When the youths of Nigeria came together in protest against police brutality, they defied ethnic barriers and religious affiliations to make their voices heard across many nations of the world. For once, they found a common ground to fight a cause many agreed was justifiable. The youths demanded an immediate and unconditional release of all arrested protesters. They demanded justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families. They demanded that government set up an independent body to supervise the investigation and prosecution of reported police misconducts, which should be done within 10 days time. They demanded a psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS operatives before they could be deployed again and that the exercise be verified by an independent body. And most profoundly, they demanded that government increase the salaries of serving police officers and adequately compensate them for their role in protecting the lives and properties of Nigerian citizens.
On reflection, I seem to agree with those who strongly advocate for a proactive upward review of police salaries. There is no doubt that the mean behavior some police officers exhibit while on duty emanates from the fact that they are very, very poorly paid in Nigeria. You can imagine a Nigerian policeman shooting a Nigerian citizen dead because he refused to give him a hundred naira bribe! Such tragedies happened in Nigeria and practically, no Nigerian citizen is comfortable with that. That, too, was part of the reason for the #EndSars Protest of 2020.
Come to think of it. Why are Nigerian police officers paid so lowly? Is it that Nigeria does not have the money to pay them? With all the money coming from oil and all the other mineral resources in the country, this reason would not hold water. Is it then that their work is not important? Is it that government enjoys paying them peanuts as salaries so they can continue to extort money from innocent Nigerian citizens? Is it that government does not appreciate the risks police officers undertake in the discharge of their duties? And why are they armed with guns instead of radios? With their sort of salary arrangement, what quality of security would Nigerians expect from those commissioned to protect their lives and properties?
There is no doubt that the work of the Nigeria Police is not only important but very strategic to the success of the over-all security situation in the country. It is even more so now that incidents of armed robberies, kidnappings, ritual murders and so on are daily on the rise. But it is also important that the authorities in the Nigeria Police adopt a deliberate policy of disarming police officers on duty just as it happens in the UK. This has become necessary in view of the psychological effect such an arrangement would have on the populace generally and on criminals and would-be criminals in particular.
The death of two female police constables, Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone who were killed while on duty brought into focus the unarmed status of the British police. Despite the loss of two of his officers, Greater Manchester Chief Constable, Sir Peter Fahy, spoke unequivocally in support of British police not carrying guns while on duty. "We are passionate that the British style of policing is routinely unarmed policing. Sadly, we know from experiences in America and other countries that having armed officers certainly does not mean that police officers do not end up getting shot," he said.
Many people still marvel at why Britain is firmly against issuing guns to officers on duty. In a sense, it is the most obvious feature that makes the British police different from their counterparts in most other countries. Tourists and visitors regularly express surprise that officers patrolling the streets do not carry arms. But to most inhabitants of the UK, it is a normal situation that most front-line officers do not carry guns.
Interestingly, when asked their opinion, police officers in the UK precisely said that they wished to remain unarmed. In 2006, a survey of 47, 328 members of the Police Federation found that 82% of them did not want officers to be routinely armed on duty, even though nearly half of them said their lives had been in serious danger during the previous three years. It was a position the Police Superintendents' Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers also took.
The argument is that arming the force would undermine the principle of policing by consent - the notion that the force owes its primary duty to the public, rather than to the state, as is the case in countries like Nigeria.
This owes much to the historical foundations of the British criminal justice system, according to Professor Peter Waddington of the University of Wolverhampton. Over time, this notion of guns being inimical to community policing became reinforced. Today only a small proportion of officers are authorized to use firearms. Latest Home Office figures showed that there were just 6,653 officers authorized to use firearms in England and Wales - about 5% of the total number of officers.
Even the sheer cost of equipping all personnel with weapons as well as providing regular training would be astronomical at a time governments across the globe are seriously curtailing public spending. Also, we must agree that in terms of the police being approachable and in terms of the public being the eyes and ears of the community police, officers don't want to lose those affiliations by carrying guns.
Now, we come to their wages proper.
It just occurred to me to compare the wages police officers in Nigeria are paid with that of other neighbouring countries to know if in any way the situation contributed to the level of insecurity that has consistently beclouded the country. What I discovered actually shocked me.
In Nigeria, the salary of a police recruit is nine thousand and nineteen naira and forty-two kobo (N9, 019. 42). In Ghana, the lowest paid police officer earns 1, 320 GHS a month, the equivalent of eighty-six thousand, one hundred and fifteen naira and fifty-eight kobo (N86, 115.58). In Kenya, it is a different story.
Being a police officer in Kenya is among the most prestigious professions one can ever get. The profession comes with status and good standing in the community. Like other professions, how much Kenyan police officers earn depends largely on their educational level and the ranks they hold in the police force. In 2015, the Kenya police salary was increased by 100% in a move that saw many police officers motivated to work harder. As per this new structure, the basic salary for a Kenyan police constable is sh. 32,880, a pay that was considerably higher than that of a fresh graduate in Kenya. This means that the lowest police officer in Kenya earns Ksh. 32, 880 or the equivalent of one hundred and thirteen thousand, eight hundred and eighty-five naira, and sixty-four kobo (N113, 885.64). A constable pockets Ksh 45, 540 every end of the month, the equivalent of N157, 859.85. Compare this with the N9, 019.42 salary of his Nigerian counterpart.
In Nigeria a police constable on grade level 03 earns N43, 293.80 a month. In Ghana, the average officer earns 2, 860GHS, the equivalent of N186, 583.75. In Kenya, corporals take home basic pay of Ksh 42, 660 or the equivalent of N147, 876.62.
In Nigeria a police corporal on level 04 earns N44, 715.53 while on level 10 he earns N51, 113.59. In Ghana, such officers earn 4,550 GHS, the equivalent of N296, 837.79 a month.
In a country like Britain, the lowest cadre of police officers earns the equivalent of N1, 087, 500 a month. Between them and their counterparts in Nigeria, there is a whopping difference of over one million naira a month. And yet, for 2021, British Parliament approved a substantial increase for all levels of police as follows:
- a 2.5% pay increase for all police officer ranks
- a 2.5% increase to the London weighting payment
- a 2.5% increase to the dog handlers' allowance
- an increase in the On-call Allowance from £15 to £20
As a result, pay scales were amended across board for officers. Constables commencing service and appointed on or after 1 April 2013 would earn an annual salary of £20,880, the equivalent of N13, 050,000 in 2019/20 or N1,087, 500 a month while Sergeants on the first level of pay will receive £41,499, the equivalent of N25,936,875 or N2, 161, 405. 25 a month at the current exchange rate of N625 to the pound. Meanwhile, Inspectors outside London at the first level of remuneration can expect to earn £51,414 or N32, 133,750. That is N2, 677,812.5 a month.
Is there any wonder then that the Nigerian government is not doing anything to curb crime in the Nigerian society despite their claims to the contrary? All that the legislators do is share up all the money accruing from oil and other resources and little or nothing is done for the common good. And I dare ask: why are Nigerian leaders so selfish and insensitive to the plight of their people?
That notwithstanding, I still think they can try and put things together the right way. It’s never too late. The problem is whether, given their greedy nature and the nonchalant attitude of most Nigerians to the public good, the National Assembly would ever want to put things right. I suggest to them that this year, they should usher in a new internationally acceptable salary structure for the Nigeria Police. In fact, no police officer should earn anything less than N100, 000 a month in Nigeria.
That is when Nigerian politicians will have the moral courage to get the police force to do its work. And secondly, officers should get friendlier with the people whose interest they protect when they are completely unarmed. It is impossible, for instance, for armed robbers robbing a bank to start shooting police officers they know are unarmed and therefore harmless to an extent. Rather, police officers on duty should be issued with walkie-talkie radios with which to communicate. If they sense danger, they press the red button to alert their colleagues who would be there in a matter of minutes from all angles of the city or town. With many officers on the ground, it would be difficult for anyone to commit a crime no matter the level of impunity. Members of the National Assembly should stop giving the world this impression that they seem insensitive to Nigerian problems.
Chief Sir Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of “The Presidential Years from Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari” and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website www.imostateblm.com)