Inching Closer to the Mark

1

Davidson Iriekpen writes that clamour for the establishment of state police is getting more verve

Indications that Nigeria is gradually inching closer to a constitutional endorsement for state police system emerged last week when the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, called for collaboration of the 36 state assemblies in the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to provide for state and community policing in the country.

Led by its chairman and Speaker of the Gombe State House of Assembly, Hon. Abdulmumin Kamba, the 36 speakers who were on a courtesy visit to leadership of the Senate, for passing the bill which granted financial autonomy to state legislatures, indicated that state and community policing have become imperative due to rising security challenges.

He said: “You are all aware of the challenges we are currently facing in this country, particularly that of insecurity. There is no doubt that the security architecture of this country presently cannot meet the demands and challenges before it. One of the decisions we took today is to address the issue of state and community policing. In doing that, we gave our constitution amendment committee two weeks to bring to the floor a bill on state and community policing. The House of Representatives is also working along similar lines.

“We will send it to the states assemblies to seek your support. We believe that no responsible country or society can continue to watch helplessly as our people are being killed. We must appeal to our people that we must live in peace and harmony and we must be able to resolve our issues peacefully. As speakers, I urge you to play your part,” he stated.

The House of Representatives has pledged introduce a bill for an Act to alter the Nigerian Constitution and transfer the police from the Exclusive to Concurrent Legislative List and other matters related thereto.

Their enthusiasm followed the spate and killings in the country and the call for state police as a solution to curbing the dastardly act. Even though the clamour is not new, analysts believe that for the country to properly address the security challenges, it needs to tackle the touchy issue of state police where the current centralised police structure in the country has continued to limit the capacity of states to effectively address security issues.

Almost on a daily basis, the country is inundated with stories of kidnapping, armed robbery, ritual killing, gang wars, and lately herdsmen killings. The news space is daily awash with gory tales of killing, maiming and arson. These occurrences have pushed the citizens further apart. Rather than see the killings as crimes that they are, they are given religious and ethnic colouration.

Perplexed, the state governors recently lent their voices in support of the creation of state police. The Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, said at the end of a two-day security summit organised by the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Review of Current Security Infrastructure, that “There is a need for state police; we can say it is the only answer.”

So important has issue become that it received the blessing of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinabjo. He publicly endorsed the creation of state police, saying: “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. For a country our size, to meet the one policeman to 400 persons according to the UN prescribed ratio, we would require almost triple the number of our current police force. More funding for the military and security agencies is required.

“The nature of our security challenges are complex. Securing Nigeria’s over 900sq/km 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. This has to be a dynamic process,” he said.

While many have argued that Nigeria is not ripe for state police, because state governors will use it to haunt their political opponents, others have argued otherwise, urging those in opposition not to view the clamour from a narrow perspective. Another shade of opinion that the government in power is scared to allow state police because, as with all other past governments, they will not have total control of the police and therefore lose a major force of its power of coercion.

Another argument by those against state police is that if created, the various state governors would abuse it the way the state electoral commissions were being bastardised where only their political parties win all or a majority in local government elections conducted by the state electoral commissions. They also wonder if the governor would be able to cope with all the logistics needed to make it properly functional such as payment of salaries, provision of uniforms, boots, guns, bullets, armoured vehicles, patrol vehicles and communication gadgets, among others. They stated that at a time that 34 out of the 36 states of the federation were struggling to pay salaries, additional responsibility such as state police would seriously eat into the state budgets.

This point was immediately dismissed by a school of thought who felt that states that are not ready to establish their own police do not have to. They could wait until they were able or collaborate with some contiguous states. They may decide not to have at all, adding however, that states that saw the need should not be deterred.

An established argument points to the fact that the federal police as presently constituted was numerically inadequate, ill-equipped and ill-motivated to properly police and bring law and order to the country, which according to them, makes state police imperative. Whichever way, the consensus is that the policing system for almost 200 million Nigerians is inadequate.

Despite the fears nursed about the abuse of state police many analysts are wondering: Does it not make sense for us to attempt to correct a wrong by emplacing with another? If politicians have mastered the art of manipulating the system for their own benefit, should we act contrary to the dictate of our constitution? Nigeria operates federal system of government. Is a centralised policing system in tandem with the spirit of federalism?

The concern that politicians would abuse state police was malodorous. The consensus was that the system could not improve until it was allowed to run.

One of the analysts told THISDAY that the way forward was to have state police and keep interrogating the system.

Despite the benefits being touted for the establishment of state police, the pan-Northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), opposes its the creation. The ACF’s Secretary General, Anthony Sani, declared that the creation of state police would be a recipe for more crises insisting that governors would use it to torment perceived political enemies.

The ACF, he said, was favourably disposed to better training, training, acquisition of better equipment and recruitment of more personnel to improve the lot of the existing Nigeria Police Force. He argued further that given the paucity of resources, it would not be good judgment to saddle states with additional responsibilities of state police. Sani said that these problems could not be solved through the multiplication of security agencies.

No matter the opposition, the seriousness the National Assembly attached to making state police a reality has received the endorsement of the former Vice President and frontline presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, who has commended the lawmakers for their decision to amend the constitution and formally provide for state police and community policing to deal with the current deteriorating state of insecurity characterised by persistent loss of lives of innocent Nigerians. He said they have by their action, demonstrated courage in seizing the initiative to intervene in the country’s security crisis.

Recalling the massacre in Zamfara, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa and Kaduna States and the murder of seven policemen in Abuja while on active duty, the former vice president noted that decisive action was needed to address the current security challenges. According to him, the National Assembly has a responsibility to give legal teeth to the creation of state police and community policing in the country.

“A peculiar crisis demands a decisive action. I am one hundred percent behind the National Assembly in their efforts to strengthen the hand of state governments in providing security to their citizens,” he said.

The former vice president noted that leaving the citizens to their fate was not an option. He also added that once a democratic government seems overwhelmed or paralysed by security challenges, the initiative by the National Assembly should be welcomed by all Nigerians. He explained that security strategies should be periodically reviewed because the criminals involved are also studying the weaknesses and strengths of our security system. According to him, the state should always develop strategies that can neutralise them before they strike. He called on Nigerians to support the National Assembly and state house of assemblies in its bold decision to amend the constitution in order to create state police and community policing.