Again, on state police
Coming barely few weeks after the unexpected recommendation of restructuring, state police and devolution of powers by a committee of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC), Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s endorsement of state police may well be an expression of the administration’s resolve to give the needed attention to the problem of widespread insecurity in the country. It is a bold and renewed emphasis on the diverse and peculiar nature of law enforcement and security management. If that is the case, then there is hope that this administration has an understanding of restructuring.
Osinbajo, who made this known at the two-day National Security Summit organized by the Senate, did not mince words when he flayed the structure of security apparati in the country by declaring his support for the establishment of state police. He must have rattled the proponents of unitarism as he argued: “We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go… For a country our size, meeting the one policeman to 400 persons ratio prescribed by the UN would require triple our current police force, far more funding of the police force and far more funding of our military and other security agencies.”
Osinbajo’s declaration is an affirmation of his consistency on the issue, for this is not the first time that the Vice President would make a call for state police. A little over a year ago, he had advocated for the introduction of state police, through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, in a radio programme at the Akure-based Orange FM.
And the reasons, which appeal to common sense, are everywhere for all to see. For instance, concerning the force’s abysmal performance and unimpressive public image, senior police officers have argued that, to effectively check a crime committed within a 15-kilometres radius, policemen would have to worry about the working conditions of vehicles, if at all they are available, or whether or not they have superior fighting power over criminals, and other logistics. There have also been complaints about under-staffing and adequate manpower, even though the police are being lampooned for recruiting miscreants and persons of ill-repute.
Furthermore, the distance from the people both in terms of location and relation has prevented the police from adequately understanding the people they serve. It is this kind of professional short-sightedness that created such insensitivity and callousness that would make a police force public relations officer, who takes orders from the Inspector-General of Police in Abuja, to describe a mourning Governor Ortom of Benue State as a “drowning man …”
With the establishment of state police, rather than being hamstrung to effectively function by these incidents of discourteous vituperation and puerile insolence, the police would enjoy a healthy synergy with the community that yields fruitful results. A well-managed state police would also enable state communities to know the proper police/citizen ratio in their states as stipulated by global best practice. It would facilitate the creation of adequate and up-to-date statistics of crimes, and promote effective management of data. It will also put to rest the impunity perpetrated by a monopolistic police force that deploys officers to VIPs for personal security purposes.
For those sceptical about the modus operandi of the state police, and who think it will be an extension of the Office of the Governor, experts assert that constitutional provisions that will precede its establishment will codify the police institution in a deregulated manner according to laws, crimes and jurisdictions. In areas, where it is likely to be operational, the government would be so exposed and independent that public officers would be deterred from using state/community for evil.
Moreover, in the spirit of collaboration and purposeful nationhood, states of the federation that do not have the capacity to manage a police force of their own may either seek the assistance of neighbouring states or depend on the federal police. The argument here is that, for a united and greater Nigeria, states should be able to support, assist or help each other intellectually, financially.
Above all, the subsidiarity that will ensue is likely to foster a police force that would be service-oriented, business-minded and technology-driven. The resultant competition that will come out of this expanded police system will further enhance an appreciable sense of security in the people.
Despite the seeming inevitability of state police, certain people still express fear about its management by all the states of the federation. Given the capricious and whimsical nature of politics in this country, such fears are not unfounded. The volatility of social events and political activities, with their inbuilt tendency for rivalry, and the high premium placed on clannish loyalty, are likely inducements for governors to turn state police into ethnic militia. With the police under their control, governors, who ordinarily enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution in office, may become overlords to their people.
Besides, as experiences in some other climes have shown, mutual interest in a case by both federal and state authorities may lead to clashes between officers of the national police and state police in the prosecution of justice. And if not properly managed, such clashes may result in bad blood and deliberate obstruction of justice with fatal consequences. There are also fears that not every state has the financial capacity or the political will to establish state police.
Justified as these fears are, they are not really strong enough as arguments to oppose the establishment of state police. The weakness of this argument lies on the fact that, compared to the benefits of state police, the challenges of impunity and clashes of interest are merely aberrations of standard practice.In all, the fundamental argument in support of state police is that, beyond being a symbolic gesture of democracy, the seeming intractable problem of insecurity in the country has made the introduction of state police an imperative. As this paper has once argued, the call for state police is recognition that certain cultural practices, religious sentiments and traditional political structures affect the way the different peoples of Nigeria view law enforcement and crime management. This recognition is not peculiar to Nigeria.
Findings in police science recognize these facts of social security; which is why well-run countries have different classifications of the police. The United Kingdom has 46 semi-autonomous categories of police. Canada, the United States, amongst others have such classification. If the call for state police is recognition of these differences, how can Nigeria bring it to light without restructuring? Thus, the all-important issue of security would be difficult to operationalize without state police, and ipso facto, without restructuring.
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