By Hassan Idris
As students of sociology and criminal justice, we can’t debunk the fact that social control is a compelling discussion subject in the criminal justice system. There has not been any society that exists without a social control mechanism to oversee the behaviours of its members. The Nigerian police, my discussion subject, is regarded as the ‘gatekeeper’ of the criminal justice system because it’s the nearest social control mechanism to the people. However, social control is unarguably the most preponderant static aspect of every human society. It’s the prerequisite for maintaining decorum, orderliness, and stability, which becomes a vital thing for every human society to develop a social control mechanism, be it formal or informal, to oversee the behaviour of the members of the society and bring about development and stability.
Marshall, in 1996 defined Social control as “the process of keeping individuals in check, moderating their behaviours, and maintaining social order”. Social controls tend to encompass the strategies and mechanisms put in place to oversee the behaviours of the members of human society. Social control is the birth of human social relationships which may be informal (comprising written norms, values, or customs) or formal (typically practised by the personnel of constitutionally acknowledged agencies. But we cannot discredit that formal and informal social control mechanisms are derived from the habituation and rationalization that arises from repeated interaction.
Okoye, in 2011 posited that the word” Police” comes from the Latin word politic, which means” civil administration”. However, the first Professor of Criminology in Nigeria from the Prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria, Professor Odekunle, in 2010, defined the police as “the government officials most proximate to crime, temporally and procedurally, and the leading figures in crime prevention, control and law enforcement processes”. The fundamental objectives of policing in society are to provide security, or at least a social and psychological feeling of security, for a majority of citizens, in a majority of places, and for most of the time. The police, the “gatekeeper” of the criminal justice system in all contemporary societies, is the most apparent agent of formal social control. This is why Bittner, in 1990, asserted that “social control and reactions to deviance are intimately bound up with the functions of the police because they all address the central problem posed by events or behaviour which ought not to be happening”.
However, the fact remains that the police assist other social control agencies through many of their actions. The paramount role the police play in ensuring societal laws, norms and values are kept and regulated made it one of the cogent institutions of the criminal justice system. Most Nigerians would not refute that the police institution is the nearest institution with regular contact with the people, making it distinctive amongst other criminal justice institutions. The uniqueness of the police clenches the evidence that its decision and action on the street or in society is vital to the existence of the criminal justice system. The police are the “gatekeeper” of the criminal justice system, and it decides who moves into the system and who comes out. Therefore, every action or activity carried out by the police have myriad and huge implications for the criminal justice system and other institutions.
Furthermore, to understand the contemporary Nigerian police and the anti-people administration they portend, it’s paramount to trace back to the history of policing and the colonial policies that influenced the current bureaucratic policing we have today. The history of policing predates the modification of the police as a permanent occupational group within bureaucratic institutions providing the primary state response to crime and disorder. In the past, before the emergence of the contemporary police we have today, it was traditionally the duty of all adults in the community, especially male adults, to prevent, control, and guide people from internal and external inversion and aversion. However, the emergence of the state with its wide bureaucracies brought about centralization, hierarchical authority, power structure and professionalism and the traditional strategies of policing were transformed from everyone’s business to the state business.
The historical emergence of the conventional police over the globe occurred independently; nevertheless, the historical emergence of policing in Nigeria is categorized into three. The first category is the pre-colonial category which policing then includes the use of cults, messengers, secret societies and palace guards. Crime surveillance and curtailing then in Nigeria were executed by indigenous institutions which are regionally based. The Northern and Southern Districts of the country’s system of policing were established on centralization and formalization. In the Northern parts of Nigeria, monopolized by the Hausa-speaking ethnic group, the Dogarai was employed as the bodyguards of the Sark( Emir or King). They refine full-time policing in the community. Under the leadership of the Dogarai, the Sarkin Dogarai was charged with capturing and disciplining offenders and protecting the town from internal and external invasions. Similarly, in the Yoruba-speaking ethnic group of Western Nigeria, the Ilari, Emese, or even the Aguven was responsible for apprehending or arresting criminals.
In the secondary category, which is the colonial period, the system and principles of policing changed and became anti-people. The vitality of establishing the formal police by the colonial masters was essentially to serve and protect their commercial interests and not the people. It’s a reason we have brutal and anti-people policing in Nigeria today. I’ll justify that in the next paragraph when I’m discussing the post-colonial category of policing. The third category, which is the post-colonial category, the leftover system in the pre-colonial category, which is anti-people policing, was still carried to this period, even when the colonial masters left, and this is evidence of why the style of law enforcement used by the Nigerian police today is not for the masses.
The Nigerian police, without a doubt, have lost confidence in the hearts of the people, and there have been accused of unnecessary arrest and even breach of law. But we can’t deny that the Nigerian police from inception was built upon the wrong foundation because the British established a predatory police administration for Nigeria for the fundamental purpose and strategy of sustaining, promoting, and ensuring the socio-economic and political orientations and occupations of the colonial masters.
In conclusion, the current pervasive feelings of insecurity and the near-total breakdown of law and order as a result of the upsurge in different criminal activities, like terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, political assassinations, and ritual killings, in Nigeria is an indictment of the failure of the Nigeria police force as the most visible agent of formal social control and the gatekeeper of the criminal justice system in the country. However, despite these shortcomings, the Nigerian police force remains a vital pillar through which conformity and maintenance of order are installed.
Hassan Idris is a sociologist and poet and sent this article via firstname.lastname@example.org.