Public Perception on the Role and Effectiveness of the Police in Crime Control in Nigeria.
A police officer is never called when things are going well; they are only called upon when there is a grave and sinister problem. It is only natural then that police receive criticism for what they do within the society. After all, any occupation charged with the responsibilities of bringing order out of chaos or enforcing laws and regulations accepted or unaccepted by the people, preventing antisocial behaviors etc are bound to be controversial.
Therefore two issues will be looked into in succession to fully understand the operations of the police in trying to prevent crime in Nigeria. First, section 214 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Police Acts and Regulations (Cap 359) part II subsection 3 provided that there shall be established for Nigeria a police force to be known as the Nigeria Police Force (hereafter in the Act referred to as “the Force”). In other words no other police Force can/should be found in any part of the country. This has generated a lot criticism from State governors, intellectuals, and technocrats’ who saw no correlation between the Federal Constitution and the Unitary Police Force imposed on the country. It also means that the Commissioner of Police in all the States of the Federation is responsible to the Inspector General and not to the State Governors unless clearance is sort first from the headquarters, the governor of a state cannot give orders to the Police Commissioner This has therefore created a lot of serious security problem at the State level. Two, subsection 4 of the same act and decree No 23 of 1979 states that the police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of, this or any other act. Wide discretionary latitude is therefore given to the police to enforce the law without corresponding strong checks on the power given to them.
No wonder this power is subject to series of abuses in Nigeria where the police is still expected to be friend to the public. The public sees the police as an instrument and face of the government in power that is always ready to unleash terror at the slightest opportunity. Hence they are held in low regard and do not enjoy the habitual cooperation of the public. The public perception of the police is not shaped by the kind of job they are called to do but by the attitude of the personnel. Their roles in many cases denigrate the law, endangering the citizens and blotting the institutional reputation of the police that they represent. The police no doubt know that they are not liked by the public, despite the fact that they risk their lives to protect them, at the very slightest opportunity they are booed and geared at by the public calling them derogatory and disgusting names. This dislike or resentment of the police apparently has some bearing on Nigeria Police colonial history.
The police are conceived, not a service organization for natives…because of the use to which the colonial masters put the police that is harassing and arresting tax defaulters, brutalizing trade unionists and other nationalists, and torturing persons accused of criminal offences, nobody wanted to have anything to do with the police…it will be seen therefore, that from the beginning a serious communication gap was built between the police and the public and this mutual distrust rather than disappear continued to grow wider. The situation is so bad that it became fashionable for parents to threaten their unwary and troublesome children with police presence (Odu cited by Asemota, 1993). The unfortunate mundane picture of the police painted here by the public has created serious problems for the police /public relations and public perception of the police in crime prevention.