OPEYEMI BAMIDELE argues for a police system that reflects the intrinsic characters of our federation

The proposal for the creation of State Police has been a subject of intense debate in the last decade or more. This, in part, can be attributed to the rise of armed attacks orchestrated by diverse interests either pursuing divisive agenda or seeking predatory ends in virtually all geo-political zones. At different times, public intellectuals, especially those who specialise in Security and Strategic Studies, have offered divergent views on the pros and cons of the State Police, a truly decentralised police structure that focuses on ensuring public order at sub-national level. While some argue for the fundamentality of a decentralised police structure that reflects the true characters of our federation, others oppose the proposal on diverse grounds. The latter, for instance, emphasises its possibility of deepening the culture of impunity at the sub-national level. They also fear that the Governors may arbitrarily deploy the police under their control against the opposition political parties, perceived social critics and other highly critical actors, hence endangering our nascent democracy.

Indisputably, this fear is truly ominous given the arbitrary use of power by some Governors. However, it is not sufficient a ground for the outright disapproval of this proposal, especially at a time when the cost of insecurity is no longer bearable for our fatherland. It is therefore paramount to critically dissect state police purely from the perspective of political economy. As an approach, political economy literally measures how politics defines the economy and how the economy in turn redefines politics. The interplay of politics and economics, either formally or informally, plays out daily in the conduct of our nation’s affairs. But we rarely emphasise the application of this approach to dissecting the functionality of our federation. This interplay, if methodically applied, can deepen our understanding of the timeless demand for an alternative police system now that the National Assembly has initiated another process to review the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

Nigeria, a federation of 36 states, six geo-political zones and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is on the cusp of history. Its inherent structural imbalance influenced the decision of the National Assembly to review the 1999 Constitution. The process, initiated in December 2023 to produce a new grundnorm that truly reflects the federal character of Nigeria, is steadily ongoing and simultaneously progressing at the Senate and House of Representatives.

Unlike the previous political dispensations, this process has not merely spurred renewed debates about our national security architecture and governance structure at large. It has equally elicited public confidence in the resolve of the National Assembly to deliver a fairly recalibrated political order that will bolster the aspirations of all Nigerians, whether poor or rich, old or young.

At the end of the review, we all hope the outcome of this process will transform to a new constitutional order that will birth a more functional federal system. But is the process really necessary? For me, I strongly believe, the process is highly imperative given the dysfunctional nature of our federal system. This system is dysfunctional due to its failure to decisively address the deficit inherent in our political and economic spaces. It is also dysfunctional due to the prevailing security conditions that plague nearly all constituents of our federation.

No Nigerian, at home and in the diaspora, can dispute the unacceptable conditions of our federation or the stark realities of our fatherland. These realities manifest from time to time in diverse reports of extremist violence in the North-east, banditry and kidnapping in North-west, farmer-herder clashes in the Middle Belt, separatist aggression in the South-east, age-long resource conflict that plagues the South-south and territorial inversion in the South-west.

Obviously, these security trends have become a part of our national life. Almost all federating units, in one way or the other, have their bitter share of these conditions, though the prevalence may differ from state to state. And as a result, lives have been cut short; indigenous people uprooted from their ancestral roots; domestic economy profusely haemorrhaging; and our collective assets unduly attacked for reasons that cannot be justified. Yet, as a federation, we have not come up with constructively contrived strategies to nip these horrible conditions in the bud.

Since the birth of the Fourth Republic, these grievous conditions have spawned diverse national conversations. In 2005, for instance, the conversation led to the convocation of the National Political Reforms Conference, which died a natural death due to the democratically perverse recommendation of a third term. In 2014, the National Constitutional Conference was convened to address all these heinous conditions that eclipse our collective peace, progress and prosperity. But its outcome ended up in our national archive as the then president predicted. Also, in 2017, the All Progressives Congress constituted a Committee on True Federalism with a view to addressing our heinous structural imbalance. The committee completed its mandate with a far-reaching report that recommended state police, resource control and fiscal federalism, among others.

However, the conversation has gained more traction with the resolve of the National Assembly to review the grundnorm that governs our federation. Unlike the previous exercises, we are not just undertaking another review as the Parliament of the Federal Government. Rather, we are undertaking this national assignment as the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a legislative power derived from Section 4(1-4) of the 1999 Constitution. Under this clause, the National Assembly is vested with the power to specifically “make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof…”

This power, as enshrined under the provision, distinctly includes the power to amend, review or even produce an entirely new federal constitution that will decisively address our current socio-economic and political realities. Now, as the Parliament of the Federation, this is exactly the power we are now exercising to resolve highly critical questions that gravely threaten life and property; de-incentivise strategic investments and undermine our collective resolve to build one resilient, vibrant and invincible federation, mainly in the last two decades, even more.

These questions often include: What are the triggers of perilous security conditions that plague our federation? Who are the masterminds aiding these conditions? Why did they resort to armed violence? What are the costs of their actions? And how best can we transform this unpleasant security context to a more stable environment that guarantees collective prosperity? Each of these questions has substantially been answered one way or the other.

As a federation, however, we have not agreed on how these answers can be methodically applied or what exactly we can do to create an environment where a regime of effective public order prevails without let or hindrance. As a result, diverse proposals aimed at establishing such a regime or engendering internal stability often sharply polarise nationalities that constitute this federation.

The proposals essentially can be reduced to two separate strands, which public intellectuals of diverse ideological orientations have canvassed within their spaces of persuasion. The conservatives, for instance, have embraced a centrally controlled police doctrine, which in entirety domiciles the policing powers exclusively in the Federal Government. Also, the progressives firmly hold to the principle of devolving policing powers to other constituents of the federation – be it region, states or local – with a view to providing an eclectic approach to the supreme mandate of ensuring human lives and protecting collective assets.

The politics of state police creation is as deep as the ethno-religious fissures that characterise Nigeria itself. And its depth forms the core of the conservative persuasion that favours the retention of Sections 214-216 of the 1999 Constitution. This persuasion simply implies a centrally controlled police order in which the Federal Government retains the absolute power of providing security and ensuring internal stability. In the main, its proponents believe mere investments in training police officers; prioritising their welfare, recruiting more operatives and upscaling their operational capacity, among others, will guarantee public order and internal stability.

The proposal to adopt or establish State Police has viciously come under sustained attacks for different explanations. First, the conservatives have argued that the Governors will use it as an instrument of oppression against their perceived political enemies if the Federal Government shares policing powers with sub-national governments. This fear is indisputably tenable given the highhandedness of some Governors. However, does this really suggest that we should throw away the baby with bath water?

Second, other critics frequently cited the partisanship of the district, provincial and regional police in the First Republic to justify their opposition to the adoption of State Police. They explained how the political elite deployed the police operatives under their control against their perceived and potent political foes. For them, the creation of State Police can further deepen the subsisting regime of vicious impunity at the state level. Even though it might have failed before now, does it mean the state police model cannot succeed in this contemporary time, especially with the increasingly cascading response capacity of the Nigeria Police?

These explanations are not obviously convincing enough to disapprove the proposal for State Police outright. And this can mainly be understood from different socio-economic and political dimensions. In the first instance, whether in principle or practice, Nigeria is a federation of 36 states, six geo-political zones and one FCT. Ordinarily, the realities of Nigeria’s governance structure should define its national security architecture. This simply suggests that a centrally controlled police system can hardly be responsive enough in a federal context with unitarist foundation and pillars. Accordingly, a police system that will respond decisively to our internal challenges ought to reflect the intrinsic characters of our federation.

Globally, also, demography often determines the size, strategy and structure of the police system a federation will adopt. This singular attribute largely defines the way most emerging democracies protect their citizens; secure their collective assets and create an environment for a functional economy. Nigeria, as one of the world’s fastest growing populations, cannot continue operating a unitarist security architecture despite its strong federal tendencies. Such a policing model cannot meaningfully address existential threats to our internal cohesion and stability.

Unlike in 1979 when we had a population of 70.75 million, Nigeria is now a federation of 229 million people, currently the world’s sixth biggest country, as shown in the demographic data of the United Nations. Contrarily, as revealed in the recent presentation of the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Kayode Egbetokun, Nigeria has a police-citizen ratio of 1-650. This ratio is a far cry from a ratio of 1-460, which according to the United Nations, is a minimum requirement for every sovereign state or territory worldwide. This shortfall further reinforces the dysfunctionality of the centrally controlled model we are currently operating.

Effective policing, therefore, is always a function of understanding the security environment. This evidently requires all operatives to understand the peculiarities of the security context without ambiguity. It also means they understand the culture, history, language and values of the people they are engaged to protect. It entails that they have built, even maintained a network of social capital that can help them function effectively. This suggests that they are familiar with their areas of responsibility, mainly the socio-economic dynamics that often breed internal challenges within the security environment.

As currently constituted, the Nigeria Police does not possess any of these attributes, which I strongly believe, is central to crafting an alternative national security architecture that will guarantee the protection of lives and property. In other words, the dysfunctionality of the current police system directly correlates to the prevalence of criminal incidents in virtually all states of the federation. This further justifies the public demand for an alternative police system that can deepen internal stability and incentivise diverse investors from within and without.

However, the progressives do not in any way share the conviction of the conservatives. Rather, in absolute terms, they propose the need to recraft Sections 214-216 of the 1999 Constitution to introduce local, state or regional police into the country’s security architecture. This also suggests the exigency of devolving policing powers to other federating units – local and state governments. It is not entirely new to Nigeria’s political system.

Until the promulgation of Decree No. 34 that birthed the unification of Nigeria in 1966, we had practised the decentralised police system under the First Republic. In this dispensation, as established in Section 105(7-8) of the 1963 Constitution, each regional, provincial and district government was statutorily vested with the power to create and operate its own police. But the 1966 coup heralded the military rule that dismantled the decentralised police structure we embraced at independence.

Rather than allow our fissures to determine our collective future, it is important to reassess the interplay of forces – cultural, economic, political, social or technological – that now shape security dynamics globally. As well, it is salient to look at the rationality of our choice, perhaps whether we should continue with a centralised police model as it is now or adopt a truly decentralised police model in the similitude of what we had in the First Republic.

As a federation, however, Nigeria cannot be left out in the matrix of new thinking that glaringly defines the world. In real terms, rationalism should, as a custom, shape the choice of police model we adopt and not what we are or what we are not. Put differently, our current socio-political realities or security dynamics ought to define our collective response. For me, the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution obviously avails us another opportunity to redefine our governance structure and recalibrate our security architecture as a people of collective purpose. But we must go about it with a clear sense of self-realisation.

We must, first and foremost, realise that the present police system is ailing and dysfunctional. We must also admit that the system can no longer guarantee the dignity of human lives and the security of collective assets considering our security dynamics in the Fourth Republic. With this admission, it is evident that the option of adopting State Police is no doubt inevitable as an antidote to diverse security challenges that threaten us as a federation. Its inevitability is connected to diverse emerging threats, which according to policy analysts and strategists, are not just the outcome of our national faultlines. Rather, it is designed to respond to the inherently perverse socio-economic realities of the federating units that jolt millions into poverty.

• Bamidele, CON, Leader of the 10th Senate, writes from Abuja

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