Coming on the heels of the rescue of the three abducted secondary school girls in Lagos, the Ispector General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase’s demand for update on stolen Zamfara and Bauchi girls marks a new high in police responsiveness to public mood. We are finally seeing a police that gets to the bottom of cases without simply filing them away as “unresolved”.
The rescue of Timilehin Olosa, Tofunmi Popoola and Deborah Akinayo who were kidnapped from Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu, Lagos State by some criminals is a confirmation that the Nigeria Police Force under Mr Arase is set to evolve into a model for other nations if the pace of change so far seen can be kept up.
Since we have not advanced to the point of preventive policing, the fact that the abduction took place can be forgiven but stopping most would-be crimes before they occur should be our ultimate national goal in crime fighting. Be that as it may, the fact that no parent of the victims has countered the assertion by the Police that no ransom was paid is a turning point in how we deal with kidnapping as a nation. If criminals know they will be nabbed before they touch a kobo of their negotiated ransom they may just be dissuaded from executing their nefarious plans.
Perhaps this is already the case with some criminals if the account of one of the kidnappers, Emmanuel Arigidi is anything to go by. He stated how he was reluctant to be part of the evil plot even after the girls have been abducted and squirreled away in their hideout. The media quoted him as saying, “There was a misunderstanding among us on how to keep the girls. I told them I did not like what we had done and we should release the girls because security had become tight and the police were on our trail.”So even criminals acknowledge that the country is no longer a free playground for them, if a kidnapper can admit that security has improved in Lagos, formerly known as a crime hotbed then a lot must have happened across the country.
Of course, one must acknowledge the role played by improved security infrastructure like database and hardware that state governments like Lagos provided for the police. For instance, one of the kidnapped suspects, Henry, was traced with the SIM registration data. Several other crimes have been cracked by the force using the National Identity database, Bank Verification Number and SIM registration details. The judicious use of these assets by the police under Mr Arase’s should be further encouraged because that is why they exist in the first place. He must ensure that we do not roll back to those years when we have some level of database that were not deployed for crime fighting.
To his demand for progress reports on investigations into the abduction of four teenage girls that were forcefully converted to Islam in Bauchi and Zamfara States, Mr Arase has demonstrated that the police has finally evolved the capacity to listen. People possibly developed the confidence to raise highlight these cases following from the way the Police handled the abduction of Ese Oruru, who was converted to Islam and married off. The public outcry that greeted revelation of the reprehensible development was what brought the matter to the IGP’s attention and from then it was a matter of days before there was some measure of closure – Ese Oruru was freed and re-united with her family. Officers that handled the case previously had clearly demonstrated that they are not in tune with the responsive policing envisaged by Mr Arase. It is a good thing that the Police Service Commission has hinted at sanctions for any officer found culpable in the abduction case.
It is gladdening that the emerging Police Force is scoring points on other fronts. The NPF Tinted Glass Permit is another front where Mr Arase scores high. The old permit was nothing but pure fraud but at best a fund raising drive as permits sold for between N8000 and N40000 depending on the number of middlemen involved in getting one. The current permit being issued on Mr Arase’s order is exemplary. It is free, as in free such that not one naira is paid to any policeman. The officers handling the direct data capture are civil to the extent that one would be forgiven if they were mistaken to be out of this world.
Mr Arase’s other directives are beginning to yield results, from the directive to stop warrantless search of individuals’ mobile phones to outlawing checkpoints, the police is beginning to truly be the citizen’s friend. Incidents of accidental discharge appear to have tapered off since the directive for psychiatric evaluation of officers that bear firearms, the evaluation might not have happened yet but the knowledge that officers and men of the force have responsibility for each time they pull the trigger has sent a clear signal that the ‘trigger happy’ days are over.
The Inspector General of Police is doing a great job but it will be wonderful if he can give these good works some permanence by building a system so that his successors will not find it easy to return the country to those days when citizens treat the police as the enemy and would not volunteer information even to save their own lives.
He should identify legislation and policies that would make the Nigeria Police more civil and get the buy in of the Presidency and National Assembly to make them lasting laws. This should make it possible for the police to become stronger as a crime preventer that will occasionally fight crime in extreme cases.
Ikpa is Executive Secretary, Centre for Social Justice, Equity and Transparency.