Pastor Edewor Egedegbe, is the Executive Director of Value Rebirth and Empowerment Initiative and doubles as the National Secretary of the Partners for Peace in the Niger Delta. He is a pro people advocate and a stern advocator of ideals of egalitarianism as a fundamental norm in the Nigerian polity. He has a strong knack for raising a new brand of prospective leaders to unravel the complex challenges of leadership in the bourgeoning Nigerian democratic government. He is a consummate scholar with unmatched passion for human rights and gender issues. In this interview, he shares his thought on the miasma of despair surrounding SARS Operations, EndSARS Protest, Creation of SWAT and Festering Systemic Corruption and Highhandedness Characterizing the Nigeria Police Force. Excerpts:
By Emeka Nwokocha
QUES: Popular opinion is that reforming the police force is long overdue against the backdrop of heinous crimes, abuse of citizens’ rights and general highhandedness associated with policemen. What is your take?
ANS: There is no gainsaying the fact that reforming the police force is long overdue. That is aptly said. But I like to say that reforming the police must be holistic, it should not be sectional in the sense that we are saying end SARS which is about 5 per cent of the entire police force. So when you end SARS, what happens to the remaining 95 per cent of the police that are culpable in all of these atrocities we are leveling against SARS? SARS, being a unit of the entire police force is not all the troubles and bad practices we complain about the police force. There are so many other absurdities in the police systems that have not been mentioned in the ongoing discussion about the police today.
Methinks there should be a proper reform and value rebirth in the police force including every fabric of the Nigerian governance structure, spanning the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. Even the citizens of Nigeria need value rebirth because the police and other members of the institutions mentioned above are part of the society who lives with the populace. No doubt, the sustained clamour for end of SARS is a welcome development, but that is just a spring board to righting most of the wrongs in our society. Beyond the SARS issue, the narrative should change immediately. However, I thank God that SARS has been dissolved by the statement from the lnspector General of Police, and it’s being replaced by a newly created outfit known as Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Team almost immediately which I don’t fancy because it was too hasty. Be that as it may, emphasis should be mounted on total reform of the entire institutional system of the entire governance structure in Nigeria.
QUES: Across the country, evidence of police brutality and extortion of the masses stare us in the face, but the government of the day often looks the other way, even as the situation gets worse. What do you think a responsible government should do to instill discipline in the police force?
ANS: Interestingly, you used the word, “a responsible government.” What is the definition of a responsible government? To put it in proper perspective therefore, a responsible government is the government that knows its onion. It is a government that knows the tenets of governance. With due respect to the government of the day, it is pathetic to note that the people saddled with the responsibility of governance largely do not know why they are in government. They simply believe they are in government for personal aggrandizement which l call primitive mentality. Regrettably, that is the bane of our society today. Small wonder, appropriating our common patrimony for the betterment of the citizenry is seen as secondary by our leaders, whereas it is the primary essence of governance and leadership. Therefore, I am joining my voice with those Nigerians who believe in positive change to call on governments across board to be more purposeful in policy implementation. In other words, based on the current happenings, selfish approach to governance can no longer be tolerated. It is pertinent to say that as the clarion call to end SARS has resulted in disbanding of SARS, the wind of drastic change is coming close to the leaders unless they turn a new leaf. Truth is, now that the almighty SARS has been brought to its knee, it then means that anybody can fall a victim. Therefore, leadership is about the people but nothing less, and when the people are not taking care of, the essence of leadership has been totally eroded and trampled underfoot.
QUES: Since the EndSARS protest began across the country, there have been reported cases of use of maximum force to quell the protest by policemen, leading to fatalities. But the government of the day and the police authority are not irked by this barbaric act. Does it mean policemen can shoot, kill and maim Nigerians at will? And sanctity of life has no place in Nigeria democracy?
ANS: For me, l don’t want to agree with whoever made that assertion that there has been maximum force by the police to quell the raging protest. Without mincing words, I have been following the development curiously and l have seen that the police have behaved themselves relatively well. They have been very civil in the manner they are handling the ongoing protest. Also, the protesters have conducted themselves in a very peaceful manner, except in some cases where some miscreants have attempted to hijack the peaceful protest by trying to criminalize the whole exercise by attacking the peaceful protesters. To that extent, we call on the police to rise up to the occasion and arrest such miscreants who are bent on thwarting the peaceful protest. Having said that, l want to say that there is a point Nigerians are not talking about which is very crucial to us. I mean the police also have a right just like very Nigerian. On that note, when we are promoting and treating the rights of Nigerian citizens, that of the police should also be given a mention. When a police goes contrary to the norms of his profession, he would be charged for going contrary to his rules of engagement. In other words, the right of the police should also be protected.
Recall that the EndSARS protest emanated from a video that was posted on social media from Ughelli about two weeks ago that went viral. And this whole controversy has consequently consumed SARS and so many other lives. Against the backdrop of the fatalities that have resulted from this ongoing EndSARS protest, it is alarming that in all the conversations so far, nobody has talked about a young police officer who was killed by protesters in Ughelli on 8th October 2020. For me, that is unfair because policemen are human beings too, they are fathers, mothers, parents and bonafide citizens of Nigeria. So, we must balance our actions with regard to promoting the rights of Nigerians so that we don’t do a one-sided thing. Let me emphasize strongly that we also need the police because the 1999 constitution as amended ensures that police protect the lives and property of Nigerians. Therefore they too must be protected and justice must be seen to be done across board all times.
QUES: Considering the lack lustre manner police personnel go about their duties, whereby everybody in police uniform becomes a small good. Don’t you think the police operate as government tool of oppression?
ANS: For me, I don’t see it as such. Reason is that you don’t use one isolated case to generalize statements. l had engaged the police from top to bottom at various times and I draw my perception from the contents of my engagement with them. Let me assert that there are credible policemen and women in the Nigeria police force and there are also a bunch of disgruntled elements as well. l usually say to people that their perception of the police should depend on their engagement with them. So, we must not use one isolated case to generalize it. No doubts, sometimes some police use brute force in the course of their duties. But there are punitive measures as well that are put in place to checkmate their excesses. The annoying issue is that Nigerians don’t speak up in the face of oppression. They would just complain in the comfort of their homes without any impact. Let me state it very clear, until you speak out, nobody will listen to you in Nigeria. For instance, if the originator of that video that went viral didn’t tweet the video from Ughelli which erroneously indicted SARS, there wouldn’t have been this ongoing nation-wide EndSARS protest. On that note, the point I am making is, let us speak up against the ills of society and also the good happenings of society in order to make an egalitarian society. Let us not complain in the comfort of our homes without addressing the issues headlong.
I want to reiterate that when the police officer goes contrary to his rules of engagement, the law is laid out to address all act of highhandedness on the part of the police. Laws are made for the lawless not the lawful. Nigerians should learn to engage issues objectively, and patriotism should always make us ask questions where we need to, and we should know that until we ask questions, we don’t deserve an answer. It is good to know that Nigerians are asking questions today and they are being answered from time to time. What we are seeing today is that Nigerians are becoming more enlightened about their rights.
QUES: In civilized climes, like U.S., Germany, England and others, the police is a highly respected institution. Why is it a different story in Nigeria?
ANS: It is a different story in Nigeria because you can’t give what you don’t have. The fact is that the Nigeria police is not well equipped to carry out their duties professionally. Most importantly, the most fundamental enabler of professional service – motivation and moral boosting is just not there in the Nigeria police system. You can’t compare Nigeria police with American police or British police. The standards are different, so you can’t expect the Nigeria police to perform at same standard with the American police when you don’t provide the basic amenities to standardize their operations. It may interest you to know that I am doing a fact finding investigation around police formations in Delta State. In the course of the exercise, the revelation coming from the few police facilities I have visited is quite alarming. Where they live in, the so called police barracks is an eye sore. Then, how would you expect them to give the type of service the London brand of police gives. It is simply not possible. Even in the police college, the environment and premises they are trained is in sorry state. Beyond that, their remuneration is nothing to write home about. So how would you expect the ill-motivated personnel (the Nigeria police) to go extra mile to perform magic? Therefore, l’m making a demand that the ongoing call for police reform should also take a look at the welfare of police personnel to ensure they are properly remunerated. The fact is that the stories about police operations are dotted with numerous challenges inhibiting the performance of the police personnel. When you go to police station that has 3 to 4 vans, you will be surprised that there is no money to fuel those vans, and most times when you call the police to respond to an emergency, they will tell you there is no fuel. In some cases, when some resources are made available, the head of the station or whoever is at the top of the leadership will just corner it. What about their uniform and kits? Their kits are never supplied adequately – they are often times supplied in limited quantity that will not be enough for the number of personnel that need it. Most times, policemen go outside their reach to provide kits for themselves. In all, these are factors that demean the Nigeria police which we must correct very quickly.
It is important to emphasize that while we are saying police should not brutalize people, we should also cater for the police because they are Nigerians as well. Their need, safety and protection fall under the purview of the right to dignity of human person, being an integral part of the fundamental rights the 1999 constitution confers on Nigerians. My firm stand on this topical subject is that police must be properly remunerated; all their running cost must be made available as and when due, not when it pleases the commander in charge of police operations as the case may be. Therefore, government across board should see these glaring challenges as a wakeup call to do the needful. State governors can make huge impact in this regard. They collect security vote every month which is not accounted for. So, why would they not use the money to solve sensitive security needs begging for attention? We always point accusing fingers at the President, what about the governors? Do they take permission from the president before they spend the money accrued to their states? I think Nigerians should start asking questions every moment they are not getting the services they deserve from their leaders. When we start doing that, we will see that the leaders will become more accountable and more responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of the governed.
QUES: Do you think the academic requirement for police recruitment is an enabler of the high rate of corruption and unprofessionalism in the Nigeria Police Force?
ANS: To an extent, the answer is yes! But on the other hand, l will say no! It is yes in the sense that ignorance is a major killer that kills faster than HIV/Aids or Corona virus. When the police personnel are not knowledgeable about the basic things in the society, it is difficult for them to discharge their duties optimally. Then for those who are a bit enlightened, and still go the wrong way, it becomes worrisome. That is the reason l said “Yes and No” depending on who is involved. But above all, basic education is required for the rank and file so they are able to read to understand what is right or wrong, because they are going to engage different people in the society. A police officer should be able to read and write fluently without any inhibition. Because when the man that is timid, who cannot read and write, engages an enlightened person in the course of his job, he sees that person as an intimidator. And to make up for his deficiency, he would definitely opt for the use of brute force. These are some of the things that must be addressed headlong. However, beyond the elementary knowledge that the rank and file should have, constant training and retraining should be the new normal. Beyond doubts, our police are not trained going by the current realities that stare us in the face.
Suffice to say that the training the police personnel get during their 9 months training at the police college is what they keep recalling and depending on. But that type of training is now obsolete going by modern trend. To improve their training therefore, their curriculum must be reviewed to reflect the new normal. I often engage some senior police officers in the course of my interventions, what they tell me sometimes baffles me. They will brag about their training, saying “in the police force, this is how we are trained.” Then l would ask, “are you trained in isolation of what happens in the society? Are you an end in yourself? I would tell them, “You are a means to an end in the making of an egalitarian society.” In a nutshell, the police need to also understand the dynamics of the world, and that nothing is static. If they are trained in the act of policing, then what about the civil aspect? If they carry out the act of policing in a civil environment, then, they need to know the civil component of the society to be able to marry it with their policing training – that is when they will be effective in their operations. But the worrying scenario is, police personnel carry their training so high and owing to their shortcomings, infringe on the rights of Nigerians. On that note, a balance must be established to ensure police personnel go about their duties professionally. I want to thumb up to the IG in his new thinking that civil society organizations will be engaged to help in monitoring the activities of the police. My contribution to that policy is that a committee should be put in place in the way of checks and balances so that he doesn’t leave it to the police alone. For me, that is a paradigm shift. If the IG could bring in objective civil society organizations to be part of the day-to-day assessment of what the police is doing, l can tell you that we will have an improved police operations in that regard. So, training them and retraining them and introduction of new courses is the watch word in the days ahead. The government must take this seriously and also provide adequately for the welfare of the police. We shouldn’t treat them as if they are nonentities in the society.
Our governments must be responsive in that regard. From Mr. President to Mr. Governor to the law makers at the National and state levels to local government Chairmen, the welfare of the police must be given due priority.
QUES: A new outfit, Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Team has been created in replacement of the notorious FSARS. Do you see it as a case of putting an old wine into a new bottle? What is the true way to having better policing in Nigeria?
ANS: In the course of this interview l remarked that it is too hasty for the IG to come up with the new outfit called SWAT barely 48 hours after disbanding SARS. My concern is that the policemen that served in SARS have not been recalled to be retrained and reoriented on the rudiments of the police operations. Don’t forget that they have long gone contrary to the rudiments of the police which was what lead to this outcry. Now, the concern is who are the personnel that will make up the new outfit? How true is it that the same members of the disbanded SARS would not infiltrate the new process and maneuver themselves into the new outfit? But be that as it may, it behoves the IG to ensure the character that will make up the SWAT is clearly defined. Beyond definition, they should be taken through reorientation process to guide against the horrible episodes that characterised the disbanded SARS. All of these are the preceding approach that should herald the unveiling of the SWAT. Until you train a people and equip them for the assignment ahead, they will not perform optimally. That is the reason there should be a periodic and systematic approach to unveiling the new SWAT. The measures to be put in place must be holistic to the point that it will build confidence in Nigerian citizens.
In a nutshell, we must do a serious recalibration of the policing system from top to the bottom. There should be a very serious action by the police top brass to withdraw the numerous policemen attached to politicians in this country. The Nigeria Police has a staff strength of about 371,800 (Wikipedia) in a country of about 200 million people. Surprisingly, about half of this number is attached to less that 1 per cent of Nigerians at the expense of the larger population. Which country in the world does that? So, l am calling on the IG to do a serious review of the personnel he attaches to politicians and people with questionable character in the society.
I have read from other climes and discovered that the way we saturate our public office holders with police escort is not done elsewhere. Why would a governor have more than 50-80 policemen in his convoy? How many is left for the citizens of the state if the governor moves around with such huge number of police? Even the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, Commissioners, Board Chairmen and the rest have large number of policemen that move around with them. Then how many policemen are serving in the divisions? I have been to some police divisions in my state Delta and found out that in some divisions, there are less than 60 police personnel. And out of that number you have about 30 men and 30 women police. I am aware that in the North, women don’t do night duty, so when you have limited number of male police officers who most times do 24 hours duty, how would they work effectively? When a police man is supposed to do 8 hours duty and goes home to refresh and be fit for the next duty, he is compelled to do 24 hours and 48 hours duty back to back. How would one expect such policeman to work effectively?
Without mincing words, the welfare of the police is critical for me hence l want their rights to be guaranteed in every of the reforms we are talking about now. No matter the circumstance, we must not treat policemen with disdain. On the other hand, the police must also come above board and say things that the public need to know about their day-to-day welfare, because if we do not know their predicaments, it is difficult for the Civil Society Organizations to talk about it with a view to finding solution to some of the challenges. The Civil Society is there for the voiceless. We will speak up for them.
In summary, we must have a total appraisal of the lopsided Nigerian system of governance, with a view to coming up with more stringent and realistic approach in moving from this quagmire we are in to a better place where Nigerians will be properly taken care of. It is obvious that we have not done well as a people. No doubts, our leaders have failed us before now, but thank God they have also realized this fact. Just recently, I listened to the governor of Delta State when he was addressing the protesters and he used a statement that l quite appreciate. He told them, “it is true we have failed you.” If that statement is coming from his mind, then he should be appreciated for daring to make that statement in front of camera. But it is not enough to say it verbally; it is about making sure they would not fail the people again?
Finally, we are calling on the leaders to live above board or else the citizens will come after them because it is their right to do so. I will always nudge Nigerians to call their leaders to question no matter the office they occupy. It is our fundamental right to do that, as enshrined in the 1999 constitution as amended. Nigerians should wake up to their responsibilities as patriotic Nigerians and always speak truth to power. That is the only way we can get it right in this country!