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Goodness! I got a shocker at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, a few weeks ago when Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu delivered a public lecture. He spoke on “Policing and National Security in Nigeria: The Choices before Us” at the annual talk shop organised by the Department of Public Administration of the university. One of the recurring objections to state police is that it could lead to the break-up of Nigeria. After Ekweremadu had presented his well-articulated thoughts on the issue of restructuring the police to effectively tackle crime in the interest of national peace and security, it was the turn of discussants to make their contributions.
Professor Nuhu Yaqub, former Vice Chancellor of University of Abuja and now Vice Chancellor of Sokoto State University, was a discussant. He dropped the bombshell of the day: “So what if Nigeria breaks up?! Would Nigeria be the first country to break up? Didn’t the Soviet Union and many other countries break up?” To be sure, he was not advocating a break-up of Nigeria – he was addressing this constant fear, which is preventing us from discussing national issues in an honest and constructive manner. The audience was clearly stunned by the bombshell. Being a Northerner, Yaqub was perhaps expected to take the usual jittery position that Nigeria could break up if we decentralised the police. The impression is that it is only the North that desperately needs “one Nigeria” because of “our oil”.
In his lecture, Ekweremadu had stated that whatever he said were his personal views and had nothing to do with the ongoing constitution review by the National Assembly, of which he is the chairman of the Constitution Amendment Committee. He chose to use the phrase “decentralisation of police” perhaps because the idea of “state police” is already causing offence. He noted that Nigeria used to operate a decentralised police system, which allowed every unit of the federation to set up and maintain a force purely for the purpose of protecting lives and property. The military took over government in 1966 and introduced a unitary form of government, which centralised command and control. The abrogation of Decree 34 of 1966 was only on paper – Nigeria has virtually been running a unitary system since then.
That we have serious problems with internal security is beyond argument. Most cases of murder remain unresolved. Ekweremadu gave murder statistics dating back to 1986 (you know it – Dele Giwa) to highlight the challenges facing the police. He also listed several acts of terrorism, which the police have had no answer to. This is in addition to various crimes, both crude and sophisticated, being committed all over the country. If the current method of policing is not working, maybe the time has come for us to review our stand on the appropriate structure for the police, he argued. (By some irony, the Kwara State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Chinweike Asadu, was murdered a day after the lecture.)
Ekweremadu summarised and countered the arguments of those against decentralising the police. On the possibility of secession by a part of the country, he said there should be limitations on the arms that can be carried by “sub-national” police. He said in the US, there are over 850 different police units and they do not handle the same weapons. On political abuse, he noted this as the strongest point of the opponents of decentralised police. But he asked: is the Federal Government not also manipulating the police politically, as we saw in the failed attempt to remove Dr. Chris Ngige as governor of Anambra State in 2003? Ekweremadu suggested making laws and stipulating processes and procedures to insulate the police from political interference.
On the “immaturity” of Nigeria for such an advanced system of policing, he asked rhetorically: “After nearly 100 years of amalgamation and 52 years of Independence?” On some states being unable to fund the force, he drew attention to the fact that almost every state currently funds the police and vigilante groups. Any state that cannot afford a force should not be compelled to do so, he said, suggesting that federal police should serve such a state. On jurisdictional conflict between the federal and sub-national forces, he said this can be easily taken care of through laws that will clearly define roles and ensure operational cohesion.
For effective policing, Ekweremadu proposed the decentralisation of the police in such a way that governors would only make policies but will not have operational control over them. Some of his suggested measures are: the national police would exercise a level of oversight over the sub-national police; there should be common facilities shared by all police units; all laws regulating the police must be consistent with the Nigerian constitution; jurisdictions should be clearly defined by law; representatives of pressures groups, religious bodies and professional associations should be on state police service commissions to protect the force from political interference; among other measures. He said the security and welfare of Nigerians should supersede every other consideration.
By the way, I was also a discussant. My little contribution to the lecture was that the Civil War has done something terrible to us in this country. We don’t trust each other anymore. Before the events of 1966, we had regional police; we had resource control; we had fiscal federalism; we had Sharia law; we had true federalism. But today, we treat these propositions with suspicion. I told the audience: “If someone says Islamic banking today, we become paranoid and start saying they want to Islamise Nigeria. If someone says resource control, we say they want to secede. There is nothing wrong with having a decentralised policing system to tackle crime from the grassroots upward, but we are just too suspicious of motives since the unfortunate events around the Civil War.”
The truth is that we have become so paranoid that we are unable to discuss basic issues that could make Nigeria a better place for all. We usually hide behind the vague fear that this could threaten the “corporate existence of Nigeria”. We perpetually live in denial. We then move from crisis to crisis. And we keep wondering why Nigeria is “like this”.
And Four Other Things...
The decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to explore the possibility of amnesty for Boko Haram militants is causing a big debate in the land. Many feel strongly that it was a show of weakness by the president. With due respect, I want to ask a simple question: so what is the way out of the insurgency? The JTF has been killing suspects for years. They claim to have prevented a thousand attacks. Yet these guys are not showing any sign of retreating; they keep killing innocent people. What else can we do? If I may ask, why is the almighty US military unable to crush terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq?
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Now that there is a possibility of amnesty for Boko Haram militants, we must not repeat the mistakes of the Niger Delta where we are now left with the aftermath of unprecedented oil theft and an amnesty programme that is producing emergency billionaires and private jet owners. For one, we don’t need any Ministry of Northern Development, just as we don’t need Ministry of Niger Delta (I still don’t know what that ministry is all about, with NDDC also in place). The rehabilitation process must also take into consideration the fact that we are dealing with religious fanatics, not an ordinary breed of miscreants.
BURNT TO ASHES
On Friday, yet another predictable accident occurred – a trailer or a tanker sending people to their early graves. It happens so regularly you would be forgiven to think the story is being mistakenly repeated. This time it was at Ugbogui along Benin-Ore Expressway. Some 36 persons died on the spot. An out-of-control trailer had hit a fuel-laden tanker; the tanker caught fire and hit a passenger bus. That was it. It happens all the time. Shortly after, another 20 passengers died when a truck hit their bus at Okija, Anambra State. The saddest part is that this is definitely not the last one.
GA FILI, GA DOKI
At his polling unit during the June 12, 1993 election, the SDP presidential flag bearer, Bashorun MKO Abiola, wore a flowing gown bearing what looked like the party’s logo. The NRC asked for his disqualification for campaigning on election day. The SDP argued, Bill Clinton-like, that its logo was a horse while Abiola’s “agbada” had a donkey. That opened my eyes to the difference. However, I failed the test last week when I translated the Hausa saying “Ga fili, ga doki” to mean “here is the field and here is the donkey”. I’ve been told “doki” is a horse. But, dear readers, don’t “doki” and “donkey” sound alike? Can you see my predicament?