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Public safety and monetising Police service

By The Guardian Editorial Board, 04 August 2021

It is just as well, and about time too, that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has, according to presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, approved that police escort and guard services to private individuals and corporations be formally charged and paid for. Shehu is quoted to say that ‘‘in the interest of transparency and accountability, the government is formalising this relationship and there will be an introduction of tariffs and billing schemes.’’

Importantly, government needs to be reminded that the Nigeria Police has failed woefully in its core duty of securing public safety and public order for Nigerians. While the plan to provide police escort and guard services to private individuals and corporations is not objectionable, such measure should not be pursued at the expense of securing public order. The police must not allow itself to be swayed by the lure of profit from a few entities, to the extent of exposing the general public to the mercy of criminals. Sadly, the public are already badly exposed, particularly since the #EndSARS protest last year. Government must work assiduously to fill the existing yawning gap in policing the polity as a whole.

There have been occasional stories of opacity, even corruption, in the manner that these services are arranged between the Police authorities and the beneficiaries of escort and guard duties. Indeed, the president’s media aide noted, rightly, that these services have been rendered for many years but ‘‘it has remained largely undocumented or non-formalised (so) government is concerned about the leakages in the revenue and incomes which should be blocked.’’

The basic duties of the Police Force are spelt out in details in Sections 4 and 5 of the Police Act.  Section 21 of the Act also establishes ‘‘the supernumerary police (that) shall be a unit of the Police Force.’’ Furthermore, the Force is empowered to assign to ‘‘any private organisation or government department (that) so desires’’ ‘‘supernumerary police for the protection of property owned or controlled by it.’’ This section further states that every supernumerary police officer appointed ‘‘shall be a member of the Police Force for all purposes’’ but ‘‘the private  or government department availing  itself of the services  of that officer  shall pay  (a) all entitlements, including salary and allowances to the officer monthly; (b) … the full cost of the officer’s uniform and accoutrements…

The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), albeit with  the approval of the Police Service Commission (PSC) exercises, by the provisions of the Police Act,  immense powers and influence on who gets selected to serve in the supernumerary (popularly  called by the acronym ‘SPY’) unit, which requesting organisation gets approval and  what number of officers are so assigned.

Unless a thoroughly self-disciplined IGP manages this power, the human temptation to abuse it is ever so real.

In 2017, Senator Haman Misau, a former police officer, reportedly alleged ‘‘series of fraudulent practices in the running of the Nigerian Police’’ including alleging that ‘‘corporate bodies and highly placed individuals, including criminals’’ paid ‘‘on a monthly basis’’ ‘‘for special security’’ billions of naira that did not reflect ‘‘in the Police annual budgets or internally generated revenue.’’  On the strength of Misau’s damning allegations, the  Senate set up a committee to investigate the matter but the then IGP Ibrahim Idris who was directly accused of this and other misdemeanors approached the Federal High Court to stop it claiming it constituted an  abuse of his ‘‘fundamental rights.’’

The ‘‘corrective’’ measure approved by the FEC is contextualised as ‘‘Public-Private Partnership arrangement’’ to be managed by ‘‘consultant’’ such that the revenue that accrues is shared among the Federal Government, the Police Force, ‘‘police allowances’’ and the consultant.

Nigeria is not the only country that allows the use of police men for escort and guard duties.

In some jurisdiction, off-duty officers can be hired, subject to approval by higher authority, for security service and remunerated on hourly calculation. Elsewhere, trained and swell-skilled security guards have powers to secure persons and designated places. The terms and conditions for these are not only in writing but adhered to by all parties. This is not quite so yet here.

But it needs to be so. Under a well-intentioned police leadership, the proposed formalisation of SPY services should help straighten out the process and procedure, besides yielding more income for the Force and its personnel.

On the face of it, the use of a consultant should give cause for assurance of a reasonable level of transparency and accountability. But this will have to be demonstrably shown in practice. In this systemically integrity deficient environment, so-called consultants have fed fatter on the returns than their public sector clients. Again, this is a test the Police must, in its interest, overcome.

The point must be made that, in the face of the enormous role and duties assigned to it in the Police Act, the Federal Government has failed abysmally to provide for the Force. This is one reason that all these talk about monetising and sharing SPY revenue arise at all. The government at the centre can so obviously not afford, in line with global best practices, the size and quality of police that Nigeria deserves. As expressed by every reasonable opinion under the sun, policing must be decentralised to be effective; even more so in a federally structured state.

Lest the Buhari government forgets, the APC manifesto admitted and indeed promised this, years ago. The party promised to ‘‘begin widespread consultations to amend the Constitution to enable the states and local governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of each community.’’

Already, the states are expending substantial amount of money to support a federally-controlled but under-performing police.  If such sums were poured into respective state police, it is plausible that the level of criminality in the country will reduce. Decentralisation of the Police Force is the only way to go, as an inevitable part of a comprehensive restructuring of Nigeria.

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