In the last two weeks I participated in two wonderful visits to police stations in Lagos through my partnership with the CLEEN Foundation, and support of Research and Planning Associate, Raphael Mbaegbu. During my first visit, to Ilupeju police station on the Lagos Mainland, I met with the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Gbolahan L. M. Olugbemi and the Social/Publicity Secretary of the Police Community Relations Commute (PCRC), Prince M. Sanya Takuro. Ilupeju Police Station was voted the best police station in Africa a few years ago, as well as the best in Nigeria, and is a stunning example of the power of community and police partnership for holistic development. One of the most significant attributions of their work is an emphasis on the respect and dignity of officers working at the station. The PCRC took it upon their own agency to raise the funds to create a clean and comfortable canteen space for the officers so they feel well attended to and care for their personal hygiene and belongings. Their own ease and feeling of respect trickles down to the respect they show for offenders and the process of law. Offenders at the station are treated well, and with clean and decent facilities. There is even a Human Rights Desk at the station (see photo) and a strong discourse on maintaining high human rights standards and proceedings.
What struck me the most about my visit in Ilupeju was the pride I felt from the two men I spoke with. Both exhibited a true sense of excitement and confidence in talking about their work and the station, and in wanting to share the stories of their success and awards. It is not the awards that matter as much to them as the peace they feel in the community and the fluidity of the dialogue between officers, DPO, community members, families and all at stake for community building. Takuro showed me the map on display in their office which was apart of CLEEN’s Crime Mapping project and survey, to provide an appropriate accessible tool for tracking community demographics and activity. Furthermore, Police Station and the DPO’s numbers are posted (see top photo) in front of the station so that officers, and even the DPO, are always reachable by phone for consistent contact and accountability. While I was at the station, one of the local tribal leaders casually entered the DPO’s officer and sat down and joined us in our discussion – his comfort in relating to the DPO revealed the strength of their relationship and communication.
At the Central Lagos Island Police Station, DPO Monday Agbonika (far left in above photo) also spoke with humility about his incredible work in developing a truly holistic approach to community revitalization and safety through the police force. His approach follows a set of doctrines which adhere attention to: the area boys (participating in fighting and street crime) as victims, a centrality and sensitivity to gender based violence and domestic abuse, and most significantly, to an open communication stream between police and the community including religious and tribal leaders. In Nigeria, and the US might I add, the police is not so often a trusted resource, so this model is truly unique and inspiring.
Sefiat Akeem, (right in above photo), the Divisional Crime Officer at the Central Lagos Island Police Station, heads its effort for addressing the widespread extent of gender based violence and rape in the community. A female officer is positioned at the entrance to the Police Station so that any woman who arrives at the gate to report sexual assault is greeted by a fellow woman who is trained in gender based violence sensitivity – a product of workshops from Project Alert (see previous Blog post). The female officer gently asks the patron if she is OK, and what has brought her to the station. If the patron feels comfortable, the female officer then proceeds to ask her if she would like to follow her to a private room where she can recount her experience. Agbonika explained that this alternative counters the norm at many stations where a woman arrives following her abuse, only to be confronted by a group of male officers that belittle her experience, and often condone her with such comments as, “Well, you must have enjoyed it!” or “Then why didn’t you stop him?’ Agbonika further commented that this model puts the victim at the forefront of the proceeding, so that her experience is heard and validated, rather than pushed to the background as the police become consumed in finding and trying the perpetrator. In the case of his station’s action, the perpetrator is immediately sought out and brought before the court, while the victim is keenly attended to and prioritized in processing and finding treatment for her experience. The victim, or rather survivor, is the most important stakeholder.
A large map decorates one wall of Agbonika’s office – a product of his own trainings with the CLEEN Foundation. However, as a recent appointee to the Central Lagos Island station he put forth his own effort in creating the map upon his arrival. He told me that such a map did not even exist in Lagos so he had to log onto Google Maps to find the area, and then have it blown up to size and mounted. Blue push pins indicate recent ‘alarming’ activity on the community radar, and red pins – which did currently exist on the map – show area boy activity. In the month of October, he proudly told me that there have been no reported incidents of area boys’ violent or criminal behavior – a true testament to his genuine work in integrating himself to their circles. Unlike many officers he sees them as victims of their own urban environment, and as allies in stopping community violence. What Agbonika has done that many DPO’s (and other heads of government and business) have lacked to do, is to give up some of his own legislative power to come down to the level of the average person – and meet them in true level dialogue. Rather than seeing the community as a space of violence and criminality he enters the streets and neighborhoods as a pedestrian, greeting people and taking in their every day grievances and suggestions.
A victim-based approach to the area boys also resonates with Professor Abubakar Momoh’s own report on the area boys in which he indicates the extent to which they have been misunderstood or wrongfully blamed for most of societal crime. The area boys are simply young – and older men- reacting to the limitations of their urban environment, as well as the impacts of societal burdens such as immigration influx, lack of jobs, and significant social resources and capital- food, water and money.
Space is continuously surfaced as central issue in many of my research interviews icnlduing Mr. Agbonika. There is simply not enough space in Lagos, and not enough personal space for people, who are sharing 1 bedroom apartments with 10 people. They then enter the streets to find the same sort of cramping of bodies, competing for air and square feet, with cars, buses, animals, vendors, hawkers, and foggy air. Crampness creates stress and anger, frustration and irritability, and vulnerability to the quickness of jumping to REACT. Quickness as well in jumping to escape urban reality through drug use, and the instinct gratification of making money through selling drugs and most of all, extortion of passerbys. The word ‘area boy’ in fact translates to “son of the owner of the land” or “outdoor boy,” essentially, “I own this land.” For a group of young people that have felt perhaps the most dis-empowered by their society, owning their land or turf becomes their methodology of reclaiming/creating power for themselves, by at the cost of whom? Perhaps most interesting is how often the upper class comments on the lawless of the area boys, their corruption and its effect on their lives. But are they ones most affected? Granted they are the ones who often encounter them in bus parks and other public spaces where they demand money, and maybe threaten with weapons or glass bottles. But, it is the fellow community members struggling to live in homeostasis with them, in these tight spaces they pay the biggest price. When Mr. Agbonika asked community members in Lagos Island what their biggest qualm was, they were the ones who responded, “Youth fighting each other.”
“Bad boys” and the Lagos Area Boys are a central part of my research as I look to understand youth crime and violence, as well comparative youth experiences across various countries’ pertinent cultural, economic and political histories. I will write more extensively on this topic on my subsequent blog post, “Bad Boys.”
Both stations I visited offered a solid perspective on how to effectively integrate human rights, gender based violence and community policing trainings and skills into a soundly working model of systematic practices. Both DPO’s expressed remorse for the ramped nature of prison overcrowding and corruption crippling the justice system in Nigeria from the top level down to the street. Better communication and oversight across various sectors including judiciary, magistrates, prison officials and police will produce resoluble accountability and efficient discourse, according to both men.
I look forward to further collaboration with the two stations as my research continues, and to the opportunity to work with youth in their home-base communities.