New Telegraph

State police and the urgency of now

There is no doubt that growing insecurity across the country portends a grave danger to the country’s continued existence. From the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North-East geopolitical zone to banditry and kidnapping in the North-West; farmers/herders clash in the North Central; militancy cum oil theft in the South-South and agitation for self-determination in the South-East, the picture is a nation at war with itself. The Boko Haram insurgency that is driven by Islamic extremists has not only claimed thousands of lives and property worth billions of naira, it has turned millions of Nigerians to refugees in their own country. Across most northern states and even in neigbouring Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon, are camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The crisis, which has lasted over a decade, brought economic activities in the affected states to a halt, while rebuilding efforts by the Federal Government in conjunction with donor agencies have gulped billions of naira. While the Federal Government in 2015, pronounced Boko Haram “technically defeated,” most Nigerians believe that the insurgents have remained an everpresent threat.

For the bandits ravaging the North-West, kidnapping for ransom and cattle rustling have become lucrative businesses. In the oil-rich but impoverished South-South, sabotage of pipelines by oil thieves has become legendary. Similarly, rising ethnic tension over activities of killer herdsmen across the country has not only exposed the heterogeneous nature of the country, but the tendency of the various ethnic nationalities towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness hence gradually driving Nigeria to the edge. The conflict, which has claimed thousands of lives, is mainly as a result of disputes over land resources between mostly Muslim Fulani herders and mainly Christian farmers. Though the impact of the crisis has been more devastating in the North Central since 1999, the herders have advanced towards the southern part of the country, thereby shifting the battleground. Separatist agitation in the South-East, on its part, has devasted the zone. Despite these security challenges, successive governments, particularly the immediate past Muhammadu Buhari administration, repeatedly allayed the fears of most Nigerians on growing insecurity. The Federal Government, under Buhari, repeatedly declared that it will not yield ground to those it termed “divisive elements.” No doubt, the Buhari administration made appreciable progress in the war against terror in the North-East by galvanizing Nigeria’s neighbours and the global community against the insurgents, however, rebuilding of the zone has been at a huge cost.

The World Bank at a time announced that it earmarked $800 million to support the rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed in the North-East by Boko Haram. While kudos should go to the Buhari government for restoring peace to the troubled North-East, other existential threats whittled the gains of the war against insurgency. These security challenges, at a time, prompted some stakeholders to call on Nigerians to bear arms and defend themselves as the Federal Government seems to have failed to perform its core function of protection of lives and property. But justifiable as this proposal sound, some individuals, who warned against the dangers of such measure, recalled how several non-state actors emerged across the country in the name of protecting their respective zones, only for them to transform to self-determination groups. Interestingly, calls for Nigerians to take up arms and defend themselves against criminal elements have resurfaced given resurgent killings across the country with the inception of the Bola Tinubu administration. The new president is barely two months in office but reports have it that over 237 Nigerians were killed in his first month in office. States that are worst hit in the renewed killings are Plateau and Benue. The South-East is also not left out as several lives have been lost between May 29 and now due to the stay-at-home directive ordered by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Tinubu’s riot act

While Nigerians grapple with the security challenges, President Tinubu, who promised in his inaugural speech on May 29, to “defend the nation from terror and all forms of criminality that threaten the peace and stability of our country” as well as “to effectively tackle this menace, we shall reform both our security doctrine and its architecture,” charged the service chiefs to work together in order to strengthen the fight against insecurity.

The President, on June 19, appointed new service chiefs, an acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) and a National Security Adviser (NSA). The new service chiefs are General Chris Musa (Chief of Defence Staff – CDS), Lt. GeneraTaoreed Lagbaja (Chief of Army Staff – COAS), Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla (Chief of Naval Staff – CNS) and Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar (Chief of Air Staff – CAS). Kayode Egbetokun, a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), was appointed as Acting Inspector-General of Police, while a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, was named as NSA. Reading the riot act to the security chiefs in his first meeting with them on July 3, President Tinubu charged them to work as a team to secure the country. Ribadu, who addressed journalists after the meeting, said: “He (Tinubu) gave us the assurance that he’s with us a hundred per cent. He told us we must work as a team and that there’s work to be done. He will expect us to deliver and we are grateful for the opportunity. “We are going to work tirelessly to ensure we accomplish that objective of securing our country, establishing peace, stability and getting our lives back. Things are improving in our country. If you see, the record of crimes and activities of criminals are going down. It will continue to go down. We’ll secure this place. Nigerians have seen the quality of people that are given opportunity. They are probably some of the best we have, and they are not going to fail you.

They will certainly deliver.” The President reiterated the charge, while reacting to killings in Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State and parts of Benue State. The President, who said he found it very depressing the festering reprisal attacks, needless and avoidable bloodletting among communities in Plateau and Benue, urged community leaders, religious leaders, traditional rulers, socio-cultural organisations as well as the leadership of Arewa Consultative Forum, Jama’atu Nasril Islam and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to work together to help foster genuine and long-lasting peace, while rebuilding trust and restoring harmony to the conflict areas. His words: “It is most unfortunate that in this orgy of violence, an innocent eight-month-old baby in Farin Lamba community of Vwang District, Jos South Local Government, died in a conflict she knew nothing about. A major consequence of perennial conflict is always the tragic loss of innocent lives. To build virile, peaceful and prosperous communities demand tolerance and forgiveness for every perceived wrongdoing.” The President reiterated his resolve, when he averred that “security is paramount in my administration’s agenda because women bear the cost of insecurity anywhere in the world. Issues of insecurity are being discussed at the highest level and this administration will ensure that insecurity is halted immediately.”

Echoes of state police

While Tinubu reaffirmed his government’s strong determination to stamp out violent crimes and all forms of criminalities everywhere in Nigeria, it is echoes of state police, which its proponents, strongly believe will ensure better security for citizens’ lives and property given that the Nigeria Police Force that is saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order have failed in its responsibility. Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which deals with the operation, control, discipline and promotion in the police as well as Item 45 of the Exclusive Legislative List, Part 1 of the second schedule of the same constitution, provide that the Nigerian Police Force shall be under exclusive control of the Federal Government. Section 214 of the constitution states: “There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the federation or any part thereof.”

The constitution, also in Section 215 (2) states that “the Nigeria Police Force shall be under the command of the Inspector-General of Police and any contingents of the Nigeria Police Force stationed in a state shall, subject to the authority of the Inspector-General of Police, be under the command of Commissioner of Police of that state.” This provision, practically takes away the powers of governors, who are the chief security officers of their respective states thereby making it difficult for them to take actions on matters of security without approval of the Federal Government even in times of emergency. This, perhaps, explains why calls for restructuring of Nigeria, which has been in the front burner for some time, has establishment of state-controlled police as part of its demands. Interestingly, President Tinubu, as governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, was in the vanguard of the call for the Federal Government to review relevant sections of the constitution to allow states to establish and maintain their own police forces as practiced in most advanced democracies. He then said that over N12 billion, which the Lagos State government spends annually on the police in the state, was more than enough for the Lagos to float and sustain its own police force. While the then Olusegun Obasanjoled Federal Government did not heed the call, Tinubu’s successor, Babatunde Fashola, who sustained the campaign, argued that opposition to establishment of state police structures has largely been driven by an exaggerated, misleading and unfounded precedent that focuses more on the abuse of state police through political interference and manipulation rather than its benefits.
The debate on the issue, however, got to a height in 2012, when the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), under the leadership of the then governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, called on the Federal Government to consider the establishment of state police. But, then President Goodluck Jonathan, who held a contrary view, insisted that Nigeria was not yet democratically ripe for the establishment of state police forces as there is a great likelihood that it would be misused. His words: “State police may be theoretically good, but looking at our political environment, it could be abused to the detriment of the country. The consensus is that we should get to the point, where we will be sure that whoever is in power will not turn it against the people. The first step is for us to have confidence in elections conducted at the state and local government levels.” The bid by the governors to have state police was rekindled in 2017, when they set up a committee to look into the possibility of allowing states to establish their own police forces. The committee was headed by the then governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed, with then governors Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti), Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi) and Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) as members. Then NGF chairman, Abdulaziz Yari, assured Nigerians that the committee will look at the various options and come up with a safe way of policing Nigeria. However, not much was heard about the committee afterward. It was a similar story in 2019, when the umbrella body of governors of the 36 states of the federation toyed with the idea of state police. Central policing structure The conception of police force stems from the need for the protection and enforcement of the law, and the Nigeria Police Force is not an exception. It is the brainchild of the British colonial government and dates back to 1861, following the annexation of Lagos.

The British Consul charged with the administration of Lagos established a Consular Guard by the Police Ordinance of 1861 to help maintain law and order. The imperialist administration followed this up in 1879, with a 1,200 paramilitary Hausa Constabulary. Seventeen years later, it formed the Lagos Police, and in 1894, the Niger Coast Constabulary in Calabar, under the authority of Niger Coast Protectorate. In 1888, the Royal Niger Company set up the Royal Niger Company Constabulary in Lokoja. These were collapsed in the early 1900s into two; the Northern and the Southern Nigeria Police. Although there was an amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914, the two regions maintained their separate police forces until 1930, when they were merged to form the Nigeria Police Force. The merger is what has grown to become the centralised police system although it is on record that the unified structure co-existed with police forces in the then Western and Northern Nigeria (excluding Eastern Region) until the military coup of January 15, 1966, when the provision in the 1963 Constitution, authorising the establishment of local police was abrogated. The then military regime hinged its decision on the assumption that the local police, especially in the Western Region, witnessed mass recruitment of party thugs, while in the North, it was a case of oppression of political opponents. It is on record that the Native Authority Police not only earned notoriety for using undue coercion and intimidation to enlist support for the ruling parties in the respective regions, it denied opposition parties permits for rallies and generally enforced the obnoxious an ‘unlawful assembly’ law.

Arguments for and against state police

While many are of the view that Nigeria is still not yet ripe for state police as there are no guarantees that state the governors will not like in the past, abuse the system, there is no doubt that this is at variance with what operates in most countries that practice the federal system of government. In the United States that Nigeria’s federal structure is fashioned after, there are several police agencies that exist separately. While the state police take charge of highways and enforcement of state laws, cities have their separate police bodies under the authority of commissioners, who are appointees of the mayors. Some cynics of state police, believe that its establishment will lead to eventual disintegration of Nigeria because of existential threats, which may force some of the states to use the police under their respective control to the detriment of national interest. These pessimists also expressed the belief that state police is likely to be misused by governors, especially against members of the opposition although the same could equally be said of the party at the centre as it is also alleged that the Federal Government has continuously used the police to rig elections. But those who believe that it is time for establishment of state police, are of the view that that those opposed to it are shying away from reality. They added that there is an urgent need to amend the constitution to allow for its realisation.

According to them, establishment of independent police units managed and funded by state governments will ensure effective policing of lives and property in the country. They attributed the inefficiency of the Nigeria Police Force to under-funding and administrative bottlenecks, noting that it is herculean for an individual to control the police force in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. They also noted that it is irrational for governors as chief security officers in their respective states not to have absolute control of instruments of security. Ondo State governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who has persistently maintained that the present chain of command in the police force is not working in the interest of Nigerians, once said: “There are lots of problems we have with our security architecture in this country. We have said and what we know is that the police are overstretched. As long as we have this structure, it is not going to be an effective one.” He added: “If we are talking about the security of our people, we are talking about the protection of lives and property. All of us are thinking about what can be effective, so there must be a change in our security architecture.

To have a single command will not be in the interest of the country. “You cannot be in Abuja and be directing all affairs all over the state. Some of us are firm believers in what we call state police. The time has come. We cannot continue in this manner and expect that we have effective policing of lives and property.” A chieftain of apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Chekwas Okorie, who spoke on the issue, told New Telegraph that Nigeria is too large for a central police command. He said: “I have always suggested the need for state police because the nation is large in terms of population and landmass, so the issue of state and community policing should be a priority. But, while waiting for the necessary amendments to the constitution for that to take effect, we can start by directing that all police personnel should return to their states of origin to police their areas. “You cannot send a Christian Igbo man to Zamfara, a pure Muslim state and expect him to perform as a police officer.

First, communication will be an issue. Secondly, he won’t even know what he will do that will not amount to blasphemy and before he knew it, his head would be on the spike, being celebrated that he has offended the religion of the people. “In the South too, you see some policemen posted to the region, who cannot communicate in any form of English even if it is Pigeon English. I don’t even know their level of qualification that enabled them to be recruited into the police force. You will discover that you are in trouble if you don’t have anybody, who speaks Hausa around you any time you encounter them. “It has happened to me severally but because I have aides, who speak Hausa, I was able to navigate my way. Once they speak the Hausa language, things get easier, but it shouldn’t be so. You can imagine what those who are on the lower level of importance in the society go through in the hands of these policemen. “This makes some people to have a feeling of an ‘occupation army’ instead of the police. So, I suggest that we should start tinkering with the police structure by allowing the lower ranks of the police to go to their states of origin and police their localities because it would be easier for us to identify bad eggs in the force. “The situation we have now is one that people, who complain about activities of some errant policemen get detained or are ignored by police authorities. So, how can intelligence gathering can be effective, when people in the local communities do not trust those they are giving such intelligence to?”

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