To your communities, Go.

Sending federal policemen to their communities may be a great idea, but it is also laden with grave perils

The Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, said at a security stakeholders’ meeting in Lokoja last week that majority of the 150,000 policemen to be recruited over the next five years would serve in their respective communities of origin. While the intention behind the idea may be noble, we are nonetheless worried that in a bid to solve an old problem we may unwittingly be creating a new one that could have serious implications for national security.

Four years ago, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) in making a call for state police also alluded to this idea albeit within the context of state police. The then Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is now the Minister for Mines and Steel Development, spoke for the 36 governors after their meeting. “Each of the federating units (which are the states) should have control over their own security apparatus. That is not to say that we still won’t have a federal police which responds to federal issues but in terms of wider knowledge of what obtains in my locality, the best person to use is somebody from that locality who has a much better, much richer understanding and will be faster in response to the immediate needs of that environment,” argued Fayemi at the time.

The position of NGF was supported by the late Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, a former Director General of the National Security Organisation (NSO) who argued that state police would improve the management of internal security and the maintenance of law and order. The Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu, a retired Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of police, gave full endorsement. According to the duo, such policemen and officers would have knowledge of the environment and would be more effective in dealing with local crimes, protecting law and order and in intelligence gathering.

These strengths notwithstanding, the idea of posting policemen to their local communities needs some clarity of thought and the benefit of historical hindsight. Our slide towards the civil war in 1967 was accelerated when policemen and soldiers were asked to return to their regions. The division of the nation into ethnic and geo-political enclaves and the slide into hate rhetoric and divisive propaganda quickly followed. The then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon realised the grievous error only after a very costly but avoidable civil war from which we are yet to fully recover after half a century.

The greatest legacy of the post war era is the emergence of a national military and police. The personnel of these federal institutions live and operate alongside colleagues from across the nation in mixed barracks and operational formations. The lines that dangerously divided the polity and threatened national cohesion are thus blurred as the central command takes precedence over regional or ethnic nudging. We must not threaten that balance in the efforts to reform the police.

Given the security challenges on ground, we may opt for state police or enlightened vigilantes as Lagos State has recently done. But the power of the federal police should not be dissipated in areas that ordinarily belong to the jurisdiction of the 36 states. Besides, there is no theory of modern policing that indicates that local cops are necessarily more effective in crime control than well trained cops drawn from all over the nation.

While local policemen may understand the terrain and know the neighbourhood kids better, the efficacy of such knowledge works best in static rural societies. In modern societies with access to the latest communication gadgets, criminals roam free and are extremely mobile. That perhaps explains why of late, we have suffered more violent infractions from migrant herdsmen all over Nigeria than from local thieves.

All factors considered, the idea of sending federal policemen to their communities of birth may offer little or no practical solution to the problems at hand. Therefore, we believe it may be more productive for the IGP to assist the executive branch with a draft legislation that seeks to establish state police forces with community content. That may prove more effective in fighting crimes than a posting regime that localises federal police.

Quote
It may be more productive for the IGP to assist the executive branch with a draft legislation that seeks to establish state police forces with community content. That may prove more effective in fighting crimes than a posting regime that localises federal police