Trust deficit between police, public rooted in historical, contemporary issues – Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim

Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim

In her bid to rebuild trust in the Nigeria police and in support of the renewed hope agenda of President Bola Tinubu, the Minister of State, Police Affairs, Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, admits there are apparent trust deficits between the Nigerian citizens and the Nigeria Police Force. In this interview with select media, she shares her strategies for turning things around. Excerpts:

There is an apparent trust deficit between the Nigerian citizens and the Nigerian Police Force, what is the ministry of Police Affairs doing to bridge this deficit?

Trust between the police and the public is the cornerstone of a safe and functional society. When citizens feel a strong sense of trust in their law enforcement agencies, they are more likely to cooperate, report crimes, and assist in maintaining public safety.

However, in many places, there is a significant trust deficit between the police and the public, often rooted in historical and contemporary issues. To build a safer and more harmonious society, it is crucial to address this deficit and work towards establishing a positive and trusting relationship.

I am constantly interfacing with the Inspector General of Police and the Police Service Commission in order to restore the image and reputation of the force and you will agree with me that the new IGP and the Chairman of the PSC are exceptional officers who have dedicated their lives to the service of the country.

There are plans for town hall meetings and there are internal frameworks in place that are serving as checkmates for the rank and file. In all, change in any organization must start from the top and that’s exactly what we have initiated.

Most importantly, President Bola Tinubu’s administration is extremely committed to repositioning the Nigerian police force to align with modern day police and confront the emerging security threats.

Infrastructural deficit is also a challenge to the motivation of the police force, what will the ministry do about this?

On the infrastructure front, a significant investment is required. Hostels, health centres, classrooms, training grounds and other important facilities will need to be built or undergo major upgrades to meet world class standards in terms of a conducive and inspiring environment for learning.

During my recent trip to the United States for the meeting of Police Chiefs, I saw firsthand facilities that are essential for these men and women and President Bola Tinubu is poised to ensure an upgrade of these facilities to meet global best practice.

The institution is expected to set the standard for excellence while ensuring that each graduate displays the highest ideals of professionalism, commitment, and unwavering dedication to the protection of our communities.

What is your take on community policing?

Community policing is a proactive approach to law enforcement that involves officers engaging with the communities they serve regularly. Officers build relationships with residents, attend community meetings, and work collaboratively with local organizations. This approach helps officers to understand the specific needs and concerns of the community, fostering trust and a sense of partnership. So, as a ministry, we believe in community policing, and that’s the essence of town hall meetings. Policing is all about the people.

Corruption has been an issue in the polity and even in the Force, What roles will accountability and transparency play in all of these?

Transparency is crucial in building trust. Police departments must be open and accountable for their actions. This includes implementing body cameras, releasing incident reports, and conducting independent investigations of alleged misconduct.

Transparency not only demonstrates a commitment to justice but also reassures the public that the police force is working in their best interests. The new IGP, Kayode Egbetokun, is a no-nonsense officer who disciplines and punishes corrupt officers. Very soon, the stereotype of the Police Force as a corrupt institution will no longer gain traction because what we have now are men and women of impeccable integrity, and this is also being reflected in the recruitment processes.

When there is fair and impartial policing, do you think Nigerians will complain?

Ensuring that police officers treat all individuals with fairness and respect is paramount. Implementing training on implicit bias, cultural sensitivity, and de-escalation techniques can help reduce instances of police bias and use of force.

When officers are seen as impartial and respectful, trust in their actions naturally increases. This also means that there won’t be sentiment in the discharge of police duties. The rule of law will be applied to both the rich and the poor, by so doing we will be promoting an egalitarian society,

All you have said harps on strong leadership and ethics. Don’t you think so?

Leadership within the police force plays a pivotal role in shaping the culture and conduct of officers. Leaders must exemplify ethical behaviour, and they should not tolerate misconduct. A strong focus on integrity and accountability within the police force will encourage ethical behavior among all officers, reinforcing public trust.

“Ultimately, a trusting relationship between law enforcement and the public benefits everyone, fostering a sense of safety and security for all members of society, and that is what I have been doing strategically in the Ministry of Police Affairs”

Do regular and constructive communications play any part in bridging trust deficit?

Effective communication is vital in any relationship. Police departments should maintain open lines of communication with the public through various means such as town hall meetings, social media, and community events.

These platforms provide opportunities for people to voice concerns, ask questions, and better understand police actions. And that is why the Police force has feedback mechanisms and the Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, is doing so well in informing the public of developments across the nation.

With the ongoing screening and recruitment of Police officers, have you thought of what a diverse and representative Police Force would achieve?

Diversity within the police force is essential to ensure that it reflects the communities it serves. A diverse force can better relate to the various cultural, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds of the community, making it easier to establish trust.

This current administration has made efforts to recruit and retain officers from different backgrounds. Credible selection of new intakes into the academy will determine the future of the nation’s security architecture, and that is why our collective security should not be vested in the hands of individuals with questionable characters.

What roles can civil society groups play in conflict resolution and mediation?

Civil society groups are partners in progress and they form one of our many stakeholders. Civilian oversight bodies like the civil bodies can provide an independent and objective review of police actions. This oversight ensures that allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and that the community has confidence in the fairness of the process. Police departments have benefitted from establishing conflict resolution and mediation programmes that help resolve disputes between the public and law enforcement peacefully. These programmes can be valuable in de-escalating tensions and repairing damaged relationships.

Is there any plan to reward exceptional police officers as impetus to good behaviours?

Recognising and celebrating officers who go above and beyond to serve their communities can inspire positive behaviours in the entire force. These role models can demonstrate the values and principles of community policing, reinforcing public trust in the police
However, may I restate again that improving trust between the police and the public is an ongoing process that requires dedication, effort, and collaboration from both sides. When police departments take proactive measures to build trust through community engagement, transparency, and accountability, they can create safer and more harmonious communities.

Ultimately, a trusting relationship between law enforcement and the public benefits everyone, fostering a sense of safety and security for all members of society, and that is what I have been doing strategically in the Ministry of Police Affairs.