State police should be part of the wider conversation on restructuring the federation

Control of police by the states gained more converts last week with critical stakeholders throwing their weight behind the idea that has been variously thrown up as the panacea for the worsening security situation in the country. Speaking on behalf of the 36 governors, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) Chairman and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari said there is already a consensus on the issue that states should be allowed to set up their own police once they can afford it. His intervention came after Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had canvassed similar position. Amplifying the idea further, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, believes it could work the same way states established their own universities.

However, while many Nigerians seem excited that strong voices are being added to the call for state police, it is noteworthy that this is not the first time the NGF would toy with the idea. After one of its meetings five years ago, for instance, the then Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is now the Minister for Solid Minerals, made the same case on its behalf. “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.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, nothing came out of that effort. Besides, whatever may be the merit in the idea of state police, even from the statement released by the NGF chairman, it is clear that it is not a silver bullet given that the same subversion that has rendered the federal police ineffectual could easily be replicated by the states. But we agree that the current situation where our policemen have become an easy game for a more sophisticated world of crime calls for a radical solution. Whether the solution lies in the establishment of their own police by governors is another matter altogether, given that many of them behave like emperors in their states.

As we reiterated in a recent editorial, there may be a need for some clarity of thought and the benefit of historical hindsight. The greatest legacy of the post war era in Nigeria 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. Therefore, we hope the committee established by the governors will explore all the issues before coming up with its recommendations.

This is important because Nigeria has been on this path before. A more recent effort to delist some of the exclusive functions and add them to the concurrent list suffered defeat in the National Assembly as both chambers killed the devolution of powers amendment bill. What this suggests is that the vice-president and the governors will have to go beyond seminal pronouncements and take concrete actions that would facilitate not only the establishment of state police but also the birth of a more workable federal arrangement that will allow the states to develop at their own pace. That will come within the larger conversation on the need to restructure the country.