THE Station Officer at Nyanya Police Station in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is sure of his responsibility. “After the DPO (Divisional Police Officer), the station is mine. Anything you want to know about the station, I handle it,” the officer told a group of five community members on a friendly visit to the station on the first day of November 2011. It was part of the annual global Police Station Visitors’ Week, a mission to build confidence in policing services. This was the sixth edition of the visits.
As part of this visit, the organisers, Altus Global Alliance, obtained early notifications and permissions from the police hierarchy in each country. In Africa, Altus’ only member organisation from the continent, the CLEEN Foundation, works with its partners in Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Uganda, Benin, Niger and Kenya to make sure that police stations are notified before the coming the visit.
But the visitors can’t be fooled by hasty cosmetics because they are not only selected from the communities (and thus know the unpolished reputation of their police station) but they are given training on what to look out for and are armed with a toolkit for scoring. The Police Station Visitors’ Week (PSVW) Kit includes a simple scoring system that allows each visitor to assess each station on 20 criteria.
Already translated into 17 languages, the Kit’s 20 criteria are grouped into five categories of service: Community Orientation, Physical Condition, Equal Treatment of the Public, Transparency and Accountability, and Detention Conditions.
For this purpose, the visitors are allowed access into every crevice in the police station, often to the discomfort of both the guest and host who both realise how much of a breakdown in communication existed. In some police stations, basic stationery, like foolscap sheets for taking statements from suspects, are not available. The police officers either have to buy with their meagre salaries or ask recipients of policing service to buy them.
In Nyanya, the Admin Office of the police station has only one dysfunctional computer. The staff of the Admin department told the visitors that their DPO, Aminu Garba, bought the computer with his hard earned money but constant power surges blew the computer’s brains. Now, the police are back on the streets typing confidential documents at a nearby business centre.
“When the business centre owner asks me when I am going to pay his money for printing and photocopy,” the DPO said light-heartedly, “I tell him to report me to the police.”
The visitors chuckled, but the import of the situation is not lost on them. Earlier, before meeting the DPO, they had seen the Admin Office personnel punching at an aged typewriter while a dead computer sat as an artefact. The police station servicing the densely populated satellite town of Abuja has got only three patrol vehicles. They get just N20,000 per quarter to fuel the patrol vehicles, even though each vehicle consumes over N6,000 worth of fuel per week.
“I have to look for money from so many places to keep the station running,” the DPO told his guests, “but I will not go begging. It is dishonourable.”
Nevertheless, the Juvenile Welfare unit just across from the main block could make an administrator ask for alms. The shack was cobbled together with wood, zinc and carton. Three square metres of the ‘batcher’ houses the motor traffic unit on a single desk while the juvenile welfare unit managed by a woman is a desk that is just one foot away.
In the very hot and uncomfortable office without fans, two women who were victims of domestic violence were taking shelter, while three other children found on the streets were still awaiting their parents or guardians to show up. In the meantime, the policewoman was taking care of these people with her own resources.
“Sometimes I take them to my house,” the woman in mufti was telling the visitors. “For lost-but-found children, sometimes I go as far as to breastfeed them. What can I do?”
This is a side of the police rarely seen by the average member of the public; vulnerable and in need of attention. In some areas, however, they have had a fair share of attention from the public in terms of resources. One such great example is two-time number one police station in Africa, Ilupeju Police Station in Lagos. The police station was made a model police station by the Nigeria Police Force and this has led to other police stations within the country trying to copy its achievements.
It has been the best police station at the national level since 2006 except in 2010 when Seme overtook it. Visitors report that Ilupeju Police Station has internet connectivity, standby power generating set, a restaurant, satellite TV connectivity in the detention cells, surveillance cameras, and very cordial relations with its community.
Ilupeju’s success isn’t going unchallenged. In Ghana, when the CLEEN Foundation team presented an award to the Nima District Divisional Police as the 4th best police station in Africa for 2010, the Nima District went agog and its stakeholders instantly swung into competition mode. “Who came first in Africa? What do they have that we can’t have?” they demanded challengingly. And so, an avalanche of donations and pledges poured in and were redeemed almost immediately.
Someone bought mattresses for the detention cells; another bought a generator; so when the visitors came, the station had transformed a great deal in physical appearance. According to Abena Abioye, the Ghanaian staff of CLEEN Foundation who presented the award to the station, “the impact of this has been so powerful in Ghana; it’s been well received.”
Ghana Minister of the Interior, Benjamin Kumbuor went as far as saying the success story of the Nima Police Station which was adjudged the fourth best well kept police station in Africa in 2010 would be replicated in police stations nationwide. He hoped that his country could do better when the 2011 results roll in. About 90 visitors interacted with about 15 police stations in the country.
The competition is going to be keen this year, though Cameroon was pulled out of the plans due to the uncertain political situation in the country, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda, Benin, Liberia, and Niger stays. In Nigeria, the visits took place in Lagos, Imo, Kano, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Over 700 visitors visited 294 Police Divisional Stations in these states. 332 police stations were part of the visit from the participating countries and over one thousand visitors were mobilised to visit the participating police stations in Africa.
The citizens are taking ownership of their police stations. In Nyanya, the community commenced digging the foundations of a fence for the station on the morning the visitors came. But the fence was not being erected as a mark of difference from the community; it is the community’s desire to show the symbol of their security.