Rebranding The Nigerian Police Force – Challenges For Onovo

That the image of the Nigerian Police Force has been defected is no longer news, but that no success has been recorded in redeeming the image of the police, is really disheartening. One of Nigeria’s comedians sometime ago said that Nigerian Police Force and NEPA (now PHCN), are the only two natural disasters that we have in Nigeria. Well, while that is rib-cracking as sarcasm, it fails to provide a pragmatic approach for police transformation and social reconstruction in Nigeria. However, it gives one an insight into the level of decay (ad sum mum) in these institutions.

In this fast pace and conflict inflicted environment like Nigeria, the Officers and Men of the Nigeria Police Force are faced with series of important, life-changing decisions every day, amidst competing and conflicting values and interests which are publicly accessible. They are confronted with a variety of ethical standards and dilemmas which may include: tribal biases and interactions, observance of suspects’ constitutional rights, treatment of offenders, evidence issues and opportunities for occupational deviance. There is a high probability of mistakes, poor ethical decisions and sometimes total neglect of morality for which the consequences can negatively affect the agency, the profession, the government and the society at large.

Policing refers to measures and practices of securing the safety of members of community as well as ensuring conformity to the NORMS and VALUES of society. The Nigerian Police has indeed fallen short of these responsibilities because of the obvious ethical vacuum and inability to overcome their genuine moral challenges.

Despite the increase in unethical behaviors in the society, there is an exception for the police to act ethically on and off duty, and in relationship to the citizens even though there seems not to be any obligation for citizens to act ethically in relationship to the police. Sadly, the Officers and men are not equipped properly to make informed ethical decisions.

The immediate past IGP in his 9-point agenda had ‘five points’ which focused on morality and the moral challenges of the Police. They include: Transparency/accountability, war on corruption/crime, police public image/public relation, human rights and community policing. The 9-point agenda which was intended for a total transformation of the Force was misdirected, not properly implemented, thus can be best described as the act of pouring water on a duck.

Mike Okiro defined accountability and transparency as openness and frankness, and promised in his inauguration speech on 5th June, 2007 that transparency and accountability will be the hallmark of his administration in order to ‘reverse the disdain and contempt with which Policemen are held within the Nigerian society’. He did also promise that ‘all Police officers and men must pledge themselves to offering services which the citizens expect in a timely, fair, honest, effective and transparent manner’ and that ‘the society expects nothing less and the new administration will pursue this goal aggressively to its logical conclusion’.

Transparency and accountability are attitudinal and bothers a lot on one’s mind-set, it therefore demands much more than mere pronouncement and pledge. Pledges and oaths have proven futile in ensuring commitment to truth and honesty, especially in Nigeria. Otherwise all Nigerians would have become saints after forty nine years of pledging to our country Nigeria, to be faithful, loyal and honest.

Transparency and accountability require intentionality of act and purpose, development of conviction and commitment to truth and honesty. However, this can only be made possible through dedicated training, retraining and control.

The war on corruption is not a war against an enemy out there; it is first and foremost a war for the self and against the self before the other, the victory follows same. It requires a total change of the self, complete deconstruction of the present mind-set, belief and worldview of the police which brews corruption. It is therefore a war that must first be won internally and like the light that shines in darkness, it manifests externally dispelling corruption in every dimension. This explains why the Police has failed on this.

Policing has become more community based; hence accountability to the public has become a highly relevant issue that affects delivery of police service. The police as a criminal agency has a responsibility to safeguard the rule of law, and take into account the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individuals. In any democracy, policing requires high levels of integrity if it is to be acceptable. The police must ensure the public trust if the system is to perform its mission to the fullest and redeem its public image. It has become very critical to ensure that the Officers and Men are equipped with the knowledge and skills that would enable them make informed ethical decisions, thereby minimizing appreciably, the degree of ethical misjudgement and unethical behaviour.

In 1997, the International association of Chiefs of Police made it clear that Police Ethics training has become the greatest training and leadership need of the Police today and in the next century. They further admitted that most departments do not conduct ethics training and that nothing is more devastating to the police profession than uncovered scandals or discovered acts of officer misconduct and unethical behaviour.

It has become clear that it is only the properly educated and trained police officers that are able to respond adequately to moral and ethical dilemmas of their profession. It is only a police officer who is able to solve these dilemmas appropriately that can perform his duties professionally and to the benefit of the community. And finally, in doing the above, he cannot rely solely on his intuition and experience. Hence there is the need to reinforce ethical values in policing, through training in the principles of police ethics, moral reasoning, ethical decision making and standards of ethical conducts in the profession without which the image of the force would not be salvaged and the war on corruption not won.

Police ethics is a branch of applied normative ethics, which establishes a link between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ and holds ethical theory accountable to practice and professional practice accountable to theory. It is the application of the principles of applied ethics to the police profession.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the Nigerian Police is facing serious moral crisis, which has cancerously eaten the heart of the institution. Though some have argued that the state of the police is a reflection of the society, thus as part of the society, cannot be different from the whole. While this is definitely true and logical, I consider it as escapism.

I remember with so much hope and optimism, the likes of David Apaegee, Francis Iheanacho, Ovat Etim, Yakubu Idakwo and Usang Benjamin, described aptly as ‘The Fantastic Five’ by Ken Ugbechie. These policemen returned wallet containing credit cards valued at 100,000 pounds sterling, ATM debit card, raw cash and other valuables. Ken Ugbeche reported that as men who were under intense financial pressure enough to make them pilfer, pinch and poach, they did not submit to the lust for lucre and the lure of perfidy, rather they banished the thought and fantasy of the volume of goods they could purchase with 100,000 pounds and chose chastity and honesty.

Unlike other breed of cops whose acts were written in inks of ignominy, infamy and wrenching odium, these men dared to be Daniel, dared to stand alone as models, moral leaders and the hope for a new Nigeria.

As the Inspector General of Police Mr Ognonna Onovo, promised; ‘by the time we complete the reforms we will have the kind of police force that will be a par with our colleagues all over the world’, honest efforts must be made to achieve this, to ensure that Police attains a level of moral awareness and be properly equipped to make informed ethical decisions like ‘The Fantastic Five’.

Ubechie’s conclusion that the Fantastic Five deserve further training to prepare them for higher responsibilities in the force and should be encouraged to get to the top, for that’s where men like them belong, is strategic for a true and sustainable rebranding of the Nigeria Police Force.