On the wall at the entrance to Adeniji-Adele police station, the number of the D.P.O. (Divisional Police Officer) is prominent, to enable residents get in touch with him. At the gate and inside the station, the aggression so often exhibited by the police is absent, with people going about their business freely. It is almost as if this particular police station is not in Nigeria, where the brutality of its law enforcement agents is legendary.
A different kind of policing is in operation there, where Monday Agbonika is in charge. He first came to attention in an article by the Wall Street Journal a year ago, for his work in Agege. At his new assignment, which started in March this year, he continues to implement what he learnt from a DFID programme aimed at providing a new template for policing in Nigeria, one focused on forming partnerships with stakeholders in the community to improve service delivery.
Agbonika was part of a pilot programme called ‘Security, Justice and Growth’, which involved 129 divisions from across the country, and used role based training to introduce new policing concepts. The aim, as he explained, was to ‘discuss how we’ve been doing things, discuss problems we have been encountering and how we can do things better. It is like teaching ourselves’. The follow-up programme, called ‘Justice for All’, uses model police stations to implement those new concepts. He admits that ‘what they (the government) expect from us is different from the way we do it here’, but it makes his work so easy that he cannot imagine going back to the old ways. ‘I wonder why anyone should work differently’, he says.
This approach was a success at his former station at Isokoko in Agege area of Lagos, where, in addition to drastically reducing the crime rate, a new police station was constructed through community partnership. Accountability and transparency was key to achieving this, and he even got the governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola to assist. Isokoko was chosen as one of the model police stations in the ‘Justice for all’ programme, and Adeniji-Adele has just been included, apparently because he has applied the tools and principles consistently. ‘Someone said they are following me’, he says with a smile. ‘But I am not complaining’.
Throughout, he gives the impression of calmness, a kind of relaxed focus, inspite of his responsibilities. He deals with several visitors, one of whom was an elderly man who is an old boy of his former school, St John’s College, Kaduna. He communicates with his men a number of times as well, receiving reports from the field.
Just like Isokoko, Adeniji-Adele’s main problem concerned ‘area boys’. He solved the problem by employing a variety of tools like ‘crime mapping’, which keeps record of incidents with the help of notebooks, which are submitted on a daily basis. These reports form the basis for the ‘DPO’s briefing sheet’, submitted by the Divisional Intelligence Officer at the start of the next day. ‘This is how intelligence-led policing starts’, he explains. ‘It’s the small things. It is about collecting little bits of information and putting them together to form a picture. You don’t wait to get high-tech equipment’. The incidents are put on a map, resulting in hotspot patrols and neighbourhood patrols designed to boost police visibility, deter potential criminals and breed trust between the police and the community. Vigilante groups in the area under his command are encouraged and trained in partnership with the DFID and CLEEN foundation. Traditional rulers in communities with restive youth are also involved in warning them to desist from crime and in settling disputes. In the event of any disturbance, response teams are trained to arrive on the scene within 60 seconds of a report to disperse crowds and make arrests if possible. In addition, there is a Prisoners’ Lockup Register, designed to keep track of suspects in custody, and check the excesses of the men on duty.
Taken together, this approach aims to renew the faith of residents in the rule of law and make that the first source of redress. When suspects are charged to court, he notes the reforms going on in the Lagos state judiciary, which make for quicker dispensation of justice.
Another area in which progress has been made is regarding domestic violence and rape, which is a cause he champions. A lot of physical abuse goes unreported and steps have been taken to make victims able to come forward and receive care. ‘Before now, people used to think only about how to prosecute the suspect, but no one cares about the victim’, he says. ‘I have gotten training for them to focus more on the victims, because they are the most important. Some of them will never be the same again’
At the entrance to the station, there is a private area manned by a female officer trained to identify and respond to women in distress. A number of CSOs like Project Alert work with the police to provide counselling and shelter. In cases of rape which are reported within 72 hours, Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is administered which can prevent HIV infection, even if it is reported at the weekend. ‘More women are willing to come forward, but we still need awareness for them to know we have this in place and their identities will be secure’.
It has not been progress all round, however. A lot of officers have transferred out, because there is a lot less room for extortion. He has about 50 men less than when he took over as DPO. As a result the Ilubirin area is underpoliced, making it a haven for robbers despite attempts to clear the area under that section of the Third Mainland Bridge. He is less upbeat when discussing personnel issues, emphasizing the lonely nature of what he is trying to do. Poorly paid policemen often become corrupt in order to make ends meet, and Adeniji-Adele used to be seen as lucrative. ‘In the past, they used to pay N10,000 to come here’, he said. ‘Now, they pay N10,000 to leave’.
Going forward, a community safety partnership will be developed consisting of relevant stakeholders that will find out the concerns of the people and try to resolve them. Also planned is a solictors’ forum made of lawyers who will have access to the cells, make observations, represent suspects in court and ensure their rights are not violated, serving as checks on the police.
This method of policing which focuses on service and partnership can go a long way to reverse the years of hostility Nigerians feel towards those supposed to protect them, conferring the legitimacy necessary to preserve order, without which society will slide into chaos, as graphically expressed in the ALUU 4 incident and numerous other examples of jungle justice which take place all over the country. Intelligence led policing can also help with combating Boko Haram, winning hearts and minds in order to deliver crucial information, as against the crude and counter-productive tactics of the Joint Task Force.
Lasting reform will take time, but maybe one day, the police in Nigeria will truly be your friend.