THE Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, recently sacked nine police officers for planning to stage a two-week strike over poor working conditions. While the police authorities’ hammer is legally correct as extant laws outlaw strikes by officers, the saga draws attention to their miserable working conditions. Beyond its punitive reaction, the Federal Government has to significantly improve the welfare of law enforcement officers to ensure their effectiveness.

Police welfare has become a critical issue here. Like civilians, officers are also bearing the brunt of rampant criminality, killed in scores, maimed and made to work long hours under very difficult conditions. Reforms of the police structure must feature state policing, decentralisation and adequate funding. More importantly, the welfare and working conditions of officers must be enhanced and the personnel properly motivated.

For long, the dehumanising working conditions of officers, especially the rank and file, has been a sticking point. Successive administrations have largely ignored it. Where remedial measures were taken at all, they were inadequate or half-hearted. Promises to improve pay, barracks, allowances and other welfare packages have often not been fulfilled. Exasperated, some junior officers decided to act.

In a memo to the IG, they demanded a raise in salary and review of their pension arrangements. They threw up other issues like the non-issuance of kits, non-payment of duty tour and course allowances, poor barracks accommodation, and lack of promotion. These are legitimate concerns.

The police are arguably the most abused and misused among Nigeria’s security agencies. Their superiors, from the IG to the Commissioners of Police and below, deploy them on personal guard duties to politicians, public officials and individuals. Some of these in turn, use them like domestic servants. A former Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Rasheed Akintunde, in 2018, said only 20 per cent of officers were performing the core duties of protecting lives and property. Subjecting 80 per cent of the force to servitude in the face of unprecedented insecurity is illegal, unconscionable and subversive of the national interest.

Most police barracks in the country are not fit for human habitation, yet this is where these men live and raise their families. They are decrepit and filthy. Stationery like notebooks and pens are scarce. Complainants are compelled to pay for them. Police stations have to rely on donations from communities, state governments, corporate bodies, individuals and religious bodies for furniture, vehicles and refurbishment of their dilapidated premises.

The authorities must account for the yearly budgetary allocation. In 2021, over N447 billion was budgeted for the police, but a report stated that police stations each get a paltry N10,000 monthly for maintenance;  this is not even paid as and when due.

Police agencies worldwide are responsible for “maintaining public order and safety, enforcing the law, and preventing, detecting, and investigating criminal activities,” says Britannica. Its members, especially the field officers, should therefore be well remunerated.

But poorly paid and motivated, police officers here exhibit flagrant indiscipline, brutality and impunity. Reflecting the prevailing culture in the political and police hierarchies, many in the lower ranks are equally irredeemably corrupt.  The Nigeria Police is arguably the only uniformed security force in the world where its top brass, including the IG, will give orders and the rank and file on the field would willfully disobey. Directives stopping officers from demanding tinted glass permits, customs papers and other documents are routinely disobeyed by cops bent on extortion. The brass’ insistence that ‘bail is free’ has never been enforced. CPs, area commanders and divisional police officers turn a blind eye to the extortion of complainants and suspects.

According to nigerianinfopedia.com (though unverified), a constable earns a paltry N42,252 monthly; corporal, N58,490; and sergeant, N82,163. If accurate, this is inadequate. Increment in police salaries was one of the major demands of the #EndSARS protesters in 2020 who rightly believed that police brutality is connected to poor salaries.

Since the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), approved that request in 2020, it took the threat of the planned protest for the IG to announce in March that the approved 20 percent increment would soon be implemented.

There are credible allegations that allowances approved by other bodies or governments for police often do not reach the ranks or are reduced by superior officers. In one notorious case, N64.4 billion of the police pension was embezzled by some officers. No wonder, the World Internal Security and Police Index 2019 ranked Nigeria Police as the worst in Africa; Botswana, Rwanda and Algeria were the top three.

There is therefore an urgent need to clean the Augean stables and adequately pay, equip, motivate and train officers. The Police Service Commission and the IG must provide responsive leadership. When officers are transferred, they should receive their entitlements as and when due. Promotion must be merit-based and devoid of ethnic and religious considerations. The government must supply uniforms to officers. Those embezzling what rightly belongs to officers must be made to face the law. Poorly treated during the country’s wilderness of military rule, police officers fare no better under civil rule. This must change.

The police deserve to be accorded respect and dignity, good welfare packages, and motivated. New, befitting barracks have to be built, equipped and well maintained. Existing ones should be expanded, refurbished and made fit for human habitation. To enhance service-delivery and modernity, entry level qualifications have to be raised.

The Singapore Police Force is credited with making the country “the safest place in the world,” having invested heavily in its personnel and deployed technology. A government report credits its efficiency to three factors: “a strong sense of purpose among the officers, a culture of innovation, and its supportive and effective leadership.”

Bad eggs among the senior and junior cadres should be identified and flushed out. Henceforth, IGs and the PSC should accord welfare of the personnel equal priority with funding, reforming and equipping the force.

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Source: Improving working conditions of police officers

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