If you regularly drive in Lagos, you would have faced this question at some point: “Oga, anything for the boys?”
Your reaction is not hard to imagine; you either annoyedly gave them some change or concocted an excuse not to "drop something".
Look around you and you will see policemen. Do you hold them in high esteem or admiration, as living up to their purpose, or perceive them with a level of disregard? However you answer this question, the Nigerian Police (NP) remains a vital component of a functioning civil society.
Not enough 'boys'!
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) has lamented about the low number of policemen – a.k.a. boys – in the country. With a population of 190 million people and a police force of 380,000, Nigeria's police-citizen ratio, at 200 officers per 100,000 citizens, hovers below international and African standards.
Amid a growing population, the IGP is targeting an additional 30,000 policemen each year for the next five years, to bring force headcount to around 500,000.
The issue has as much to do with distribution as with numbers. Over a quarter of all police officers are allegedly being escorts and orderlies for the ultra-rich, leaving the rest of the population scrambling for the remaining three-quarters. No surprise then that people scoff at the common refrain "Police is not your friend".
A policeman attached as an escort can be purchased for as little as ₦30,000 a month, and such payments are usually unaccounted and untraced. Policemen are sold so cheaply for the benefit of the upper class.
As far back as World War II, military operations were strategised through the use of analytics and technology as mathematicians and statisticians deciphered communication codes made by enemy countries. Now, in the 21st century, rapidly improving technology has continually pushed the boundaries of what is possible, and many developed countries have increasingly looked to embed technology like robotics into security services.
Nigeria's case is different; there is a greater focus on inflating the numbers on the force, a target more likely to create more pot-bellied officers than anything else. Nigerians would be familiar with the sentiment echoed in the joke that the reason policemen blow their sirens before arriving at a robbery scene is to chase away the robbers before they get there.
But it would be unfair to disparage the force. Survivorship and salience bias means that we often hear more about the near-misses and failures than we do the innumerable number of cases that are successfully solved. Neither could we reasonably estimate the benefit of deterrence provided by the mere presence of police officers. Again, they are a vital component of a functioning society.
However, the NP must acknowledge the way(s) to reform; carrying more AKs and blasting sirens alone will not protect Nigerians, not when the criminals have stepped up.
Evans, the infamous kidnapper, reportedly used 11 mobile phones, each containing anti-tracking features. He also apparently used over 120 registered SIM cards to communicate with the different teams he worked with, ensuring he eluded the police for many years. Evans even confessed that the teams did not know each other. No surprise, it was through a plain phone that he was eventually traced.
As technology access and penetration deepens in the country, our police are faced with more unusual problems. Moreover, a significant portion of Nigeria's criminals are of the "high-end" variety, giving them access to evasive technology, and sometimes, policemen. This is why the police must be better players. Recruitment should focus on improving security intelligence, not just on numbers. More technical staff – computer scientists, forensic consultants, medical personnel – who can help fight crime in the 21st century.
Changing the game's strategy
Countries like Malaysia have recently partnered with Interpol to deploy technology that identifies criminals through facial recognition and biometric technology. And the partnership has already yielded fruit.
And in Nigeria? Well, last September, the Nigerian Police launched Hawk-Eye Crime Reporter, a reporting app that allows citizens to report crimes by anonymously uploading images and videos.
Of course, the technology will not work in isolation; the force must ensure that response times and investigations are good, as that would foster citizen confidence in the initiative.
More generally, uneven distribution of police officers ought to be addressed. Each Nigerian life is precious, not just those that can afford police escorts. An escort quota could be the start of ensuring that on-duty policemen are not overwhelmed.
As suggested above, technical staff should be considered as vital complements to grunt officers, even as a more robust training program ought to be initiated for the wider force.
All of this can still occur even as we acknowledge that technology is currently limited in how it can help secure the lives of many Nigerians. A chunk of the population remains technologically excluded, most crimes would still be considered "petty" and inadequate infrastructure hinders the reliability and penetration of any technology adopted.
Planning for the future is a necessary element of policy and is even more crucial in security. For now, undoubtedly, Nigeria needs more boys.