It is not good news that security forces have killed more Nigerians than COVID-19 in the last eight weeks of lockdown. Premium Times reported a pregnant woman died at the police barrier (checkpoint) under the pretence of enforcing a COVID-19 curfew. The police would not allow the woman to be taken to the hospital until the woman died in their presence—incidents of exploitation and reckless use of force are numerous during this period. While we have seen some committed members of the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria doing the excellent job they are called to do, the activity of the few put some question mark on the intervention of security forces at this desperate moment. Thank you for your service and to all security personnel out there defending humanity against the invincible enemy. 

In the COVID-19 era, enforcement style must vary from the total use of force and "legalistic" mentality. A need exist for Nigeria Police to adopt service and leadership-oriented community policing. Police agencies with a legalistic orientation are rigid on carrying out an order, whereas those with a service style focused on providing needed services to people, business owners and community as a whole.

Pandemic policing

Of course, COVID-19 changed everything, including law enforcement as men and officers are deployed all over Nigeria to enforce the stay at home order at the risk of their own lives. Policing is dynamic as related to tasks and responsibilities. There are no easy solutions; continuous training and motivation are essential for men and officers to be effective. It is important to note that leadership approach is about making people do what is suitable for the people and the community without forcing them. With this, the community must take ownership of their security by working with police and hence reduce the incident of bribery and accidental killing as a result of the cohesive method.

No doubt, Policing plays a critical role in maintaining the security and safety of Nigerian society. How organizations are structured, managed, and led have a direct impact on the level and quality of services provided to the Nigerian public. Public needs changed with time; security organization must also respond to those changes in term of structure, management, and leadership.

Threat landscape COVID-19

All actors, including nation-state, conspiracy theorists, terrorist, and criminal organizations, exploited COVID-19 pandemic. While the coronavirus pandemic drags, the Boko Haram group stepped up attacks across various parts of West Africa including Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. COVID-19 disinformation linked to 5G network conspiracy led by a popular Nigerian Pastor and a former Senator created fear among the populace. It is not clear the real intention of those actors. Also, the Central Bank of Nigeria identified issued alerts warning Nigerians about the activities of cybercriminals observed during this period. The group employed phishing tactics, and different forms of social engineering methods to defraud their unsuspecting victims. On the global stage, Nigeria cybercriminal gangs identified as Scattered Canary, and Silver Terrier are part of most active subsets exploiting COVID-19. Cybercrime groups in Africa, South America and various Asian nations follow the lead of top tier cybercrime countries such as China, Russia, Iran & North Korea.

Crime rate

The first week of lockdown in Nigeria witnessed unprecedented low crime rate. However, things changed drastically at the beginning of the second week in Lagos where different gangs trooped out in broad daylight, robbing and dispossessing people of their valuables at gun points. However, members of the community rose to the occasion, organizing themselves in defence of their community. Meanwhile, Nigerians should not overlook the positive response and timely intervention of security forces that stopped this criminal groups in Lagos. Also, reports of people engaging in petty stealing of food items for survival are frequent everywhere. One of the under-reported cases is incidents of domestic violence and abuse due to compulsory lockdown.

Post-COVID 19 situation

The coming month may be challenging because of unemployment, recession, the uncertainty that will follow the pandemic. Of course, the crime rate may rise exponentially. Government and police leadership must prepare personnel mentally, including the provision of personal protective equipment to functions as expected. Crime is a critical workload factor that indicates the significant time of police activity is directed in response to criminal activity. A substantial crime rate places a higher workload demand on the Nigerian security forces. As criminal activity increases, so do the need for: (1) more pro-active crime prevention strategies; (2) the adequate availability of police (3) prompt police response; (4) the processing of crime reports; (4) more investigation time; (5) more officer court time; (6) more record-keeping and analysis activities; and in the case of violence (7) increases officer safety risks. Crime, unlike most other work activities, taps heavily from available police human resources.

Therefore, a thorough understanding of the full scope of crime under COVID-19 is essential to enable leadership to proffer a better solution.

Thinking ahead

It is time for the community to take ownership of their security. Hence, all regional security outfits such as Amotekun, Northern Nigeria Security Initiative (Shege Ka Fasa), and South-East regional security can work with federal agencies on intelligence-led policing. 

Most importantly, it is time for real leadership and patriotism on the part of the police organization. A successful police leader will be able to organize and manage his/her command and its resources so that the best service is provided to the community served. The future problems or issues can be anticipated, and plans developed to resolve them. The government and national police leadership should create an environment where personnel voluntarily commit to providing the best service to Nigerians and Nigeria. A need exist to deepen the relationship between the community and Nigerian police; there is a need to build trust with the following recommendations.

Encourage officers to participate in community functions, both on and off duty. Coaching, tutoring and participating in town/schools/religious events, are only a few activities which will reduce isolation. The NPF should recognize officers who participate in community functions.

NPF should continue regular mental evaluation of its men that carries weapons, including training and retraining on weapon handling. This action will mitigate the recurrent issues of accidental discharge and premeditated murder.

Also, all personnel require continuous training on the importance of ethical behaviour. A need exists to provide ethics training for all officers throughout their careers. Finally, hold supervisors accountable for the acts of their subordinates. Supervisors who are aware of misconduct and fail to take appropriate action need to be held liable. Conversely, those who do this duty need to be praised and recognized.

Dr. Oludare Ogunlana writes from Washington DC

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