Rethink Policing, shut down Police Barracks: they were built as concentration-camp-like infrastructure for breeding indigenous militia as ‘attack dogs’ against colonial dissent

The police barracks served essentially to isolate, separate, or sequester local militia, organized by the colonial authorities, from their kit and kin, castrating them of any emotional attachments and relationships, inoculating the police militia against filial or kindred spirits and passion, and transfusing that with such venom (mental realignment and character inclinations) to regard their common-folk as “enemies of state.”

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It is simply a confusion of objectives to continue to work at maintaining law and order through the instrumentality of the same facilities created primarily to sustain the oppression of a colonized people, even after political independence, and expect to build civil societies out of Africa’s post-colonial states.

In his contribution to the Lamprace, Kunle Opeyemi says that police barracks, where men and officers of the Police are housed in isolation from the rest of the civil population, ought to be disbanded or shut down. His argues that by virtue of the political independence of Africans, Africans have become “citizens” of various nation states, whereas the barracks were a facility designed for effective policing of “colonial slaves or subjects.”

The fingerprints of contemporary policing in most African nations are traceable to the century-long colonialism. Many of the post-colonial African States continue to apply the policies, practices, and behaviours of the colonial policing system. This situation continues to affect the legitimacy of the police services in these countries.

Prior to the onset of colonization, traditional African policing methods were rooted in the community and closely interlinked with social and religious structures.

The enforcement of traditional customs and beliefs was carried out by community structures such as age grades, secret societies or vocational guilds (such as hunters, farmers or fishermen).

By such human policing architecture, African communities were at the vanguard of their own policing. Through these diffuse systems of crime control, law and order was maintained largely, without the need to resort to violence, and the legitimacy of policing was derived and gained.

The local chiefs or kings had the mandate to organize young and able men into small groups or units with the authority to patrol and enforce the bylaws of the community.

The powers of the traditional authorities gradually eroded when the Europeans conquered any African territory, sometimes employing the support of the traditional police, but essentially establishing their own official police force.

While the British in Nigeria, executed a deliberate strategy of utilizing men and officers from the linguistically and culturally distinct Hausa ethnic group from the north of the country to provide the manpower for policing the Lagos colony, it depended on the Hausa chiefs and emirs to provide policing for the north under the regime of indirect rule. 

Most of the recruits into the Gold Coast Constabulary were of the Hausa extraction of Northern Nigeria, and they formed a unified force with the mandate to enforce the laws of imperialists, through brutalization. These recruits paved the way for suppression of the local people through violence.

The paramilitary-style behavior, according to Appiagyei-Atua, earned the Hausa Constabulary the nickname ’buga–buga,’ which literally means ‘beat–beat’ in Hausa.

A key characteristic of the colonial police force was that the majority of its constables were illiterate and training was heavily militarized. In the words of Quantson: “The police officers had attitudes that generated intimidation and bullying with an almost robotic obedience to repressive colonial laws that were regime-centered.’

To the extent of indoctrinating African police recruits and creating bullies out of them to torment their own kind, the motive for setting up police barracks by the colonial authorities had been realized.

The police barracks served essentially to isolate, separate, or sequester local militia, organized by the colonial authorities, from their kit and kin, castrating them of any emotional attachments and relationships, inoculating the police militia against filial or kindred spirits and passion, and transfusing that with such venom (mental realignment and character inclinations) to regard their common-folk as “enemies of state.”

With the environment for incarceration of humanity which police barracks and colonial police cells provided, the militiamen were well “conditioned’ to demonizing, brutalizing, and killing their own, just to protect European interests.

While serving as push-button ‘forward operating bases’ for the deployment of troops to ‘raid and plunder’ local populations, the barracks were to become more like concentration camps for breeding the native police as ‘attack dogs’ against colonial dissent.

Sadly, the reality is that in most of Africa’s pre-colonial States, from Nigeria through Ghana, to South Africa, and Zimbabwe, police barracks have remained a regular feature and subsisting infrastructure of policing.

Generally, the principles behind colonial policing centre on three major objectives. The first was to establish and promote security for trade in European goods; the second was to serve as a vanguard for colonial expansion into the hinterland for increased exploitation of agricultural and mineral resources, and the third was to protect the ruling and propertied classes.

The local people, during the era of colonization, were considered a threat to colonial rule, and were consequently suppressed through aggressive policing methods. As a result, policing was ultimately an instrument used to legitimize colonial rule rather than to provide essential security services to the local population.

Mr. Opeyemi concludes by holding that policing will be enriched by dismantling the barracks, and empowering every all police personnel to live in the midst of the civil population. Intelligence gathering will flow naturally, and rapid response to criminalities might become ubiquitous.

Moreover, shutting down these barracks, not the police stations, will lift the psychological and economic yoke of maintaining them from African societies.

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