Does Nigeria Need a New Police Force?

24 Dec 2012

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The Right of Reply by Fola Arthur-Worrey

Dear Soludo, I read your treatise on the need for a New Police Force with great interest. Indeed, one of the most potent dangers to the future of this country is the profound weakness of our law enforcement institutional architecture –the police and the judiciary. If Nigeria will ‘break up’ it will not be because of the establishment of state police but due to our refusal to take the bull by the horns, deconstruct the existing system, and rebuild an adaptable and sustainable one able to address current realities.

Today, violent crime is the norm and any day there is no report on one shocking incident or another is the exception. Kidnapping, robbery, communal clashes, mass-death road accidents, mob justice, terrorism, gang fights, transport union mayhem and the like are just regular occurrences and our level of outrage dips by the day as we become more inured to shock.

And in our usual fashion, our responses are typically unimaginative and elite driven, not by an elite that understands the concept of enlightened self interest, but a predatory elite that sees police resources as just another national asset to be expropriated and used in a personal and adversarial manner, as aggressive VIP security. This sickening trend of outsourcing of police assets as private security started in the late 90’s but since the advent of our current political system has grown into monstrous proportions with police officers being used as domestics, drivers and house guards, with private citizens of dubious antecedents using them for ego tripping, using convoys with blaring sirens, breaking traffic laws, brutalising citizens and generally invading the public space, with the escorts’ loyalty first to their patrons rather than to the state. Indeed, the police have institutionalised this process by the creation of a VIP Protection Unit!
As the Federal Government concedes more space to non-state actors, encouraged in their abuses by the use of state actors, so does the level of insecurity rise.

The last four Inspectors General of Police (IGs) have begun their tenures with an acknowledgement of the problem inherent in the fact that one third of our policemen (armed) are on such illegal duty, and have given orders for a return of these men and the dismantling of the security paraphernalia of private individuals and corporations. And in each instance these instructions have been ignored with impunity. Pressure from the political and business class and the weakness of incumbents has made their enforcing their directives a non-starter. There is also the reality that in outsourcing these men they have also implicitly outsourced the cost of their welfare –allowances, uniforms and domestic and health care, and the fact is that the police no longer have the capacity to re-absorb them.

Effective and modern policing is a major challenge all over the world and in the UK for instance there are continuing reforms attempting to address the issues of quality of personnel, racism, abuse of police powers, accountability and the like. Countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Kenya, Mexico and South Africa for instance have police forces that are hopelessly venal and corrupt. But I am not one to point to the problems of other countries as a justification for our own problems. The thing is that we once had one of the most professionally competent police forces in the commonwealth. If you read the extracts from the police reports on the 1966 coup you would be amazed at the quality of English and the standards of reporting that are revealed therein. As a prosecutor in the Lagos State from 1981 to 1990 and subsequently as Director of Public Prosecutions from 1996 to 1998, I was witness to high quality of men and the clarity of their mandate, and then subsequently, the steady erosion in quality of policing in terms of men, material and policy over that period.

In the 1980s, the police concentrated much of their energies on three key areas – prevention by proactive investigation, apprehension by after-the-fact investigation, and public order. As a prosecutor, I relied heavily on the quality ballisticians, finger print experts, hand writing experts and very good detectives to get convictions in most of my cases. But by the 90s, the decline had set in, largely due to the change in mandate imposed by the military, i.e. the key issue became national security (meaning regime security) rather than law enforcement, and the police became essentially an expeditionary force. And the natural progression of police leadership which is usually an internal affair shaped by convention and experience was disrupted by the army wherein they could sweep aside a whole rank of officers to place their preferred candidate in position. Then came quota, federal character and all that clap-trap, destroying morale and espirit de corps.

Added to this was the amputation of police powers by the proliferation of law enforcement agencies like the FRSC, the NDLEA, EFCC, ICPC, NCDSC and the like, all sharing from the same begging bowl and not improving the state of security and law enforcement in any substantial manner. And this is typical of us. First responders to any situation all over the country is the police and even if they were indicating problems, why did we not confront those problems and strengthen them rather than creating new agencies with new problems? The fact that we are debating the issue of state police today indicates that we are still confronted with a major problem.

It was military rule which also gave rise to the undefined issue of governors being referred to nominally as Chief Security Officers, a meaningless appellation with neither constitutional nor statutory backing or definition. Of course it was another inheritance from the military when state administrators appointed by the leadership in Abuja were necessarily charged with the security of their respective states as a first line defence against coups and NADECO type threats to national security (read regime security). The reality is that today, governors are being pressurised by this appellation which many people, high and low, believe to be a constitutional title, to go outside their constitutional mandates and find money from their scarce resources to fund police operations or bear the political and public opinion cost of such failure. Meanwhile, Abuja sits in isolated and unaccountable splendour, determining which of their cronies will be the beneficiary of VIP treatment, while the redundant ministry of police affairs gets in the way of direct disbursements to the police and holds things up with wasteful projects and a stultifyingly sluggish bureaucracy.

It is significant that up to the creation of this monster, the police were able to provide most of their needs themselves, but since the creation of that ministry, the states are the first port of begging-call for all state police commissioners. I should know because today I manage the Lagos State Security Trust Fund and I can say with certainty that 95% of all operating tools –APCs, patrol vans, fuel, ballistic gear, radios (and replacement/upgrade of towers and repeater stations), rain coats/boots, motorcycles, gun boats, are provided or maintained by or through the Fund. It is amazing that no provision AT ALL is made by Abuja for the fuelling of vehicles and boats even though the vehicles themselves are provided by states. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges to the police is the fact that it has almost zero management capacity and so the problem is not, as one of your sources pointed out, that more resources will not help the police. I disagree, and I speak from experience having resourced the police in Lagos for over five years.

The problem is the way these resources are managed. When we talk of allocation, do we factor in corruption, diversion and waste? 347,000 men is an expensive proposition by any standards but the first principle of policing is resources. The three ‘P’s are critical especially in a country this size with numerous law and order problems – preparedness, presence, and patrol capability, and this costs money. There must be a minimum standard of kit and transport. Then there is maintenance, which lies at the heart, re-kitting, medical bills, training, allowances, travel, etc. I do not want to go into housing, police stations, and so on. Yet all you hear from the centre is no money, no money. Yet they could give INEC N87 billion in one gulp. Is that because it is about power?

Is that because having secured their own safety, the others can go hang? Why did it have to be the Lagos State Government rebuilding the Area C command building burnt down in 2005 in a fracas involving police and soldiers? If a state could raise such funds and build a much more modern structure what is the Federal Government doing with its 52% of national revenue? Recently the IG launched 40 light tactical APCs to patrol ALL the federal highways across the country. That is ridiculous! Lagos alone has 30 APCs provided through the Trust Fund by the state government and the LGAs. We are told that TWO of these vehicles are to cover the Shagamu-Benin highway, a distance of 300 kilometres! And I am sure that the men will be left to their own devices when it comes to fuelling them. Is the Federal Government saying this is best they can do?

So state police is a response to this kind of situation where the Federal Government adopts a consistently anaemic approach to police funding, not necessarily a desire for a police force a governor can control. I venture to opine that if the police were more efficient, we probably wouldn’t be having the debate. After all, how many state governments look forward to the added burden of a state police force, whose every action and non-action he will be responsible for? Who needs the added stress?

State policing is indeed a viable and expedient option to today’s situation. As Soludo argued, it will make the police competitive, give them a stakeholder’s interest, make them and their political leaders more accountable to local pressure, and can be purpose designed for local needs and realities. This will certainly be a much more efficient and responsive police than the Abuja based one where resources are so badly utilised, where there is no knowledge of local problems and needs and where the one size fits all philosophy is at work. Does every state need a police command? How many men are enough to police Lagos or Port Harcourt? Who is a police commissioner accountable to?

But we must, as Soludo said, be measured in our approach to avoid situations of ‘indigene’ police (Abia State scenario of sending away non-indigenes from its public service), religious police, or a police that is even more incompetent than their federal predecessors due to underfunding, mal-administration, graft, nepotism and political interference. And we must assure that the revenue allocation formula is adjusted to reflect the added burden on the states. Indeed, it should be done now to reflect the fact that in many areas of governance today, the states are subsidising the Federal Government.
Mr. Arthur-Worrey is former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lagos State, and currently, Head of Lagos State Security Trust Fund

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