Saturday, September 25, 2021

Nigeria: Ungoverned spaces and the policing problem, by Richard Ali

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In my slice of Nigeria, there are two things best actively avoided. The first is anything that has to do with Nigerian hospitals, especially involving extended stays. The second is anything that has to do with policing in this country, especially the Nigerian Police Force (NPF). The fiction we have in our heads that we are the Nigerian middleclass, by virtue of education, upbringing and possessing the guts to assume such, can very quickly unravel in either scenario. This explains the popularity of every imaginable sort of diet and of an unimaginable number of vitamin “supplements”—public healthcare must be kept at bay by all means. Putting up with the quality of our policing, however, requires more. Hastily built cardboard houses surrounded by a fence become necessary. The minute one steps outside though; you’re smack in what is lacking. No one feels safe. A sense of threat looms. The question is: why do we all feel so unsafe?

The key policing agency in Nigeria is the Nigerian Police Force. Its primary purpose is the maintenance of law and order. The Nigerian Police Force is rooted in the fundamental human rights provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. Particularly, the right to life, which is tempered by section 33(2) which states that a person cannot be said to have had their right to life contravened if they are killed during the use of force to defend other persons from unlawful violence, in order to effect the arrest of a criminal or lawbreaker or in order to suppress breakdowns of public order such as insurrections, riots and similar. This recognition in our grundnorm that a force is necessary in the securing of freedoms is given corporate form in section 214 (1) which sets up the Force and makes it our country’s exclusive policing force under guidance of relevant laws of the National Assembly. The Police Act (with several amendments in its long history) is the primary such law and it states that the job of the Nigerian Police Force includes prevention and detection of crime, apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property, as well as, interestingly, “such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act”. This is the full ambit of policing. What is clear from this is that the legal framework for policing in Nigeria exists, is clear and unambiguous.

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A quick check of the Nigerian Police Force website shows that they have a Vision, they have a Mission Statement, as well as other important statements on Values and a Code of Conduct for Police Officers. These are robust statements that show that a strategy-level commitment exists for policing in Nigeria. By the same token, these strategy statements provide a self-referential scorecard by which the NPF and policing in Nigeria, as a whole, can be evaluated. If the effect of these strategy is to be a safer Nigeria secure for economic development and growth, as well as a safe and secure environment for everyone living in Nigeria, it is logical to seek the roots of the general sense of insecurity and threat here.

A random pick of a two-week stretch of any newspaper will reveal cases of brazen kidnappings and armed robberies along highways with the Kaduna—Abuja stretch being the poster child, though it is only the first amongst equals; cases of outright extortion of citizens by policemen are so much that a Google and Nairaland search would provide material for a month of memes, that favourite pastime of millennials; every city in this country is rife with predators and victims of drug use and abuse; illicit arms, which can fuel further violence, are all over the place; in the early part of this year, almost daily cases of pan-Nigerian gender and sexual-based violence against women came to emphasis only after the body politic was rampant with it. The effect of all these are various levels of self-help, ranging from the procurement of illegal arms by citizens worried for their personal safety to the creation of gated communities, even within slums, paid for by concerned persons in addition to whatever taxation they pay the government to maintain, amongst others, the Nigerian Police Force. The elite, of course, are not immune to this state of anomie though their response is telling—the hiring of these same police, especially the more elite units, for personal protection. It is suspected that 20 to maybe 40% of Nigeria’s entire policing force is wasted on VIP protection duties, all paid with special allowances that guarantee that the Masalacin Jumaas, Major Roads and Orozos of every city in Nigeria has less police to, well, police.

A few years ago, when we all were trying to come to terms with the internal security challenges of Nigeria in the seemingly endlessly elastic time of Boko Haram, one of the terms that came up was that of “ungoverned spaces”. The idea of an ungoverned space is primarily territorial. It relates to places lying at or outside the furthest extents of state power and authority. In this thinking, border areas are particularly prone to breakdowns of internal security, especially where it’s an international border or has peculiar geological features. A textbook example is the Lake Chad basin vis-à-vis the Boko Haram insurgency and the ongoing low intensity conflict there. The idea of an ungoverned space being prone to breakdowns of law and order is not new. It follows the old idea of central authorities, kings for example, regularly going on campaigns at the borders to keep malcontents in check. It also assumes centralized power. The reality though is that various aspects of the very lives of citizens in this country are ungoverned spaces within which non-state actors, ranging from the actively hostile to the seemingly benign, have continued to take on and take away the duties of the state to its citizens, upsetting the social contract and fostering weakness in state administrative systems. These non-state actors range from Boko Haram right down to oil racketeers and human-smuggling syndicates that terrorize the ease of the Nigerian citizen. What really is terror anyway? A tool the purpose of the use of which is to undermine citizens confidence in the state in favour of an ideological point. The profusion of ungoverned spaces in the lives of citizens, and the ways they have resorted to cope with this—the buying of illicit arms, setting up of all categories of vigilantes, jungle justice, the resort to drug use and the criminalities that sustain it—is in fact the biggest indicator of our internal security challenges. At the centre of all this is the failure of policing in Nigeria.

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Now, putting it all together.

Policing, in this sense, means policing. It is not merely the Nigerian Police Force. There is a frayed argument, often pushed by the Nigerian Police Force in its routine demands for more recruitments, that the country is somehow under-policed. The UN recommended policing ratio is often called to aid this argument. The Inspector General, as recently as 2017, stated that 31,000 new policemen needed to be recruited yearly over a five-year period to meet an ideal 1: 400 police—population ratio. This, presumably, is in addition to routine recruitment to fill the place of those who retire or leave active service.

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Policing is, in reality, provided by a wide raft of organizations that were either split off from the Nigerian Police Force or are modelled to cooperate with it. These include the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Correctional Services (formerly Prisons), the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the NSCDC, and possibly forty others. The Nigerian Police, as initially created by the colonial authorities, coalesced all these “specializations” that today pretend to be separate organizations each existing in a different stratosphere. When the personnel of all these are put together, even with whatever the true percentage of the Nigerian Police Force are “lost” to VIP and private protection details, two things are clear. One, that Nigeria is in fact overpoliced and, two, that Nigerians are not getting the benefits of the level of policing they are paying for. It is clear also that the NPF, as a mother hen of its brood of siloed internal security arms, needs to take up interagency cooperation and collaboration more seriously rather than the self-contained emphasis on increasing its own force size, and the wage bill, with new recruitments.

There are times when the choice really is not between centralization and decentralization. The choice before the present government, custodians of the Nigerian state, really is a decision on what sort of far ranging administrative reforms are needed in policing in Nigeria that will “fuse flexibly” the various policing organizations that exist with emphasis on quality of recruits, training, renumeration and interoperability of equipment amongst them all, focused on actually providing policing to citizens. This is the case if we are seriously interested (and why should we not be?) in reducing the burgeoning ungoverned spaces in the lives of Nigerian citizens. Or else these ungoverned spaces expanding day by day in the lives of Nigerians will be the undoing of Nigeria.

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Richard Ali was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2010 and has worked in private legal practice, consulted in a policy-shaping role at the Ministry of Interior (2015 to 2017) and has run a preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE) programme. His expertise is in soft approaches to PCVE. He is an alumnus of the US National Defence University’s Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) and of the State Department’s International Visitor’s Leadership Programme (IVLP). He is also a novelist and a poet. He can be reached at [email protected]

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