DO YOU KNOW YOU CAN REPORT A POLICE MAN FOR MISCONDUCT??
Sometime in November 2016, when Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris established what he called the Police Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit (PCRRU), I did not consider it a serious thing. I waved it off as one of those usual propagandist engagements of the Police leadership that has characterized the coming of every new helmsman.
I had reasons to be skeptical.
For a decade or thereabout, every IGP in Nigeria had started by identifying professional misconduct by the police as an unacceptable disposition that would no longer be tolerated. They have delivered beautiful speeches and have made promises to reposition the Force to be more responsible as responsive. They have however always left office without making marked changes.
I’m also aware that the Nigeria Police already has a unit that has always claimed to receive complaint from the public, and to aggravate my cynicism, I recollect that the immediate past IGP, Solomon Arase launched what he too called NPF Complaint Response Unit (CRU) in November, 2015. So, what is new, I asked myself, dismissing the PCRRU as mere duplication.
But my perception changed after an incidence that involved me with some police officers in January 2017. On a weekend in January, while travelling to Kano, I was stopped by some police officers along Lokoja Road in Kogi State. Alongside other motorists, I was asked to park my vehicle and present my particulars. No hassle. I did. But I was still held down by the officers, and it was getting late. I noticed that other motorists had to go to a particular officer standing a few feet afar before they were allowed to proceed on their journeys. As I sat, waiting to receive commands to proceed, a nearby officer whispered to me that I will not move if I did not go to see the ‘oga’ with ‘something’.
I actually went to the ‘oga’ and he asked to see my particulars once again. I went back to my vehicle and brought them to him. It took him more than half an hour to check through them, and another half-hour before he handed them back to me. Without a word to me, he moved some feet further away and started making phone calls. I witnessed more people being stopped let go after seeing the ‘oga’ with something.
About two hours later, ‘oga’ came to me and said I may go but it is good to find ‘something’ for his ‘boys’. I ignored him but the ‘boys’ were all over me with some embarrassing beggarly gestures, asking for “something to buy water.” I grudgingly parted with a hundred naira, which I gave out of my own volition, or so I thought.
I narrated my ordeal to a friend who told me that I could report the incidence to the police. I’m not a fool, I retorted, I don’t have time to waste. But he insisted. He gave me a mobile phone number which I dialed. Someone at the other end picked and we spoke, and that was where everything changed!
Contrary to my expectation, I did not only tell my story; I was engaged! The personnel at the other end wanted details, and I gave him all I had. Even though I did not take note of the name tag of any of the police officers in Kogi, I was asked if I can identify them and if I could come to testify. Affirmative! I could not believe what happened a few days thereafter. There were genuine efforts to bring forth the erring officers, and they were identified. I didn’t know what disciplinary measures were taken but I was impressed with the fact that the police could really fish out those officers after receiving my complaint.
Yet, beyond what I experienced, I was informed that it was possible for me to alert the police about such misconducts on a more immediate basis through the PCRRU mobile, a device that everyone can download onto their phones which, if activated by pressing a button, will immediately send a signal to the unit that a professional misconduct is happening at an exact location. The nearest response team would be dispatched to the location immediately and the officers involved would be apprehended. I understand that device could send a recorded altercation or conversation to the unit as a citizen is being harassed or extorted.
The PCRRU, the way I see it, is capable of effectively bringing the public into the fight against police professional misconduct. Almost all modern avenues of communication are engaged in this effort: website (http://npf.gov.ng/complaint/), phone numbers (08057000001, 08057000002), sms and whatsapp (08057000003), twitter (@PoliceNG_PCRRU), facebook (www.facebook.com/policepcrru), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), BBM (5BA2B5DE). All these avenues have been made really user-friendly and available all day.
With all these, and with enough awareness on the part of the public, bad policing and professional misconduct would no longer go unnoticed and unchecked. It is pertinent that every Nigerian knows about all these so that they can participate in ridding the Force of the so-called bad eggs. The mere fact these avenues of complaint are available, and our police officers know that we can utilize them at all times, they would be wary of their almost inborn attitudes of carefree extortionist tendencies.
At the launching of the unit in 2016, the IGP said “The Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit is a unit in the force saddled with the responsibility of receiving and resolving all complaints of police professional misconduct emanating from policing activities and operations nationwide. The unit is available 24 hours a day to listen to members of the public from across Nigeria.”
I didn’t believe him then, but now I do, and I have been trying to convince everyone close to me to also believe.
Nigeria and Nigerians would be better for it, and if ridding our Police Force of professional misconduct is the only thing IGP Ibrahim Idris is able to accomplish during his tenure, one would not hesitate to say that he has made a huge impact. More so, this effort is being institutionalized, automated and made rapid and capable of being monitored. Like citizens journalism, it appears that citizens policing is already beginning to take shape, but unlike journalism, this one is far more far-reaching in shaping our well being as a society, and for this alone it deserves to be taken seriously by all and sundry.