NIGERIANS and their police are aghast at the misuse of firearms by errant policemen. It has become a scandal. The government is bothered, the police themselves are worried, and the government is squirming. All sorts of theories have been suggested to explain the misuse of firearms in these parts. Some put it down to pure wickedness and lack of supervision, others suggest it may be due to stress occasioned by understaffing, and others argue that extended shift system might be responsible. While panaceas may be disputed, no one is in doubt about the reality of firearms misuse.

The main problems the new IGP, Mohammed Adamu, must contend with is not just the misuse of firearms, which is rising to epidemic proportions, but the need to reform the police entirely. In the face of national reluctance to restructure the country and decentralise the police, Mr Adamu can still propose some fundamental changes in the law enforcement agency’s approach to policing in order to make them more effective. What is not an option is tinkering with the present situation or ignoring it entirely. The problem of the police, he must by now have seen, is not just poor funding; it is also about structure, training, attitude and philosophy.

Until Mr Adamu can propose measures to comprehensively reform the law enforcement philosophy of the police, integrate that new attitude into their training, and restructure the institution to make policemen more responsive and effective, platitudes, such as he and his predecessors have mouthed constantly, will not create the kind of police force the country needs. There is a limit to what Mr Adamu can do, seeing that the effectiveness of the police is contingent upon the country’s structure; but he can still do enough within the present structure and current realities to build a legacy of creative policing for himself.

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