•The infusion of new blood must reinvigorate the police
As the Police Service Commission (PSC) prepares to begin the process of recruiting 10,000 policemen into the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), it must see that everything is done to ensure that the exercise results in the emergence of a strengthened and more competent NPF.
The exercise, which officially commenced on April 1, involves the recruitment of candidates into three entry points, namely, Constable, Cadet Inspector and Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). The application process is to be conducted online, and will be at no cost to applicants.
With 370,000 police personnel for its estimated 170 million population, there is little doubt that Nigeria is one of the most under-policed nations in the world. To further complicate matters, far too many of the available officers and men are put to use in irrelevant duties, especially that of providing escorts for political grandees and their spouses.
The police force is the main security bulwark of a representative democracy. While it may not be as well-equipped or as comprehensively trained as the military, its capabilities endow it with the ability to carry out its functions in such a way as to give teeth to constitutional protections and safeguards. Its law-enforcement and peace-keeping functions enable democratic governments to maintain law and order without resorting to heavy-handed tactics which might alarm and alienate the citizenry.
The NPF has had a mixed record in the attainment of this policing ideal. Over the years, it has managed to garner a well-deserved reputation for corruption and brutality that has inspired fear and disgust in the populace, rather than respect and trust. This has not been helped by the depressing spectacle of police personnel openly soliciting bribes at checkpoints and other places, the routine use of torture as an investigative tool, and the regular resort to extra-judicial killings. It is widely believed that reporting matters to the NPF should only be a last resort, to be taken when all other efforts to resolve issues have failed.
And yet, the Nigeria Police has consistently tantalised the country with glimpses of what it is capable of achieving when it puts its mind to it. Operating in often-unenviable conditions, the NPF has successfully worked to rescue kidnap victims, foil armed robberies, secure communities and settle disputes. It has been globally acknowledged for its consistently excellent performances in many peace-keeping missions abroad. Police personnel have regularly paid the supreme price in the course of their duties; dozens of police officers have died in the Boko Haram insurgency and the many inter-communal clashes that have continued to plague the nation.
It is in this context that the current police recruitment exercise acquires added importance. Coming as it does some five years since the last one, it offers the NPF a vital opportunity to renew itself and recommit itself to its noble mandate of protection and service with integrity. Past recruitment processes have been bedevilled by typically Nigerian problems: an overt emphasis on money, ethnicity, religion and other connections rather than merit; the forgery of certificates and credentials; the failure to conduct comprehensive background checks on recruits.
In 2008, a Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police Force alleged that the NPF had been “saddled with a very large number of unqualified, under-trained and ill-equipped officers and men many of whose suitability to wear the respected uniform of the force is in doubt.”
This current recruitment exercise must ensure that these sad tales are not repeated. The PSC has done well in choosing an online process that is free of charge; it is likely to be far more efficient as a result. The commission should now ensure that fairness and equity characterise the shortlisting, screening and interview stages of the recruitment process. Apart from the necessary requirements of federal character, merit must be the dominant criterion in selecting suitable candidates. The educational and other specifications for each entry point must be adhered to strictly. Biometric safeguards should be used to further enhance the integrity of the process.
Training must be thorough, intensive and relevant to the demands of 21st century policing. The temptation to rush the recruits through training should be avoided; if the facilities at the country’s police academies are unable to handle all 10,000 recruits, then the process should be staggered. It is time for Nigeria to have a police force that is truly worthy of its status as Africa’s giant