President Goodluck Jonathan
By Tobi Soniyi
The raging debate over whether or not the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) should be decentralised took the centre stage Monday as lawyers gathered in Abuja for their general conference.
President Goodluck Jonathan on the occasion narrated how despite his support for state police, he was persuaded to shelve the idea.
Jonathan said given the peculiarity of the nation’s politics, Nigeria is not yet mature for a decentralised police force.
He was responding to the address of the outgoing Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Joseph Daudu, at the 52nd General Conference of the association, where he rallied the president to back state police.
Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and his Imo State counterpart, Chief Rochas Okorocha, also took different positions on the issue.
The president said although he was not against state police, he was advised to shelve the idea by former heads of state.
He said he saw the need for state police when he was the governor of Bayelsa State, which was faced with serious security challenges and the men and officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) could not cope due to the special environment of the state.
He said: “On the issue of state police, everybody knows I had been deputy governor and governor in Bayelsa State. There was a time we were frustrated and we felt that we should have our police; that we would be able to manage criminality in our state better because of our local environment.
“Police from other parts of the country find it difficult to go into the waters; but for us who were born inside the water, even in the night, we can enter ordinary canoe to go to anywhere and we feel that if we have our local police, it will be better for us because our police can reach everywhere in our state.
“But when I discussed the issue of state police with former presidents before a Council of State meeting, they said it was a good idea; that probably one day we’ll get there. And that is the emphasis I want to make, one day we will get to that point. But presently, we have to be careful on how we go about it.
“Experiments have been made; there was a time when the police came up with a policy that police officers from the rank of inspector and below should be posted to their states of origin as a way of testing whether police familiar with the environment will make changes. But it was later realised that when police officers from the rank of inspector down were posted to their states of origin, they could not manage the situation so the police had to discontinue that policy.
“We also feel that looking at the federal level and the way the governors are handling elections in their states with the state electoral commissions, where opposition parties hardly win even councillorship elections, it would be risky to introduce state police now.
“So, if there is state police and the governors manipulate their state police the way they are manipulating their state electoral commissions, the instability that it will create will be a child’s play compared to even what we are witnessing now.”
Jonathan, who broke tradition by setting aside his official speech, expressed concern at the practice by some governors where they do everything to make sure that only people in their political parties win council elections.
He said the practice was undemocratic and cited the experience of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State where he said the governor won because he was very popular and the people were rooting for him.
He promised to continue to support free and fair elections in the country.
“You can imagine what would have happened if the 2011 general elections were rigged. We will not be gathered here today," he added.
According to him, despite the fact that the 2011 elections were free and fair, some people still misled some youths to start killing innocent people.
Jonathan said he recognised the fact that economic progress could only be achieved if credible elections become the basis for holding power and that was why he had made the conduct of credible elections a top priority of his administration.
He also expressed the desire of his administration to involve the NBA in governance by making its president honorary legal adviser to the president.
“The NBA is a very important institution and your views, perspectives and inputs will be useful to help us drive needed changes for accelerated growth. If there are any limitations in terms of your association’s rules of engagement, I urge that the NBA should take a second look at its own rules and guidelines, to enable the NBA President to take up public responsibility as an honorary adviser,” he said.
Daudu had earlier said that the fear that politicians would misuse the state police did not outweigh the benefits of the proposal, given the present security challenges in the country.
He explained that politicians constitute less than two per cent of the population and that the remaining 98 per cent should not be allowed to continue to live under insecurity in the country.
According to him, opponents of state police only cite one constraint, which is that governors would use their respective state police to further their political interest.
“Cogent as that misgiving may appear, it is not an obstacle to the proper policing that the state police will provide. It must be said outright that a police force is not created for political objectives or for the sole benefit of politicians who are less than two per cent of the population; a police force is created for the maintenance of law and order, to ensure free movement for the conduct of economic, social and cultural activities within the state, to deal with issues of border infiltration by persons who do not have good intentions for the nation," he said.
He also disagreed with the retired Inspectors General of Police (IGs) who had kicked against state police and accused them of merely protecting their former office and their personal interest.
Oshiomhole, in his speech, endorsed the position of Jonathan that Nigeria was not ripe for state police.
“I am not for state police. If created, it would become instruments of state powers. Unless there is good governance and responsible leadership in Nigeria, this country will continue with the current circle of lamentation,” he said.
Okorocha, however, held a contrary view, saying: "States should have police."
He also faulted the lopsided top-to-bottom economic approach, which seeks to provide for everybody from the same source as the cause of what he called “economic kwashiorkor” in the country.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, called on NBA to check unethical practices such as acting without clients' authority and hijacking of cases.