who seek to physically actualize the objectives of that institution. This tells you that an institution may have been established to portray impeccable standards of integrity and accountability in its existence, but if the human drivers have not been able to learn and acquire that character trait to the extent expected/envisaged by the spirit of the statutes of that institution, what you will find is an open contradiction of the core values of that institution. When you observe Police men stationed at roadblocks collecting bribes as a matter of legitimate duty, it is not because “the Police institution” is corrupt. It is rather because some of the persons who openly pledged to exhibit the character traits required by the Police institution have failed in living up to that ethical requirement”.

EDUCATING LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

Which means to build a law enforcement institution whose officers have the right attitude and skill, will require that, the education of these officers and their working condition become matters of first line priority. Also because human behaviours take time to form and also to modify, I am proposing an institutionalization of the education programme for law enforcement officers. This is so because we cannot afford to abandon the critical business of enforcing our laws to persons who are uncouth, deficient in relevant law enforcement skill sets; creativity, aptness, critical reasoning ability, understanding of the laws and an established patriotic devotion to the country. This means here (if the authorities and planners would consider it), that there should be a  Standardized Institution  for Law Enforcement Education; where certification for competence would be based on practical demonstration of the skill set and values required of law enforcement officers. Having a standardized educational programme for law enforcement officers will help to dispel the wrong notions about law enforcement and also the programme will help to properly cultivate citizens who aspire to be career law enforcement officers. Once this is in place the current challenge of not being able to fully maximize our recruitment processes to identifying and selecting best fit for specific roles would be eliminated. This institution will form a pool from where the ever rising demand for law enforcement officers would be met. Also private security agencies seeking to complement the states policing effort would have a ready pool of competent law enforcement officers to draw from. You should be informed that the anti-corruption effort of the government requires the resources of well-trained patriotic officers to make it a success.  Apart from the automated reforms (TSA, BVN,IPPIS) instituted by the Federal government, which has significantly prevented the likelihood of corruption in some cases, much of other vital operations of government run on a face-to-face bases, For example monitoring and supervision. Even if you were to automate the system of contract awards, actual field inspection and supervision/auditing of man and material will remain operated on person-to-person bases. So, what we should really concern ourselves with should be how we as a nation can begin to utilize the tool of education in evolving a generation of citizens who are patriotically devoted to all things Nigerian.  If the law enforcement officer is not patriotic, he will not be able to lend himself selflessly to salvage Nigeria. His preoccupation will essentially be about collecting a monthly pay and how he may use his office for self gain.

The challenge of inadequate policing of a state is not really in the ratio of officers to citizens, but rather the ratio of patriotic and passionate officers to a citizen”.

Law enforcement is not bearing of arms, show of force, arrogance or defiance for our rules; it is first believing in a people, their values and committing passionately to ensuring that those values are upheld by all.

I honestly believe my dear country is rising out of the years of lawlessness, impunity and brazen disregard for the worth and dignity of the human person. As we all strive to uphold these values, may God keep us all and may we all see better days ahead for Nigeria.

God bless Nigeria.

 

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