Forget State Police; Perhaps a National Guard Instead

ENGAGEMENTS with  Chidi Amuta

Nigeria’s now perennial insecurity has been damaged by political laziness. Every two- penny politician has developed a habit of weaponizing insecurity as political language. In the process, very little effort or rigour is devoted to the reality of what we are dealing with. Even those who are paid to keep us safe tend to resort to simplistic solutions to what is clearly a complex problem. Everyone seems to be mimicking politicians, talking frequently about insecurity as if the problem will go away the more we talk about it.

National insecurity as we have come to know it has grown in dimension and scope over the last twelve years or so. When factions of jihadist terrorists invade local governments in parts of Borno or Yobe state, we are dealing with threats to Nigeria’s sovereignty by an adversary that may indeed be ‘external’ with inputs from ignorant local zealots. They take and hold territory, convert citizens into dissidents and collect taxes and levies  and in the process extract loyalties that ordinarily belong to a sovereign authority. This level of national insecurity belongs in the realm of external aggression by a concerted foreign adversary. It does not matter whether it recruits and arms our citizens to do its bidding or draws inspiration from an external multinational ideology such as fanatical Islamist fundamentalism. We must call it its real name and design and deploy containment instruments and strategies that befit an external aggression.

With the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency in parts of the North-east, Nigeria can be said to have been involved in a counter insurgency war for the better part of the past twelve years. In the process, Boko Haram has sometimes been degraded, reinforced, splintered or been acquired by ISWAP and other franchises  born and bred in the Middle East and nurtured in the turbulent Sahel. Have we been winning or losing that war? Yes and no. We have at least retaken most of the local governments that the terrorists  initially acquired as part of an evil caliphate in the hot days of  Al Queda and ISIS. But the fact that twelve years after the inauguration of Boko Haram, factions of this movement are still taking huge numbers of hostages and razing buildings is an indictment of whatever effort we have exerted so far.

In the immediate neighbouring precincts of the insurgency war- Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara- hybrid forms of insurgent insecurity have taken shape. Banditry, quantum abductions and kidnapping for ransom are now recognized forms of national insecurity. Initially, these hybrid forms acted as retail arms of the larger jihadist insurgency. They used to  supply them with hostages, sha ransoms and collected revenue and hide under their ideological umbrella for greater political relevance. Over time, however, the bandits and other downstream criminal gangs have come unto their own. They mostly now operate as independent criminal enterprises with a purely commercial purpose. This form of insecurity has graduated into a criminal enterprise. They carry out daring raids, collect huge ransoms which is reinvested in more arms for further raids. The industry grows. 

In this form, agents of insecurity have sometimes reached for recognition by state governments and agencies of  national security. Some local bandit squads have in the recent past reached understandings with individual state governments and even posed for photo opportunities with them after these meetings. Implicit in such unholy alliances is a certain illicit power sharing arrangement. Under these arrangements, embattled state governments are known to have ceded parts of their territory to bandit squads, allowing them  to collect revenue from locals and to wield authority over some local governments literally unchallenged.

This form of national insecurity is inherently dangerous because it cedes parts of the national sovereign space and authority to non -state actors and in the process accords them space and scope to disturb the peace, make lots of money and whittle down the capacity of security agencies to exercise total control over  the national sovereign space. More dangerously, illicit non -state actors partake of national resources to make the nation even more  ungovernable while also compromising segments and aspects of national  security structures and personnel.

The atmosphere of insecurity created by the proliferation and free reign of bandit squads and roving armed cartels has led to a spread in the supply of small to medium scale arms. Retail editions of trouble makers like armed robbers, small time kidnappers and urban cults have found an atmosphere of general insecurity that is both lucrative and in vogue. An industry of sorts has been born. Herdsmen that were originally engaged in herding and the livestock trade have since found kidnapping, armed robbery and abductions more lucrative than escorting scraggy herds around the nation.

We cannot fail to add to this picture the thriving political industry and its inherent criminal offshoots. Political thugs, licensed state militias and all manner of private armies have in the last twenty four years of democracy  come into being. Political supremacy in most parts of the country has come with the help of armed thugs generously supplied with weapons, narcotics and other dangerous substances. In post election periods, these political agents of violence tend to find work for their hands and use for their weapons in sundry criminal undertakings. In an atmosphere where employment is scarce and easy money quickly runs dry, the political industry has perhaps inadvertently been fueling the atmosphere of national insecurity  which the same politicians return to convert into campaign issues in the next election cycle.

The fierce competition for political vantage placement has also led to the growth of ethnic, regional and other separatist movements. They generally start out by shouting for recognition and relevance in a national space that deliberately ignores extant disquiet. When no one seems to be listening, the rhetoric of separatist agitators assumes an incendiary tone. Soon enough, the more determined ones set up armed militias since the authorities tend to listen more when their monopoly of violence is challenged by an equally fierce contender for power and political space. Armed separatist movements have in the last ten years therefore added their voice and muscle to the spread of violence as a means of political expression in the country. IPOB, ESN and the various Niger Delta militias belong in this sphere.

This is the effective backdrop to the current situation in which governments at nearly every level seem to have been held to ransom by all these forms of insecurity all over the country. The sheer expanse of the insecurity landscape is more vast than the entire security asset base of the country can deal with. Therefore, bandits and all sorts of criminals are fairly certain that the security agencies cannot easily interrupt their operations let alone effectively trail or arrest them.

There is no lack of response from government. Endless meetings have taken place between politicians and service chiefs. The two chambers of the National Assembly have met severally with the service chief. State governors have met repeatedly with the president with the matter of insecurity topping the agenda of every meeting. The Federal government has gone to considerable length to acquire weapons of war  from all corners of the globe to combat what has become a systemic insecurity. It has become systemic because it has become self- regenerating, having become an economic sub sector which requires  self sustainability to drive itself as a series of economic activities.

Last month, however, an emergency meeting of the president and state governors was prompted by an increase in incidents of insecurity in and around the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The most consequential decision of that meeting was a decision to begin the implementation of the long canvassed introduction of State Police as a silver bullet to end insecurity in the country.

One of the strongest arguments advanced by advocates of a State Police system is local knowledge and proximity to the community origins of criminality around the country. This argument is not new. Nor are we just being introduced to perspectives about  how to solve insecurity in the country.

Given the picture of the multi dimensional nature of our insecurity,  no single item agenda can deal with the problem. State Police is fraught with many weaknesses. It is likely to be commandeered by ambitious state governors into private political weapons. The operatives could become terror squads who use their new found power and uniforms to torment innocent people. State Police can further divide the country,  terrorize the people they are supposed to protect and reduce the effectiveness of the existing national police force.  Misuse of the powers of the State Police can further divide the country. After all, before the civil war, we had regional police formations. They became part of the divisive forces that had to be neutralized to reunify the country in 1970.

It is undeniable that one of the benefits of over four decades of military rule and the civil war is the emergence of a unified police and military command. That benefit cannot be wiped away by the present anxiety over insecurity. Nothing has so far happened in our national security situation that invalidates or overrides the advantages of national integration in matters of police or military command and national security control. On the contrary, what our situation requires is a serious interrogation of the overall internal security situation in the country to determine why the existing structure has not quite served us well enough.

We are under policed. The police has been overwhelmed for years in terms of personnel and equipment. Equipment and recruitment in the police has not matched our population growth and the rate of sophistication of the criminal enterprise. Similarly, the military has in the post civil war era found itself in roles that have degraded its operational capability and professional advancement. The involvement of the military and entire gamut of national security apparatus in internal security has militated against real professional development of the various services.  Our military is today involved in civil security operations in all of our 36 states and Abuja.

As indicated earlier, the profile of our internal security challenges presents a complex picture that may not have fully dawned on the present state. At the end of the civil war, the enemy was either  an external aggressor or internal criminals. The civil populace wanted to be at peace after the trauma of war. While a war -tested military was adequate for the former role, the police was more than adequate for the latter task of keeping the peace.  The military is defined in its role. Its rules of engagement are self -defining: defend or be conquered. The police is a civil force with rules of engagement circumscribed by democracy and the civil rights of free citizens. 

Towards the end of the Babangida regime, a different internal security picture began to emerge. A different type of civil unrest became more manifest. Inter communal  violence began to feature among groups that had coexisted for years. Between the Jukun and their neighbours, in the Zango Kataf area of Southern Kaduna, in parts of the Niger Delta etc. Sections of the country began to witness problems of ethno national integration. Even within the newly created states, issues of inter communal co -existence began to show up. There was a perception then than the task of nation building was largely uncompleted and still needed to be fine -tuned. A different type of trouble maker was emerging. Armed militants intent on challenging the federal might were in the horizon.

The new forms of violent self -assertion were more than the police could deal with but a little less ferocious than what a full military engagement was required to deal with.  The necessity was therefore for an intermediate force; something not as tame and civil as the police and also not as ferocious and terminal as the military. Thus was born the idea of the National Guard. Unfortunately, this idea came too late in Babangida’s troubled political transition programme. Opposition to the possibility of a Babangida self- perpetuation ploy also became part of the opposition to the idea of a National Guard. For the political class, no good or disinterested idea could come from the beleaguered military administration. Both were thrown away  with the same birth water.

Here we are once again with an insecurity challenge that literally re-writes the challenge that was envisioned by the authors of the National Guard over 30 years ago.  The idea of the National Guard was to have a uniform national organization but with substantial state government control on deployment. It should be a mid intensity force that is civil enough to realize that the criminals and trouble makers in each state are first and foremost Nigerians with full civic rights. It however needs to be taken more seriously than the police at the local government office who separates domestic fights and settles quarrels among siblings.

The National Guard should be under the ultimate control of the president as commander-in-chief without whose endorsement no state governor has the power to deploy the National Guard. But the National Guard needs to be composed of state contingents who are familiar with the local terrain.

In the United States, the National Guard is an offshoot of the army. It is made up of army reservists who are called up for specific tours of duty for specific lengths of time annually. In times of national emergency above the call of the police but less intense than requiring the military, the army can advise the president to call in the National Guard. The desirable Nigerian National Guard should be a variant of this format.

On no account must we establish and equip a separate state police force and place it under the control of our emergent crop of imperial governors. That would be an invitation to quick anarchy.

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