‘Current policing system in Nigeria is no longer responsive’
The dust raised by the introduction of South West security outfit, Amotekun seemed not to have settled as some Northern elements last week came up with its own version named Shege-Ka-Fasa, while that of the South East is said to be in the offing. Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Austine Alegeh (SAN) in this interview with Assistant Editor Law and Foreign Affairs, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE evaluates the issues and comes up with the verdict that state police is now imperative.
The constitution says security and welfare of the people shall be the primary function of government. Of recent, there have been an increase in the level of insecurity across the country, such that we now have the emergence of regional security outfit in the Southwest known as Amotekun. How do you see that kind of security initiative?
It is incorrect to make Amotekun look like it is the first security group to be set up, because if you go to the Eastern part of the country, you will find out that they have one. In Anambra specifically, they have had the Anambra Vigilante Movement (AVM) for a long time. They are well armed. If you go to the North also, they have. In Maiduguri, they have the civilian JTF. We have the Hizbah in Kano. We have Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LATMA) and other transport management groups all over the country. The work that these groups do is the same that police used to do. So these groups should be seen as created to assist the police and not to take over their job. If there is any apprehension or any issue about the establishment of Amotekun, it was because there was no sufficient information. Some people assumed they were coming to take over the functions of the police. I believe that no group can take over the functions of the police. They all need the police to be able to function. When they get information, they need to pass it to the police, even if they are armed. Like in Anambra where they carry pump-action, if they encounter serious armed robbers who have more sophisticated weapons, they wont be able to survive. What they do is to immediately call the police, while tracking or delaying the robbers movement. For me, either we agree or live in denial, the truth is that we have very serious problems with our policing. And there is no other way that it can be resolved, except by letting everybody who can help put their hands on the deck. Nobody should say one person wants to take over the others’ job. Everybody should look at the bigger picture, which is the quest to confront crimes such as armed robbery, banditry, Boko Haram and kidnappings. These criminals have taken over the country. So we all have to put head together and think of how to solve the problem. And when we look at each other as partners in progress rather than an enemy, we achieve our goals. We should be more attuned to working to achieve a safe and secure environment. The initiative by the governors is laudable. All they need to do is to work it out with police authorities so that Amotekun operatives will not be seeing themselves as an alternative police force. We know that at a time in this country, we had state and local governments’ police and we decided to do away with them. So we have to collectively agree again to come up with them. To my mind, it is definitely a welcomed idea. They should work out the modalities. Today, I understand that some positive steps have been taken amongst the police, the Amotekun promoters and the senate for the purpose of fashioning out operational modalities. Anybody who is saying that they are not required is not living in Nigeria.
What do you think is the problem with our police?
The problems with our police are numerous. Firstly, there is the issue of funding of the police. We hear of cases where the firepowers of armed robbers are higher than that of the police. Police needs to be well trained, well funded, well armed and well supported by all of us. They work for our benefits. So, if we don’t work with them, we are the ones that will suffer attacks by criminals. Police is the whipping baby of the society. People can argue that they are not doing their work, but ask yourself, first and foremost whether they are well equipped to do the work? From the little I know, I do not think that they are being given the kind of support and training they need to do their job more effectively. So if we all agree to that, it becomes easier to see how we can help them in achieving their tasks. But if we all live in denial and decide to continue to abuse the police, we will not go anywhere.
What is the guarantee that these new security outfits will augment and fill the gap that we see in policing today, considering that similar outfits exist all over Nigeria and violent crimes are not abetting across the country?
Nothing is guaranteed. Nobody can tell you that he can guarantee security. Like I told you, we need to make effort in the area of providing support. Amotekun cannot be the total solution, because there is no society without crimes. But what I know is that societies do their best to reduce crime. If Amotekun can be used to reduce crime, then it has achieved its purpose. That is my own belief. If everybody is contributing to the security situation, criminals will be less likely to attack people without fear of being challenged and apprehended. Our current police cannot do it alone. They must be trained, retrained and supported. If you look at our population vis-a-vis the number of our policemen, you will know that there is a disconnect. Our population is about 170/180 million now. How many policemen do we have and what training do they have? We still have policemen who are not computer literate and who can barely speak English. So we need to train, retrain, equip and support our policemen with additional groups. Every house in Nigeria today has security guards. And some of them bear arms, whether den guns or pump action. So, we need to look at the entire security architecture in Nigeria and see how we can work to make it better.
You seem to suggest that the controversy generated by the introduction of Amotekun was as a result of lack of information. Are you saying that when the other security outfits you earlier mentioned were set up, there was sufficient information to the public because not all Nigerians are aware that there is a security outfit in Anambra that bears arms? Was it because this one was publicly announced or it would have been better done quietly?
It is not a question of doing it quietly or not, but speaking truthfully to the facts about what is happening in our country. If you don’t know what is happening in your country, you will be speaking from the position of lack of knowledge and miss the point. In Kano, therelll are security outfits. In Lagos, you have the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), who arrest people and charge them to court. What is the work of LASTMA? Traffic control supposed to be in the hands of the police. We also have Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). Anybody who is a Nigerian, who knows what is happening in this country will not deny the fact that these alternative security agencies exist. For me, it is not even the issue of whether they exist or not that should concern us, it should rather be how to develop and protect ourselves better. Amotekun is not the first and it certainly will not be the last.
Some Northern people have set up Shege-Ka-Fasa, something similar to Amotekun. Are you not bothered that there were no legal framework before the creation of Amotekun?
Definitely there ought to be a legal framework, which will define their functions. If there is no legal framework, it makes their work difficult and create doubt in the minds of the people who will assume that they are coming to take over the work of the police. For example, the one in Anambra is existing in conjunction with the Nigerian police force. They have it boldly written in their vehicles “Anambra Vigilante Movement in conjunction with the Nigerian police”. In Anambra, they have found a way to do it without creating so much confusion. I don’t know why those coming after Anambra did not ask how they did it, so it can serve as a guide for them in establishing theirs. Most of the South West governors involved in the Amotekun creation are all in the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is difficult to understand why they had found it difficult to reach a consensus on something as simple as policing with the APC-led federal government. If there is no synergy yet, there is still time to do it. You don’t throw away an idea because it was not proper contextualised. What this points to is that we must come back to the issue of state police. If our democracy is modelled according to that of the Americans, why then do we leave out the issue of state police in our own? In America, they have federal police, state police, local government police and University’s police. We must stop treating ourselves with distrust and disdain by saying that we are not mature enough for state police. Do you think that when Americans started it, they got it all perfect at the beginning? If you don’t start, you will not get it right. It is what you start that you can develop and make better. If you don’t buy the ticket, you cannot win the lottery. There may be abuses at the beginning, but it is when we start that we know the abuses and how to address them. Some people oppose state police, yet each day you see state governors buying vehicles for the federal police and police chiefs having security meetings with the state governors. Those indicate that there is a role for state governor to play in policing their states. Instead of running away from the obvious, we should rather create modalities for the establishment of state police. As far as I am concerned, it is something we must deal with. It is either we do it now or we wait for 10 or 20 years time. For me, the earlier we deal with it, the better.
When you use the word “we”, who are you referring to?
I mean Nigerians. We all have to deal with the issue of state police at one time or the other because the current policing system is no longer responsive to the need of our people.
It appears that majority of Nigerians want restructuring and state police, but our political leaders are not interested. How can the ordinary man make these things happen with disinterested leadership?
The power of the ordinary man always remain in his votes. The ordinary man has the right to vote and he can vote for the fellow whose belief is close to his. That is the ultimate benefit of any democracy. When people shun bags of rice as well as few Naira notes and vote according to their belief in what is right and wrong, they make the changes happen. So we need to continually have our elections determined by the manifestos of parties. If you look at the parties today, whether they are liberals or conservatives you cannot really tell. So, we need to start addressing the question about the party and the candidates to be voted for in the next election? When we start to answer such questions, then our democracy is beginning to mature. But as long as we continue to vote on the basis of what my brother or sister said, we will keep having this argument about what is wrong and what is right.
Today, people vote and don’t care to know what the candidate believes in, his policies and how he intend to conduct the business of governance. So we need to continually push our people closer to that path where they will understand and see that they need to vote on the basis of the basic ideas of each party. I think that the people must decide what they want and who they want. It is not possible for the about 170 to 200 million Nigerians to all be in government. So governance must be given to some people on our behalf. The only thing for us is to vote for those who will make the changes happen and leave the rest.
The senators recently called for the removal of service chiefs. They blamed them for the recurring insecurity across the country. Few days back, the president met with service chiefs, fueling the expecting that the president was going to dismiss them as demanded by the senate, but that didn’t happen. In your own view, do you think it is high time we changed the service chiefs?
We change them for what purpose? Is it change for the sake of change? The question you will ask is: on what basis are we asking for the change of the service chiefs?
It is to bring fresh ideas, verve, impetus and strategies into the fight against insurgency.
I am not a security expert, but if the president who is former military chief believes that there is a failure in his defence operations, I am not sure that he will waste any time in making required changes. If he has not make any change, I tend to believe that it is because he doesn’t think that there is any need for such. I believe that he knows what he is doing. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt. Will changing them appeal to Boko Haram to stop fighting?
The sentiment is that the new men would come up with perhaps different strategies to tackle the terrorists.
Where will the new man come from? Is he not part of the same military? The point is that in certain matters, you defer to those with better knowledge. For example, I am aware through my colleagues in Maiduguri that life is better there today. Not that Boko Haram has been totally wiped out, but the number of attacks have reduced. There are more courts sitting today than before. Some of the decisions we take are based on sentiments. I like to take decisions on facts and information available to me. And I can tell you that even if the president is going to choose new service chiefs today, he cannot go far from the ones that are currently in service. Is there anyone who is going to be a service chief right now who is not probably in one command head or the other? Apart from the service chiefs, they all work as a team. It is not only the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff or the Chief of Air Staff alone that determine defence policy. Each of them has a team working with him. Are you suggesting that we should weed out the whole hierarchy of the defence team and bring new people? Our service chiefs will not be chosen from another country’s military. So if we are going to choose from Nigeria, we should ask ourselves, what is it that this new man is coming to do? I don’t think that change for the sake of change is the solution. If one says when we change them, Boko Haram will stop, I will carry my banner and join the fellow. But when the essence of the change we are calling for is based on the false hope that mere change will result in victory, I disagree.
You are a Bar leader and former president of the Bar. A lot of lawyers are actually dissatisfied with the leadership of the Bar for not calling out this government more vigorously over alleged violation of rule of law and disobedient to court orders. What do you have to say?
The Bar is the Bar for all of us. From the little I know, the president of the Bar has now and again raised issues regarding happenings in the country in respect of human rights violation and others. But I felt motified when the president of the Bar called for the temporary boycott of our courts, when he felt that the government has not done things properly in the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the same lawyers he is representing led an opposition him. Some of them went to court and those that didn’t have matters even went to court just to show that they have flouted the orders of the president.
Is that not an evidence of a disunited Bar?
It is rather an evidence of indiscipline in the Bar. When the Bar takes a decision, you don’t always have to agree with it, but you have to comply. The Bar operates through elected representatives. And the decision taken in respect of the boycott was taken at what I considered the highest level of the Bar, which is National Executive Committee (NEC). There were robust discussions at the meeting, where some people even wanted boycott forever but the president who moderated arrived at a position. However, some persons just believe that it must be done their way.
Must the Bar continue to condone indiscipline within its ranks?
No. The indiscipline in the Bar has to be dealt with. But every president deals with issues the way he sees it best. I believe the president has dealt with the matter the way he seems best. I will not want to second-guess and say if I was president. I’m no longer president. He is and has dealt with the matter the way he seems fit. I don’t subscribe to the view that at every turn, the Bar should be an antagonist of the government. I’m of the firm view that the Bar and the government should always be partners in progress. When I was the president I had very good relationship with everybody else in government. Definitely, some lawyers will say you are not fighting. Fighting for what? What is it you are really fighting for? They have to understand that you don’t just fight government because you can fight. If there is no reason to fight, please don’t fight and ruffle feathers. During my time, there were matters we handled through consultations and discussions, which members of the Bar were not even aware problems were brewing. We resolved them without anyone shouting on anybody.
The recent adoption of judicial officers, including members of the Bar, is it not sufficient enough to raise eyebrows from the Bar?
Definitely, nobody is happy when your colleagues become endangered species. But you must understand that we are not living in isolation. It goes to tell you that there are more frequent kidnappings in the country. For me, I’m not happy to say because they are kidnapping more lawyers, we should take offence. The mere fact that kidnapping is on the increase is sufficient grounds for us as lawyers to say no, we must take a step. If the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president at every turn they kidnap a lawyer, picks fight with government, it will then become a joke. Last time, we read of the kidnapping of the father to the wife of Mr. President’s ADC. So if it has gone that higher, you then understand that we are just part of the society. We cannot say because lawyers are kidnapped, we will fight because others will ask if they are less humans when they are kidnapped too. It will make us stand out as selfish people, who only react when they are directly involved and not when others are kidnapped. However, I think that the security situation in the country is bad. Government needs to step up its activities in providing security to the people. None of the stories of kidnapping sounds good to the ears. We must continue to call government out to deal with insecurity.
The NBA will be changing leadership this year. As a former president, what do you think are the germane issues?
For me, the most important thing at the Bar, that we should be thinking about is how to improve the quality of lawyers we have in the Bar. How do we make our lawyers better in education and remuneration. In my time, we dealt with the issue of welfare. We dealt with the issue of protecting our profession through the issuance of stamp and seal and reforming the NBA elections. President Paul Usoro (SAN) has tried to put more emphasis on the internal workings of the NBA; to make the Bar more accountable by bringing in PwC. So everything is a building block. I think that our continuous legal education programme is suffering.
Lawyers need training and retraining. In most law offices now, when you employ new lawyers, you will need to dedicate your senior associates to train them so they can work the way you expect. When you go to law school, they teach you some laws. But it is not sufficient to carry you on as a lawyer. Lawyers need continuous training. Things keep changing and new laws are being made, but you find out that lawyers are just being stagnated. And they are left to develop themselves if they have the opportunity to do so. There is no NBA concerted effort at training our lawyers. If you go to Kenya, their Bar is essentially ran by monies they raised from their continuous legal education programmes. They don’t pay practising fee as we do here. Every lawyer has the obligation to score minimum number of points. It is compulsory that you must attend all those courses. Even in Nigeria, the law says you need to score a minimum number of points before you can qualify to practice each year, but we observe it more in breach.