A Vote for State Police


The National Security Summit initiated by the Senate kicked-off last Thursday, 8th February 2018 with a clear pro-state police/decentralised policing disposition by the presidency. In a speech delivered on his behalf by the vice president, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “The nature of our security challenges is complex. Securing Nigeria’s over 923,768 square kilometres and its 180 million people requires far more men and materials than we have at the moment. It also requires a continual re-engineering of our security architecture and strategies…. We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go”.

This is a cheery paradigm shift coming from the presidency. For years, some of us have been like a lone voice crying in the wilderness about the unsuitableness of a unitary police system for our federal system. I have been at the helms of the amendment of the 1999 Constitution for a couple of years. Decentralised policing is one of the perennially proposed amendments that consistently fail to garner the needed support. However, Nigeria continues to pay dearly for it.

Some always argue that Nigeria is not mature for state police/decentralised policing. But, as my friend and former colleague, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), once argued, it is not a question of maturity, but a question of the federal system we opted for. If you choose to travel in a car, you just have to use the road, not rail. If you get a flight ticket, you have to fly.

Ironically, Nigeria operated decentralised policing from the colonial period up to the fall of the First Republic in 1966. The Native Authority Ordinance No. 4, 1916 vested the responsibility of maintaining law and order in the Native Authorities. It was further enhanced by the Protectorate Laws (Enforcement) Ordinance No. 15, 1924. A Nigeria Police Force, with nationwide jurisdiction, only came into being on April 1, 1930, but existed side by side with sub-national police organisations. The 1960 Constitution recognised the Local Government Police in Western Nigeria, Sheriffs and Court Messengers in Eastern Region, the Native Authority Police in the Northern Region.

A return to the right system has, however, being inhibited by fear: possible misuse by the governors, serving as a secession army, etc. But the questions are: Is it mandatory for all states? Is the current police system devoid of corruption and political abuses?

What we need is a decentralised police system where every layer of government can set up the policing that addresses its needs, while also ensuring that there are legal valves guarding against our fears. This is the practice in other federal jurisdictions.

In Canada, there is no express mention of the establishment of the police in the Constitution. However, there is the provincial responsibility for the administration of justice. Thus, beside the federal police- Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) – the Provinces maintain independent police and establish laws that regulate their service and structure. Ontario and Quebec have the Ontario Provincial Police and Surete du Quebec, respectively. The remaining provinces contract out most/all of their law enforcement responsibilities to the RCMP. Some provinces delegate some policing responsibilities to their municipalities, while big cities like Toronto and York have their own police service.

The United States operates several security agencies at the federal level, but the states and even some municipalities maintain their police service, independent of the federal government. Legislations on policing are generally contained in state laws and regulations.

The federal system in Australia ensures that federating units are responsible for policing within their respective jurisdictions. The Commissioner of Police in the state may be removed by the Governor in Council, but on a recommendation by the Chairperson of the Crime and Misconduct Commission or on an address from the Legislative Assembly to that effect.

Section 144 of the Constitution of Brazil establishes five distinct police bodies- Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, The Federal Railway Police, The State Military Police and Fire Brigade, and State Civil Police. The first three are affiliated to the federal authorities, and are concerned with federal laws. The last two are subordinated to state governments, enforcing state legislations only.

However, the state police forces are under the supervision of the Secretariat for Public Security, the state government agency responsible for supervising police activities in the state. The Secretariat for Public Security itself is subordinate to the National Council of Public Security, the federal body responsible for security matters.

The first step is to amend Sections 214 and 215 of the 1999 Constitution, which brings the police under the exclusive control of the Federal Government. Police should be removed from item 45 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution and moved to the Concurrent List, Part 2 of the Second Schedule to allow states to establish State Police Service under approved guidelines.

The National Assembly should provide the framework for the establishment, structure and powers of the state police. The powers of the governors should be limited to making policies and should not extend to the operational use and control. Just like the National Judicial Council (NJC) the Federal Police Service Commission should exercise a level of oversight over the activities of the state police such as maintaining common facilities for all Police Services in the country, including training, criminal intelligence data bases, forensic laboratories, and rendering assistance to State Police Services in specialised areas like behavioral analysis, counter terrorism, etc. Others include a system of inspectorates and certification such as supervision of recruitment, training, supervision of standards, and annual certification of every State Police Service (which should be a statutory prerequisite).

The State House of Assembly may enact laws regulating state police, but such laws must be in consonance with Constitutional provisions and federal legislations regarding policing. The National Assembly, in conferring powers on the state police, should clearly define jurisdictional boundaries. There should be caution in the areas of appointment and removal of the Commissioner of Police, the funding and the general control of the police being, being areas which may allow the political class to manipulate the institution.

For this reason, there should be established a body to be known as “State Police Service Commission” for all the states of the federation. Such body should comprise a representative of the executive to be appointed by the Governor, representative of the Federal Government to be appointed by the Police Service Commission, two independent experts in security matters to be appointed by the Governor (subject to confirmation by the State House of Assembly), and a representative each of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress to be appointed by the Chairman of the state branch. Others are a retired police officer not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police, representative of the Nigerian Bar Association to be appointed by the Chairman of the state branch, representative of the Nigerian Union of Journalists to be appointed by the Chairman of the state branch, and representatives of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and other relevant civil organizations, as the case may be. The body should be responsible for the recruitment, appointment and removal of the members of the state police force.

While the Federal Police Service Commission functions like the NJC in the disciplining of Commissioners of the state police, the State Police Service Commission will deal with those of the others levels of officers below the Commissioner. Further functions and powers of the Commission should be specified either in the Constitution or an Act of the National Assembly.

Appointment of the Chief of Police of the State should be clearly defined thus: the State Police Commission proposes three qualified candidates (not necessarily police officers) to the Governor, who then presents his choice from amongst them to the State House of Assembly for ratification by a simple majority; tenure of the Chief of Police should be a non-renewable term of four or five years; and removal only upon a recommendation to the Governor by the State Police Service Commission and subject to the ratification by a two-thirds majority of the State House of Assembly.

The funding of the state police should be a first line charge on the state account. Alternatively, the funds can be deducted at source from the Federation Account and paid to the Police Service Commission for onward disbursement to the State Police Service Commission. An Act of the National Assembly or the Constitution should make provision for the type of arms a sub-national police can acquire. There should also be provisions stipulating unacceptable conducts which can lead to the disbandment of a sub-national police command.

During the Senate’s Security Summit, Senator Adamu Aliero emphasised that the states lacked the resources to fund state police. That may be true. But the Constitution also allows both the Federal Government and the states to set up universities. Yet, that does not mean it is compulsory for every state to establish a university. The old Anambra State under Senator Jim Nwobodo was the first to establish a state university. But those states, which could not afford it, had their citizens in federal universities until they were able to set up one. Every state university enhances access to tertiary education for the people of that state, just as every state police established will enhance security in a particular state.

So, state police will not be compulsory. Those who have the resources will go ahead, while the federal police will take care of those unable to afford it for now. In fact, with state police in place, the federal police will have more manpower for states that are unable to establish their own. Meanwhile, states which cannot afford state police today may be able to afford it in the future, just as in the case of the evolution of state universities. The important thing is to lay down the legal frameworks that permit and modulate decentralised policing so that those who can afford it can start, while those who believe they cannot afford it will not also hold others down.

• Ekweremadu, a lawyer is the Deputy President of the Senate