Bulging Biceps of Dan Baki

Bulging Biceps of Dan Baki


Last Thursday’s announcement by State House in Abuja that the country’s top political leaders including the President, Vice President, National Security Adviser, all the state governors, FCT Minister and the security chiefs had agreed to create state police forces marked a major political and psychological turn-around which was not possible only a few years ago. They reached this decision after an emergency meeting to review the precarious security situation in the country.

Twelve years ago, the issue of state police divided Nigeria Governors Forum along North-South lines, with the latter calling for it and the former firmly resisting it. Since then, Boko Haram, kidnappers, bandits, cattle rustlers, pipeline vandals, communal warriors and baby factories have brought about a major shift in national attitude. All the leaders seem to agree that Federally-centred security agencies can no longer cope with the situation, and some form of devolution is needed.

Speaking at an occasion to mark his 71st birthday in 2012, former military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida called for the creation of state police. He pointed out that we had something of the sort before. We actually had more than that. Up until 1970, we had police forces controlled by the Native Authorities, which became local government councils in 1976. The NA police answered not even to regional premiers or military governors but to traditional rulers, who were the heads of Native Authorities.

Days before IBB spoke, the case for state police suffered a major setback when the Parry Osayande committee made up of former Police IGs came down heavily against it. Former IG Muhammadu Gambo, who in his police days was tough as a doornail, recalled the suffering of First Republic opposition politicians in the hands of the Yan Doka [literally ‘sons of order,’] as Native Authority policemen were known in the North. Anyone who is too young to know what happened in those days could read up some first-hand stories in Alhaji Tanko Yakassai’s book, ‘The story of a humble life.’ Today, one of the biggest fears about state police is potential abuse by state governors. Which is not unfounded, when you remember what they have turned State Independent Electoral Commissions [SIECS] into.

I was just old enough to know the Yan Doka before they were scrapped in 1970. The most prominent Dan Doka [singular form of Yan Doka] in Jega District in the late 1960s was Dan Baki. He was a huge man with a protruding belly, very dark complexion, a booming voice and extra-large biceps protruding from his green Native Authority uniform. Dan Baki was totally devoted to law and order. Every day, we saw him march felons and suspects from the station to the Alkali’s court and back. Up to ten felons often marched in front of Dan Baki, and none of them ever escaped.

Even when he was not in uniform, Dan Baki never passed by a fight without intervening. He often ordered a sugar cane seller to sweep his dirty surroundings, ordered a bean cake seller to cover her calabash, or ordered a bicycle rider to ride more carefully. Dan Baki was believed to have enormous physical strength and as children, we sang a song in his praise:

Ko wacce dan doka raggo ne

[Whoever says a policeman is lazy]

Dan Baki baici kwala tai ba

[Dan Baki did not grab him by the collar].

Apart from Native Authority Police, Nigeria had no state or regional police forces before 1970 but there was the Federally-owned Nigeria Police Force, known in the North as Yan Sanda [literally ‘sons of stick’]. This was because of their batons. The force was small and mostly city-based. The term Yan Sanda was initially derisive. I don’t know why, but people seemed to respect the local Yan Doka more than the Federal Yan Sanda. Around 1974, when for the first time I heard a Radio Kaduna newscaster refer to a state Police Commissioner as “Kwamishinan Yan Sanda,” I was shocked and wondered how such a derisive term got into the radio. It soon became normal and even the police began to refer to themselves as such.

Yan Doka were abolished as part of Local Government reforms in 1970 and the men were absorbed into Nigeria Police Force. Not all of them agreed to be absorbed; some refused and retired instead, probably because they did not want to be transferred out of their communities. In my hometown, police took over Yan Doka’s station and put up their signboard stating, “Nigeria Police, Jega.” As school pupils we thought the grammar was wrong and every night, we sneaked up to the signboard and added “n” in front of ‘Nigeria’, which the policemen always erased in the morning.

There were only eight of them to start with. One day in 1972, Police Inspector General Alhaji Kam Salem passed through Jega, accompanied by Police Commissioner of the North Western State, Mr. Dimka. All eight policemen lined up at their station early in the morning and waited many hours before the IG arrived from Sokoto. He inspected the parade, spoke briefly and proceeded with his tour.

Last week’s announcement of a leaders’ consensus to create state police forces was short on specifics. The Minister of Information only said a committee will be set up to work out the modalities. To begin with, there is a constitutional hurdle before this could be done, but if there is such a broad consensus among key federal and state officials, then the constitution can probably be amended to accommodate state police. Other issues that must be ironed out include size of the forces, command structure, training, weapons, financing and, very importantly, demarcate areas of responsibility between state and federal police in order to avoid clashes. It is not impossible that along the way, some people will suggest that what we need are Local Government, and not state, police forces, as we had before 1970. Some people could also argue that traditional rulers are better placed than governors to control the new forces, if we want to restore the old glory of local policing.

Now, much has been said over the years about the effectiveness of the old Yan Doka compared to the Yan Sanda. In 1980, when followers of erratic Muslim sect leader Muhammadu Marwa alias Maitatsine launched an attack on Kano City from their enclave at Yan Awaki, it transpired at the Commission of Inquiry hearings that the Yan Doka under Emir Muhammadu Sanusi 1 of Kano arrested and deported Maitatsine back to his native Cameroun in 1954. He however sneaked back into Kano under the noses of the Nigeria Police, NSO and Immigration, built a huge army and launched his attack, which claimed thousands of lives.

I don’t think anyone should assume that the old order of glorious local security will return as soon as state police forces are re-established in Nigeria. We are probably too far gone along this path for any meaningful retreat. In 2000AD when I was Editor of New Nigerian, I sent my Features Editor to Kano to interview Walin Kano Alhaji Mahe Bashir Wali on this subject. He was uniquely qualified to make a comparison because he was a First Republic Wakilin Doka, i.e. head of the Kano Native Authority Police. He later transferred to Nigeria Police and rose to become an Assistant Inspector General. He was asked why it is that the Nigeria Police today is incapable of doing what the Yan Doka did, such as monitoring every stranger for criminal intentions. Wali said it is not possible to do so now because of the population explosion, the huge rural urban migration and the complexity of modern life. He forgot to mention the plethora of liberal democratic rights of nowadays.

In the olden days, no one entered a town without reporting himself to the traditional ruler and saying who he is, where he is coming from, what is his mission there, how long he intends to stay, who is his host, and seeking permission to stay. Think about a city such as Abuja today, which could have up to 1,000 hotels. There are four major roads, an airport and numerous small roads and bush paths leading into Abuja. Every day nothing less than half a million workers, contractors, public officers, politicians, traders, artisans, beggars, criminals and other treasure seekers fly, drive, ride, cycle or walk in, reside where they want, do what they want, leave when they want and stay as long as they want. It will require angels to keep a tab on such a situation.

In any case, the vaunted effectiveness of the Native Authorities in security matters was not only because of the Yan Doka, who were relatively few in number. It was also because of the fearsome Alkali [in charge of the court] and the Yari [in charge of prison]. More seriously, as Professor A.D. Yahaya said in his old book “The Native Authority System in Northern Nigeria,” village and district heads were the most potent security tool of the Native Authorities. Add to that the fact that a stranger in any community stood out like an archbishop in a brothel.

Much has been said recently about “ungoverned spaces,” which outlaws use as their bases to perpetrate horrible crimes. Maybe state police, when they emerge, will have more numbers, deeper penetration and more local knowledge than Nigeria Police, but enough of these to combat latter-day crimes? The society itself has changed almost beyond recognition from the days of NA Police.

It is observable that Nigeria’s Francophone neighbours all have a more authoritarian attitude to fighting crime than Nigeria, even when they are under civilian rule. The much more liberal atmosphere in Nigeria, compared to our Francophone neighbours, must have made security agencies’ task much harder. I am thinking of Mr. Femi Falana, SAN. Sir, as part of the envisaged reforms to enhance our ability to fight off terrorists and kidnappers, can we reduce the number of liberal democratic rights in the 1999 Constitution?

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