Segun James reviews the arguments for and against state police
When, on the eve of the new year, intelligence got to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State about possible attack on some communities in his state by armed Fulani herdsmen at night while the predominantly Christian people of the state would be church for prayers to usher in 2018, he became alarmed. This was not the first of such intelligence he had received in the last two and half years; and at every occasion, it has proved correct.
He immediately alerted the state police commissioner and the head of the army formation in the state – both of whom are members of the state security council – of the possible attack asking them to mobilize to the areas in order to forestall such attack, his calls were ignored.
When eventually words got to him that the attacks have actually started, the desperate governor still called, pleading with the police boss and the army commander about the bloodshed happening in the communities, he was once again ignored.
In the morning, the nation woke up to the grim news of the bloodbath that had taken place. The people had been massacred, their communities raised and properties worth millions of naira destroyed by the rampaging killer-herdsmen.
When Ortom rushed to the communities, he was told that neither the police nor the army came. Even in areas where the police have a station or police post, they had simply disappeared on the night of the attack.
The governor was devastated. Although constitutionally, he is officially the chief security officer of the state, yet he could not order or mobilize the police to forestall any breakdown in law and order in his domain. Even the intelligence he got on the possible attack was not from any official security agencies. They do not report to him. He was a lameduck in the scheme of things when it comes to the security of his state.
He cried as 73 persons, including women and children, killed in their prime during the attack were buried. He is the chief executive and supposed chief security officer of his state, yet he has to beg the president and security chiefs each time crisis occurs in his domain; it was a pathetic situation.
Ortom’s case is not peculiar. The same situation is replicated all over the country. All the governors go through the same problem each time they are faced with urgent security situation.
It was in the light of these that the call for the creation of state police that will be under the control of the governors has become strident in recent time. The call gained more strategic converts when the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) threw its weight behind the idea that has been variously thrown up as the panacea for the worsening insecurity in the country.
But the support is conditional as the forum said only states that could afford to establish their own police should be allowed to do so, while the federal police would continue to secure the others.
The shift in the governors’ position on state policing came just as President Muhammadu Buhari rose from a meeting with security chiefs at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, vowing to end the mounting security challenges plaguing the country.
The president had met with the security chiefs for two and a half hours. The meeting was attended by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha; Minister of Defense, Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali; Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazzau; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama and National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno.
Also in attendance were the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Lawal Daura; Director of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mr. Ahmed Abubakar; and Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris.
The service chiefs at the meeting were – Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas and Chief of Air Staff, Air-Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar.
The heads of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Fire Service (NFS), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were also at the meeting.
No state governor was invited as the chief security officers of their state nor was any state represented. It was strictly a federal government affair.
It was a situation such as this that forced the governors to speak out with one voice.
Speaking on the sidelines of the National Security Summit convened by the Senate, the chairman of the governors’ forum, Governor Abdul-Aziz Yari of Zamfara State, , said that the governors had agreed to find a way to fine-tune the policy.
Majority of members of the forum had initially opposed the establishment of state police, an idea which required an amendment to the 1999 constitution for it to fly. The bill seeking to establish it was subsequently killed in both chambers of the National Assembly during the constitutional amendment votes last year.
But hope that a rethink was gaining ground emerged last week when the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo at the opening of the security summit made a strong case asking states to establish their own police, saying it holds the key to reducing the high level of violent crimes and insecurity in the country.
Yari rekindled hope when he announced the shift in the position of the NGF, saying allowing states that could afford it have their way, would reduce the pressure on the federal police system.
Clarifying the initial rejection of the idea, he said it was opposed by many states on the ground that they could not afford it. “That is why we are saying that it is not all the states that are supposed to have state police. Those that can should have it. For instance, Lagos State, as rich as they are, can have state police. The number of federal police in Lagos can then be reduced (and deployed) to Osun, Ogun and other states that cannot afford it.
“If Rivers State can afford it, more federal police can be redeployed to Cross River and other neighbouring states like Enugu that cannot do it. If Kano State can do it, they can take to my state (Zamfara) that is not all that rich. It is something that we can’t take up at the same time.”
He noted that while the NGF was ‘unfortunately’ divided over the matter, the number of police in Nigeria was grossly inadequate, and fell far below the global standard ratio. Yari lamented that the challenges of insecurity such as banditry, militancy in the Niger Delta, cattle rustling and others had caused the economy to dwindle and were threatening national unity.
“The take home from this summit is that the vice-president raised some of the key discussions about the issue of state police. Today, we have reiterated the position of the vice president on the security summit we held in August that there is a need for state police.
“Internal security is supposed to be handled and managed by the police but the police of today are inadequate. There are about 4 million people in Zamfara State but we have less than 5000 policemen. If we look at the ratio, it is far below international standard. Therefore, we in the forum agreed that we can find a way that we can fine-tune the issue of State police.”
Can state adequately fund police? Will creation of state police threaten the unity of Nigeria as a nation? What means can be used to curb the excesses of the state governors/politicians? Is the general public in support of it? Are there ways of restoring the Nigeria Police Force to facing security challenges? These and other questions are what must be answered as the debate for the creation of state police continues.
According to Mr. John Bulus, in his paper, State Police: The Unending Debate: “State policing has been defined as a police force under state authority rather than under the authority of a city or county in the state. It has also been defined as the police organized and maintained by a state as distinguished from those of a lower sub-division (as a city or a local government council) of the state government. However, in the Nigerian context, state police are a kind of sub-national police force, to be organized, maintained and under the jurisdiction of a particular state government.”
According to him, in Nigeria today, there has been a recent clamor for the establishment of state police force as opposed to what was laid down in Section 214 of the Nigerian 1999 constitution.
This, he said, was as a result of the deteriorating situation of the security system in Nigeria.
He said: “Some other reasons for this clamour are that: the geographical area of Nigeria is too large for a central police command; Policing citizens should be the responsibility of the respective states and not that of the federal government.”
Bulus said that those who were in favour of the establishment of state police insist that it would help curb the rising tide of insecurity amongst other social vices in Nigeria. That it would reduce the rate of unemployment as more people would be recruited into the state police in proportion to the population of each state.
They posited that it would help check criminal activities and corruption within the police force and the society, while also helping to curb the attitude of policemen who hardly go to their states of origin to work but go to other states which they consider lucrative for making money.
State policing, they insisted would help prevent the imposition of any religions on the people and it would help abate the ugly trend of kidnappings in the country.
Other reasons given are that it is easier to operate close systems, shorter processes because of fewer loops, error percentage and you know your target. It will help institute true federalism and localize and confine criminal activities.
However, those against the move stressed that the system can be abused by state governors who wield enormous influence on their subjects, already. They said that it would be too costly to maintain state police, a position which Chief Parry Osayande, a former deputy inspector general of police also shares.
This position was also shared by former Lagos State police commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav who warned that the creation of state police would split Nigeria as politicians might use it against their political opponents, adding that it might also lead to job insecurity as some state governors would tamper with the institution.
Besides, it could be a ready and standing army that can be used for secession or declaration of independence, those opposed to the idea insisted.
Also, there is the likelihood of conflict of jurisdiction between states especially where the conflicting states are run by different political parties, while the lack of uniformity in financing may also pose a great challenge. Since some states are financially stronger than others, this can lead to crisis. Besides, they warned that creation of state police can lead to diversion of criminals and criminality from one state to another.
But more importantly, they warned that the creation of state police would lead to anarchy, it would bring tribalism or make it much stronger; and that there may be conflict of interest between the federal police force and that of the state, but more especially, it is not financially feasible for any state to own and operate a police system.
However, a former Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Raimi Odofin, is of the opinion that the country is mature enough for the creation of state police to strengthen machinery for tackling security challenges.
The Nigerian police as it is presently composed, Odofin stated, could not meet the present security challenges in the country.
Odofin said that it was time for Nigerians to accept the creation of state police in spite of the fear that state governors would abuse it. “The state governors, too, must first look at the financial implication of having state police and should restrain from abusing the development. Creation of the state police is not a bad idea but the governors should be mature enough when the police will be under them,” he said.
He said that national police was very effective in the past, but that due to poor management of resources it had begun to face a lot of challenges. “In the past, the police had so many vehicles, communication equipment, guns but now, these things are no longer there as it supposed to be. The police as a security agency should not depend on donation from individuals and corporate organisations,” he said.
The debate over the necessity for state police has been on for quite some time. Before now, the most vociferous advocates of state police have been members of the opposition as well as notable civil society activists. It is, however, crucial to stress that agitation for the creation of state police should not be viewed as a partisan or an anti-federal government crusade. Neither can it be said to be the handiwork of mischief-makers or ruby-rousers.
State police is an important component of true federalism and emblem of authority of governance, since sovereignty is divided between the central authority and federating state authorities. It is not a new concept in Nigeria, but is rather a clamour for modification to the colonial legacy of Native Authority Police which successfully worked alongside the Nigeria Police Force till the 1970s before it was abolished and integrated into a single Nigeria Police Force by the military.
Though the 1999 Constitution provides for a single federal police, this precludes states from taking charge of the protection of lives and properties of their people. It also denies the governors as chief security officer the emblem of authority.
Ironically, in view of recent security challenges posed by such terrorist groups like the Boko Haram in the northeast, militants in the Niger Delta region, secessionist groups like the IPOB in the southeast and Fulani herdsmen, almost all state governments in the country are investing heavily in the diverse security agencies in their respective states.
In Lagos, for example, according to Mr. Tayo Ogunbiyi of the state’s Ministry of Information, the state government has in the last seventeen years invested billions of naira in public security. In fact, the first Security Trust Fund to be established, by any government, in the country was initiated by the Lagos State Government.
Now, will it not amount to double standard that a state government bears such a huge financial burden on his state police command, which in the first place should be the responsibility of the federal government, and yet has little or no control over such security organ?
No matter how much a state government spends on security, the reality is that it has no direct control over any of the national security organs. The current centralized police structure in the country will continue to limit the capacity of states to effectively address security issues.
However, Ogunbiyi opines that “in-spite of all the arguments against state police, the fact is that Nigeria is too large and complex to be policed centrally. In an ideal federal system, the issue of state police should not be a contentious matter. If we are really serious about overcoming current security challenges in the polity, the time to embrace the option of state police is now.”
The current centralized police structure in the country will continue to limit the capacity of states to effectively address security issues.