The statutory role of Nigeria’s police authority as enshrined by the constitution is the protection of the country’s citizenry from any domestic or foreign attacks. It does not get any simpler than that, really. In essence, every police man and woman, by virtue of the authority vested in him or her by the Nigerian people is a servant of the people whose taxes keep him/her equipped, trained and sustained. By extension, the police are only able to function optimally if the society in which they operate is habitable, conducive, respectful and cooperative – In an ideal, utopian society, and indeed other parts of the world, this is the case.

In Nigeria, however, it is a completely different tale. Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the Nigerian Police Force has witnessed a steady decline in professionalism and performance. The said decline was undoubtedly hastened by successive military regimes which perhaps wittingly and deliberately undermined the police by the provision of insufficient budgets and a general nonchalant attitude to the police’s role in domestic security. Corruption, widely regarded as the country’s albatross, has also contributed in small way to the decay in the Nigerian police. Successive administrations and police authorities have at different times been fingered in the misappropriation of funds meant for the force – not too long ago, an Inspector General of Police, the highest ranking police officer in the country, was convicted of looting billions of naira meant for the development of the police force.

The fallout of these incidents have been well documented: a police force generally regarded as inept, reckless, poorly trained, unequipped and predisposed to extra-judicial killings. This has led to a general distrust of the police, supported by frequent criticism from civil rights coalitions and foreign governments alike. An inherent danger in all of this remains that the police force cannot function without cooperation from the public, and the public itself is left unprotected without a functioning police force.

The issues are many: an insecure country repels Foreign Direct Investment and creates tension in the economy. Not only does this limit the country’s economic viability, it also negates the country’s image in the community of nations.

Various policies, initiatives and strategies have been proffered as viable solutions to this problem including constitutional amendments to certain rebranding attempts. While laudable, it is important to note that these initiatives and attempts could have perhaps had better results if Public Relations strategies had been employed. This is because the police problem, other than being symptomatic of a national decline, is an image problem and who better to manage an image than a PR professional? In light of this, it is important to consider the role of community relations as a veritable tool for improved police functionality in the public. The police needs to actively engage the public – stakeholder meetings, citizen engagement and increased participation in civic duties. By actively engaging the public, the police can effectively regain the trust of the people.

Community relations will slowly but surely help in rebuilding the public trust in the police force. It is not a sure-fire approach though; community relations thrive in tandem with other supporting policy overhauls.