Still On Akpabio And The Police By Mon-Charles Egbo

Recently, two incidents openly challenged Nigeria’s quest for a policing regime where peace and order or the overall safety of the citizens would take pre-eminence.


While one was the maiden edition of the Nigeria Police Awards and Commendations Ceremony, the other was the one-day National Dialogue on State Policing, organized by the House of Representatives. Vice President Kashim Shettima represented President Bola Tinubu at both events that were held in Abuja.


Sequel to the first, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, authored a piece titled The Police and Akpabio’s Sermon on the Mount. Although Eyiboh, the media adviser to the president of the senate, described it as one targeted at “reputation management” and “constructive stakeholders’ engagement”, the outing was rather an impetus to a national discourse which will remain endless until there is a Nigeria Police Force that embodies the ideals and aspirations of an enlightened democracy.


Buoyed by his composite knowledge of the private and public sectors of the economy, Godswill Akpabio intervened from a broader perspective.


He was blunt, but truthful, that “in this country we have had a deficit of heroes. Not because Nigerians are not heroic but because we do not celebrate our heroes. Yet heroes play a vital role in society through the provision of inspiration, motivation, hope and serving as representations of values and character. Celebrating heroes could bring the much-needed change we need in the fabric of our society and make our country a better place”. Also, he was unequivocal that Nigeria deserves a police force that is defined by “internal ethical regeneration, restoration of professional standards, and the enhancement of the anti-corruption drive”.


Then as one of the pathways to this vision, he acknowledged that “recognizing the gallant, selfless, and patriotic contributions of individual officers, will not only motivate them for higher performance but also reinforce the new policing agenda of the force”.


Furthermore and putting on the garb of a quintessential representative of the police, Akpabio made a strong case for them. His first argument was that “the ever-evolving landscape of crime and the increasing sophistication of criminal gangs pose significant obstacles” for the force.


He therefore called for concerted efforts in this regard, stressing that “we must address these issues and work together to find solutions. The police need the support and cooperation of all stakeholders, to overcome these challenges and build a stronger and more effective police force”.


Again, Akpabio defended the force against prejudice by declaring lamentably that “many have sought to hang the police to dry for all our many vices. But the truth of the matter is that the police are all members of our society. Down the ages the popular philosophical thinking was that man could not be better than the society because the society makes the man, socializes man, and orients him with a sense of right and wrong”. In other words, the police are what the citizens and the government make of it.


Not done, he reassured the force that “as the leader of the National assembly, I pledge our full cooperation and support to the better policing of Nigeria. We recognize the importance of a well-equipped and motivated police force in ensuring the security and well-being of our citizens. We will continue to work tirelessly to provide the necessary legislative framework and resources to enable the police to carry out their duties effectively”.


Incidentally, the Nigeria police force and the national assembly are the two most vilified institutions in the country. Deliberate misinformation and disinformation about them abound and grow unabated by the day. It is such that despite the laudable accomplishments of the ‘present generations’, these critical institutions of governance continue to suffer the inherited image and reputational crises occasioned by certain misdeeds of their predecessors.


Thus, apart from his leadership and governance antecedents, and also, having variously been a victim of uncritical judgement, Akpabio is well versed in the implications of collective labelling or stereotypical views. So, his empathy with the police is not far-fetched after all.


Nonetheless and typical of a dispassionate advocate, the senate president in concluding his homily, acknowledged the existence of bad eggs in the force. He therefore counselled that “as we honour the good officers, let us weed out the bad ones because a chain is as strong as its weakest link” adding that “it is imperative that the police uphold the highest ethical standards in carrying out their duties”.


Empirically, the takeaway from “Akpabio’s Sermon on the Mount” is three-pronged. One, while the police should be strategic in their overall conduct starting from recruitment through training and operations to the general management of their affairs, the society should not be subjective in their engagement and assessment.


Two, the moral lecture was an agenda-setting intervention or a catalyst in the perennial quest for a police force that Nigeria and her citizens can be proud of.


Then lastly, it was a clarion call on the need to reward excellence in every aspect of our national life.


Undoubtedly, these messages are worth internalizing towards our dream police force!


Akpabio was to take his advocacy to the second event.


Reiterating his support for the establishment of state police, which according to him “is a complex issue with no easy answers”, he re-echoed that “security is not a privilege, but a fundamental right of every Nigerian”. He thus warned that “if we are to set up state police departments, we must ensure that they are free from the shackles of politics, religious extremism, tribalism, and ethnicism. We must empower them to serve and protect, without fear or favour.”


Then of paramount note “let us never forget that the power of the state police should never be used as a tool of oppression or witch-hunting. Let us ensure that political powers do not manipulate the state police to silence dissent or target their enemies. Let us ensure that the influential do not exert undue influence over the state police and that justice is blind to wealth, power, politics, or status. Let us build a system that is fair, just, and equitable for all”.


Instructively, these expressed positions have nothing to do with his current status.


Godswill Akpabio has been a regular voice in the national quest for an effective and efficient police force. He only stood up to be counted for the umpteenth time.


As governor of Akwa Ibom State, he had in 2012, advocated that “state police remains an answer to the numerous security challenges facing Nigeria. It is the solution to resolving most of the intra-conflicts in the country. He was emphatic that “if Kogi had state police, Boko Haram probably would not have reached the state. In the Niger Delta, kidnapping would not have reached the level it had reached at that time because the indigenes that would make up the force know the criminals among them and would fish them out. Every family knows who is who. That is why I say state police remains the answer”.


Again, it is noteworthy that towards efficient and effective policing, the Akpabio-led Senate has since intensified actions on the Police Pension Bill, aimed at removing the police from the contributory pension scheme, having passed the Police Trust Fund budget in addition to resolutions bordering on manpower and hardware.


Perhaps, these interventions informed President Bola Tinubu’s proclamation, of his administration’s commitment to transforming the police into “a modern, professional, and accountable institution that mirrors the aspirations and values” of Nigeria. He was precise that “our idea of a modern police force goes beyond superficial changes like repainting office buildings and residences or simply procuring firearms. True reform of our security doctrine and its architecture necessitates recognising the importance of administering justice and adhering to our ethical values to foster stability and order in the nation. The transformation we seek must transcend mere policy and infrastructure; it requires a fundamental overhaul of our institutional mentality and memory.”


These words, though reassuring, still face a high level of scepticism.


With hindsight, some of the critical questions include:


Would the police sustain this laudable initiative to improve the welfare of its workforce? Can there be a police force that thrives in “internal ethical regeneration, restoration of professional standards, and the enhancement of the anti-corruption drive”? Can the federal government deliver on its promise (s)? Is the police ready to reinvent themselves even with these anticipated supports, especially given the results of other previous interventions such as the Police Trust Fund and Police Equipment Foundation? Will Nigerians support the national assembly with viable ideas, through the already kick-started constitution amendment processes, to reposition the force, particularly concerning the raging state police debates?


These are some of the cardinal items on the agenda set by Akpabio as the conversation continues.


However, a police force that is alive to its roles and responsibilities might sound utopian, but it is attainable if strategically approached. It only requires sustained citizens’ actions. And gratifyingly, Senator Godswill Akpabio has offered direction and also shown resolve to lead from the front.


So the ball is now in the court of Nigerians, and primarily, the police force itself.



*Egbo is a Parliamentary Affairs Analyst



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