The case for local police
And going by the low rate of crime and the communal peace generally experienced across the nation in those days, the local police formations, from the benefit of hindsight, can be said to have performed better than its unitary replacement, the Nigeria Police Force.
The NPF is one of those experiments Nigeria embarked on as an extension of her interpretation and application of the uneasy concept of federalism.
Several years after, with corruption and criminality threatening the peaceful co-existence we once took for granted during the era of the local police, isn’t it time we jettisoned the NPF experiment? As an experiment, the NPF has outlived its usefulness.
The time is ripe for Nigeria to reintroduce the local police.
Please note that I use the term “local police” for lack of a better expression as “state police” currently seems to evoke considerable anxiety in the minds of some people.
Such people can’t imagine how such awesome coercive instrument as state police could be reposed in the hands of our powerful executive governors. Whichever name we give it, let us decentralize the policing of the country by reintroducing local police forces as they are naturally in a better position to police their familiar environment.
I must confess that I am somewhat nostalgic about the local police as I cast my mind back to the days of the Native Authority police of the 50s and 60s. As a primary school pupil in my home town, Biu, I had admired, from a distance, the strict duties of the “Charge Office,” the revered name the local divisional police headquarters in Biu was called by the local folks.
The “Charge Office” occupied one end of the “Central Office,” which was simply a mud building with only a couple of offices to house the police establishment.
Only the Chief Warder, the local police head, had a secluded office; the other ranks merely reported to the Duty Room to be deployed to their beats.
“You are not obliged to say anything but whatever you say may be taken into evidence and may be used against you.” Those words were written in chalk on the blackboard in the charge office, a practice in human rights awareness one hardly sees these days in NPF police posts.
The local police considered themselves members of the community they were policing. Indeed, those were the days of community policing in the real sense.
The police went out of their way to add value to the community. For instance, in emergencies such as fire outbreak or escape of prisoners, they blow the eerie bugle alarm and the whistle to alert the people of danger and mobilise communal assistance.
The police constable on duty also doubled as the time-keeper for the township as he hourly struck the iron gong once, twice or thrice… according to the hour.
The sound resonated throughout the town and helped those who had no time piece to be mindful of the time. Many people found that police iron-gong sound more helpful than the alternative practice of relying on the movement of the sun to know the time of the day.
The police were only a handful.
Every Monday morning, neatly dressed, they mounted parades, inspected by the royal father, in front of the Emir’s palace. I saw no barracks. Every one of them was accommodated in their houses among other members of the community. Their operational tools were also simple and bare.
The main ones appeared to be a baton and a shield made from bamboo-like material with which they practised crowd control. They had no vehicle. Police expenditure was minimal; yet, the local police was effective in policing the community.
We slept literally with our eyes closed. We had mainly petty thieves. We also had occasional cases of burglary, assault and elopement. There were a few daring robbers, the most notorious of whom was Malam Gulani.
He operated in the style of the legendry Robin Hood, but he was tracked down by the local police. News of the police nabbing that elusive robber brought relief to the community.
That was the era of community policing at its best: simple, inexpensive and yet effective. Some of the dare-devil crime-busters among them operated with so much bravado. They struck terror in people to believe they were bullet-proof and iron-proof or even invisible and invincible.
The local police operated largely in that manner until they were fully integrated in 1972 into the country-wide force called the Nigeria Police Force. Subsequent developments saw the NPF structured into zone, state, area and divisional commands, with the smallest administrative units being the local police stations.
•To be continued tomorrow
•Dr. Bukar Usman, is a retired Federal permanent secretary in the Presidency, lives in Abuja.
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