State police has become inevitable

The idea of decentralising policing in Nigeria received a big endorsement last Thursday from the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria, comprising the presiding officers of the House of Assembly in the 36 states. “The conference strongly advocates for state policing to check the negative trend of insecurity in our country,” according to the communique read after their meeting in Abuja by chairman, Adebo Ogundoyin, Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly. “To achieve this, the conference appeals to the National Assembly, Presidency and other relevant stakeholders to leverage on the ongoing constitution review exercise.”

While we are aware of potential pitfalls, we believe that the merits of having state police far outweigh its demerits and the constitution should be amended to reflect that reality. We therefore align ourselves with the strong view that the country is overdue for the establishment of state police. But there are also genuine concerns that in a situation where many states cannot pay salaries, to put guns in the hands of policemen whose emoluments are not guaranteed will be dangerous and counterproductive. There are also fears that the governors could turn the police in their states into private armies for fighting political opponents.

Therefore, the pledge that the National Assembly would put in place an effective legal framework to prevent likely abuse is reassuring. “It (National Assembly) must convincingly address thorny issues that can, in the future, encourage the arbitrary use of state police by governors,” said Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, who added that the role of all the 36 state Houses of Assembly was equally indispensable since at least the two-thirds of the state legislatures must approve the proposal before it could become effective. “There must be well-structured welfare packages that will discourage unethical practices, minimum security equipment that will encourage efficiency, mainstreaming accountability and transparency mechanisms into the state police operations as well as promoting professionalism across all strata of police operatives, among others.”

For years, governors have argued that each of the federating units (which the 36 states represent) should have control over their own security apparatus even when there will still be federal police. And the governors have compelling reasons to ask for the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police Force as currently constituted. They, as the chief security officers of their states, bear huge responsibilities for the upkeep and maintenance of the police in form of logistics, allowances, and other forms of assistance. But they have no control or power over these police commands, whose men take orders from Abuja. Besides, the current security challenges compel fresh ideas.

Indeed, there are many reasons for state police. Speaking at the passing-out ceremony of the Community Protection Guard by Zamfara State Government earlier in the year, former National Security Adviser (NSA), General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, advocated a rethink of the current strategy. “With an estimated population of 223.8 million and a diverse terrain covering 923,768 square kilometres, Nigeria is a difficult country to secure,” Gusau said. “Therefore, expecting a single Police Force to patrol and control such a large and complex nation effectively is a very tall order indeed.” Former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “there is no federation of our size that does not have state police.”

Many retired senior police officers have also put their weight behind the idea of state police because it would improve the management of internal security and the maintenance of law and order. But we hope the safeguards being put in place would ensure that in trying to solve one problem we do not unwittingly create others.

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