History Beckons over State Police

History Beckons over State Police

The rising security challenges in Nigeria have not only increased the agitation for the creation of state police but have also made it a necessity President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly should not ignore, Wale Igbintade writes

The news that broke last week that the federal government and the states had resolved that the creation of state police would be the solution to the rising insecurity in the country was a welcome development.

Addressing the media after the meeting between President Bola Tinubu and the state governors in Abuja last Thursday, the Minister of Information, Mr. Mohammed Idris, said the president and governors had agreed to work out the modalities for the concept.

For decades, the idea of creating state police in Nigeria has elicited mixed reactions from all the relevant stakeholders. Nigeria runs a unitary, centralised police force with exclusive jurisdiction across the country, which is headed by an Inspector-General of Police (IG). State police would mean police units that are controlled by state governments and whose jurisdictions do not exceed state boundaries.

It is no longer in doubt that the country is currently grappling with terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other forms of criminalities.

 As a result, Nigerians now sleep with one eye open as the constant fear of the unknown lingers. Road travellers tell one story of fear or the other as they journey to their destinations. Some are killed, robbed or kidnapped for ransom.

Every day brings news of deadly attacks, compelling residents to flee their communities. Even worship centres are not spared by marauding terrorists whose aim is to kill and destroy without reason.

According to Beacon Consulting in its security incident tracker, no fewer than 29,828 people were killed, while 15,404 others were kidnapped across the country between 2021 and 2023.

 While over 1,000 persons are believed to have been killed, 300 others were kidnapped for ransom this year. The attack on 25 communities in Plateau State, where over 200 people were killed was one among the several recent incidents that have continued to attract reactions to the weak security architecture in Nigeria is still fresh in the minds of many.

This happened after several other incidents of kidnapping, armed robbery, and killings despite the presence of the military and other federal security agencies.

 All these incidents led to the waning faith in the current federal structure of the nation’s security architecture, a situation stakeholders say calls for the establishment of state police.

Last week, state governors elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rising up from their meeting in Abuja, proffered state police as a veritable solution to the pervasive insecurity across the country. 

The primary responsibility of the government is the protection of lives and property. 

However, successive governments in Nigeria have failed in this regard as killings and kidnappings by terrorists have become the order of the day in some parts of the country.

Over the years, widespread insecurity in the country has led to the clamour for the establishment of state police. 

During his tenure, former President Muhammadu Buhari ruled out the state police option as solution to the country’s endemic security challenges. He said Nigerians should question why governors, who are at the forefront of the clamour for state police, have not given powers to local governments. The former president added that Nigeria can revert to the traditional rulers for recommendations, and approved N13.3 billion for the commencement of community policing instead.

However, with the recent rise in insecurity in all parts of the country and the assumption of office by President Tinubu, an apostle of true federalism and devolution of power, agitations for the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police Force have remained persistent.

The proponents of state police believe that it will drastically reduce the festering insecurity in the country. They also point out that the present centralised policing system cannot and will not address the mounting insecurity in the Nigerian federation.

 Those who spoke to THISDAY argued persuasively that it has become practically impossible for the current policing structure to effectively police a country the size of Nigeria from Abuja. 

The seeming failure of a centralised policing system is very glaring and can no longer be hidden.

Part of the major recommendations of the 2014 National Conference was the creation of state police. 

The belief is that since every crime is local, having in place a state policing system will curb insecurity, if well managed and adequately equipped. Being closer to the people, the personnel of state police have the advantage of knowing the terrain and the people as well. At the same time, it facilitates prompt responses to security matters.

Globally, the state police system is the standard in advanced democracies. Nigeria’s democracy is modelled after that of the United States, yet in practice, the country’s system is shy of the fine points of that bastion of democracy. The culprit of this anomaly is Section 214 of the Nigerian Constitution. When interpreted it means that there can only be one Nigerian Police Force, at the federal level.

The Inspector General of Police (IG) heads that police force. And that IG is accountable only to one person, the Commander-in-Chief and President. The argument has always been that such a structure birthed in the provision of the 1999 Constitution, is faulty and against the tenets of a federal system of government.

But for politics, the decentralisation of the police should not be an issue at all in a country with so large a population as Nigeria. From recent happenings, a centralised police force for a country with a population of over 200 million spread over 36 states, a federal capital territory, and 774 local government areas, cannot effectively tackle crimes and other forms of insecurity.

Security experts, and stakeholders believe that if the governors who are by law the chief security officers of their states are directly responsible for their duties the several attacks will be avoidable.

To a reasonable extent, state governors in the Nigerian context are kings in their own ways. They control land, property, budgets, courts and appointments. Yet, security in their states is controlled from the centre in Abuja. In this case, the power of the governors in the state over the police is little or none as instruction dished out by such a governor to the police commissioners can be overruled by the higher police authorities in Abuja.

Policing is a local function and that police officers and men must be familiar with their environment, and understand the language and culture of the people, especially against the backdrop of the fact that the policy of moving police personnel across ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries, as is currently the case, is counterproductive.

This is why many are calling on President Tinubu and the National Assembly to write their names on the good side of history by responding positively to the rising clamour for state police.

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