The state police revisited

Inspector-General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris

It is astonishing, indeed shocking, that any group would still oppose the establishment of state police in this country in this day and age, especially given the grim security challenges Nigeria has been facing for a long while. The security situation is made much more frightening when the opposition is coming from a major association of leaders who are expected to be exposed, enlightened and deep. They are leaders who are expected to consider where we are coming from, survey where we are and, like prophets, look into the future and chart a path, in collaboration with sister associations across the country for the good and wellbeing of everyone in the land. It appears this is expecting too much from the Arewa Consultative Forum. It cannot be that this body, comprising eminent men of wisdom borne out of experience, learning and thinking, cannot see the danger in which the country is and the Armageddon staring it in the face if we do not diversify, broaden and fortify our security architecture.

Mr. Anthony Sani, Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum, made the position of his organization known, employing the same shibboleth; the same old hat, that state police would be misused by the state governors. He went on to say all that is needed is funding, training and raising the numerical strength of the police under the current arrangement—all of which we had heard and as much as practicable done. He conveniently cited the abuse to which they have subjected the State Electoral Commission in their domain. He said the party in power in the states wins all local government elections. On the surface, true. However, the reason for that lies in the present structure of the country. It is such that not many people place much count on local government elections. How many are interested or even aware, how much more participate in the polls? The councils hardly deliver, and the perception is that they are there only to share monthly allocations. How many even know their councilors, how much more their chairmen? A great many regard the local councils as at now constituted as a joke, let’s face it. Is it any wonder that many distance themselves from local government elections—waiting until the country is restructured and states decide the nature of local councils they would have and the number. In the United States, to an average American, his mayor is more important and relevant to his life than the president. After the mayor comes the governor in his reckoning. That is where the mayor delivers. In such a situation why will the contestation not be keen and attract participation by all in the borough? But can anyone distance himself from the issue of security?

The face of government you encounter in any community is the police. You see the police and there is the feeling of an assurance that all is well, that you are secure. It is not for nothing that therefore that the police authorities launch their sing-song: The police is your friend. The constitution says the governor is the chief security officer of his state. What this says to us is that there is a nexus between the police and the governor whose face the policeman symbolizes and in whose name he swears. I will come back to this point presently. What I am getting at is that we cannot confuse oranges with apple. We cannot liken the establishment of state police with election of councilors for now in our clime.

The position of Arewa Consultative Forum comes on the heels of the seeming new thinking in the Presidency brilliantly espoused by the vice-president at a recent security summit organised by the Senate, a position shared and fortified by the Governors’ Forum. At this time, the backyard of the Governor Abdullaziz Yari of Zamfara State who is the chairman of the Governors’ Forum and their spokesman, was on fire in which no fewer than 31 persons died. The rejection of the proposal is also coming at a time the All Progressives Congress leaders are beginning to work on the Malam Nasir el-Rufai Committee Report on Restructuring. The establishment of state police features conspicuously in it.

Having state police has been a subject of our national debate since the return to a democratic order, the Fourth Republic, in1999. The plank on which the argument for it has rightly been anchored is that a centralized police system is antithesis to the letter and spirit of federalism. There is hardly any federal state with diverse people that operates a centralized police system. There is no way it will not lead to acrimony and hostilities. If we have elected a federal republic, it means we have chosen what we think is good for us as country of several of over 500 nationalities as discovered by the 2014 National Conference, with different culture, aspirations and worldview. Policing is a veritable instrument of federalism for the federating units to run their affairs. As former Governor Jonah Jang was wont to remind us: “We cannot be calling ourselves a federation and be running a unitary system of government. The two don’t work together.” He said to The Sun newspaper, “If we want to run a federal system of government we should run it properly. It is unfortunate that during the military which I was part of, we believed in a unitary system and any time we were in power we ran a unitary system and when we were trying to give the nation a constitution we ended up giving the nation a unitary constitution to be operated in a federal system of government, that is why nothing is working. So, if we really want to progress as a country we must restructure the country.”

It has been the same superficial argument of the state police being misused by governors that has been used to stall it. Former President Ibrahim Babangida contributing to the debate last year said the fear of misuse is unfounded and indeed, exaggerated. He should know. Joseph Daodu, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, in the heat of the debate, put it in all striking simplicity that state police is for law and order. Can anything be greater than simplicity? In living higher knowledge, it is said in simplicity lies greatness. It is amazing that given the security uncertainty and criminality that pervade the land we can still afford to delude ourselves into believing that the problem of insecurity would go away without the establishment of state police. It is astonishing that any group would claim not see how compelling and urgent the setting up of state police is.

Vice-President Osinbajo had said that it had become difficult for the Federal Government to provide security for the country from Abuja in view of the fact that Nigeria had failed to meet the United Nations requirement of a policeman to 400 people. Governor Henry Dickson on his part corroborating what Prof. Osinbajo said went on to argue that the prevailing security situation and the need for an effective response to the challenge had made the establishment of state police mandatory. His conviction on the imperative and effectiveness of state police is borne out of the fact that the personnel would be drawn from the localities that make up the state. Such personnel would be able to access valuable information required to track crime and criminals. He went on to state that the current federally controlled police had become overstretched due to the wide ratio of the police to the rapid increase in population.

These are self-evident predicaments in which the country has been plunged by those who can be said to be either ignorant, deliberately callous or enlightened but are of impure motives. Look at the figures: As of last month, specifically 13 February, 2018, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons, more widely known as IDPs, in the North East and North Central is estimated to be over two million. With the figure it is said Nigeria is host to the sixth largest IDP population in the world. Borno, Adamawa Yobe States as of now have the largest number of IDPs, with approximately 1.68 million. In Maiduguri metropolis there are 528,000 IDPs. Together with its outskirts Maiduguri is reported to have seen its population double from one million to two million with people fleeing violent attacks in their ancestral communities. In Benue, there are 160,000 displaced people distributed in eight camps. Grieving Governor Sam Ortom announced that 60 more people were killed only last week by rampaging herdsmen despite what he called “the launching of Ayem A. Kpatuma military exercise to check the excesses of invaders.” Under this situation, should ordinary common sense and fellow feelings not tell us that we need to go outside the beaten track of federally controlled policing which, in the words of Governor Dickson, is already overstretched? House Speaker Dogara last year drew attention to the ubiquitous presence of the military everywhere even in civil matters the police ought to be able to sort out.

Several governors have resorted to clever security engineering to protect their states and people. Take Lagos as an example. Governor Ambode recruited 5,700 youths under its Neighbourhood Safety Corps initiative. “The move is another step towards enhancing security at the grassroots level in the state,” he said. The corps are expected to assist the police by providing useful intelligence for crime prevention and to facilitate the arrest of perpetrators of crime.” In August, barely two months of his mounting the saddle, the state security Fund (LSSSTF) gathered donations of N1billion at a dinner organised by the Trust Fund and the corporate organizations. In Kano, the then IG received 25 patrol vehicles from the state government. Kano facilitated the recruitment of 2,000 youths into a peace corps. The plan was to have 6,000 Peace Corps. The government paid N83million for their application forms and training of 2,000—N3million for forms and N80m for training. The government provided office space and accommodation. Although the Kano Police ordered the immediate closure of the outfit, it did not vitiate the felt need for another police formation, even if in disguise. In Kaduna the said Peace Corps was 4,363 strong, 1,060 of them females. It is this Peace Corps NAN reported last year the Senate had sought to legalize by passing its bill. President Buhari declined assent to the Bill on Tuesday. Its commandant, Sunday Baye said their training included parade, drills, first aid and safety lectures, although they were not armed. Their headquarters was in Abuja. Kaduna State’s El-Rufai established Kaduna State Vigilance Service Committee to replace several self-help groups in existence. All this shows that the governors are roaring to go. With all that, how can we continue to bury our heads in the sand like ostriches, pretending to be denying the imperative of state police at this hour?

I said in this column only less than a month ago that were there to be state police in Borno when the Boko Haram matters were brewing, through intelligence gathering because of familiarity with the land, and culture, they would have nibbed the plans in the bud. Should it appear to be getting out of hand from their analysis they would have moved swiftly to put the rebellion down. They would have given it their all rather than watch their society disintegrate socially and economically. Who can be happy seeing his own people wandering with few belongings on their heads and clutching the hands of their children, looking for an emergency place of abode, and then makeshift camps for IDPs who have been sacked from their homes by insurgents or herdsmen who also set their place on fire? How much misuse of the police by a governor would have landed us with the enormity of the horrendous devastation we are witnessing in the country today? Would Ortom have needed to wait on Abuja for the rescue of his people before restoring normalcy in the beleaguered territory? A governor who inflicts such destruction on his people using the state police would undoubtedly know he cannot get away with it.

The Yobe Governor, Ibrahim Gaidam cannot say he does not need police. He has just been caught in a ding dong blame game between the military and the police over the abduction in Dapchi. The Army said they redeployed their men, Nigerian Army 59 Task Force Battalion, from Dapchi to Kanama believing that Dapchi was settled and there was no threat to peace. The troops were drafted to Kanama on reinforcement after Nigerian soldiers came under heavy firepower there. Said Brig.-General Nwachukwu, the new Army spokesman, “…the threat was on Kanama where the insurgents were carrying out attacks along the Nigerian-Nigerien border.”

In the United States, any university with a student population of 5,000 is expected to have its own police. In most Western world, not only are there local council police, but also city police and metropolitan police. In the first Republic a region such as the West, had a three-tier policing system, the local police (Akoda), the regional and the federal called Olopa Eko – neat, smart and efficient, professional, respectable and respected. And you hardly saw soldiers.

It is important to stress that the establishment of state police will not be tantamount to the abolition of the federal police. They will work collaboratively under guidelines on distribution of responsibilities and duties. The guidelines will undoubtedly safeguard any possibility of abuse such as taking the appointment of the state police commission away from the governor. It can be worked out such that members of the commission drawn largely from civil societies, religious organizations such as CAN, the Bar and retired Justices, appoint their own successors every 10 years. There will certainly be ideas, for where there is a will there must be a way. It is certainly strange that states make laws they do not have the police to enforce; they are at the mercy of the federal authorities. That is not acceptable.

States which are not ready to establish their own police do not have to; they can wait until they are able or collaborate with some contiguous states. They may decide not to have at all. However, those states which feel the need ought not to be deterred from establishing theirs.

Speaking last year on the subject of restructuring behind which he threw his full weight, Babangida said, “Added to this desire is the need to commence the process of having state police across the states of the federation…The initial fears that state governors will misuse the officers and men of the state police have become increasingly eliminated with renewed vigour in citizens’ participation in and confidence to interrogate power. We cannot be detained by those fears and allow civilization to leave us behind. We must as a people with one destiny and common agenda take decisions for the sake of posterity in our shared commitment to launch our country on the path of development and growth. Policing has become so sophisticated that we cannot continue to operate our old methods and expect different results.”
Do I need to say more? Words of wisdom, indeed.

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Anthony SaniState Police

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