Without State Police, We’re All Sitting Ducks!

Arsenal

If I was a fly on the wall of the presidential quarters, I would whisper to President Tinubu that the streets are abuzz with the clamour for state police and that the current unitary policing system has outlived its sell-by date. 

Without doubt, one of the greatest legacies the president can gift Nigeria is a new policing architecture that guarantees the protection of lives and property for both the mighty and the lowly alike. If he fails to do that, the security situation will continue to deteriorate and, no matter whatever else his government achieves, it will just be written off as inconsequential. 

The House of Representatives has already set the ball rolling through a bill titled, “A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to Provide for Establishment of State Police and for Related Matters (HB. 617)”. The proposed legislation was sponsored by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu alongside 14 co-sponsors.

The proponents argue that the establishment of state police forces is not merely a desirable reform but an imperative measure to address the burgeoning security challenges that threaten the nation’s collective safety. The bill envisages a transformative shift in Nigeria’s policing architecture, advocating for the decentralisation of policing powers by transferring the “Police” item from the “Exclusive Legislative List” to the “Concurrent Legislative List.” 

This strategic amendment seeks to empower states to establish and manage their police forces, thereby introducing a dual policing system intended to enhance responsiveness and accountability at the state level.

Already, some shrill voices of opposition have emanated from serving senior police officers  who frown at the idea of anyone balkanising their empire— even if that empire as presently constituted is but a pack of cards. A backward glance at history will educate nay sayers about the imperative of dismantling the current unitary system in preference for a more inclusive one.

 

Separation Of Powers

An important feature of federation is devolution of powers and in any federal state, the primary responsibility for law enforcement should necessarily lie with the federating units. The police as the first line of defence for the citizens should be very close to the people as much as possible, but in Nigeria the police authority is far removed from the people and this tends to limit the effectiveness of the Nigeria Police Force.

With 371,000 officers, the Nigeria Police Force is overwhelmed, and many parts of the country lack any permanent police presence. Insurgents of different hues have seized control of some far flung territories, imposing brutal, bloody rule over the locals. In response, the military is now deployed in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, a major distraction from its role of territorial defence. Sadly, the creation of additional combat divisions by the Nigerian Army to join the existing four has been primarily in response to internal security rather than immediate threats of external aggression. 

In the 1960s, Nigeria operated a three-tier policing system comprising federal, regional, and local police. Community policing was the order of the day. The various tiers of government allocated adequate resources to ensure that police work at their various levels was effective. I knew the policeman whose beat covered our street. He knew every resident. The easiest way a visitor could locate an address or a family was simply by asking a policeman on the beat. 

Now we have policemen who don’t know the names of the street on which their ‘toll gates’— euphemistically called check points— are located. That is why they behave like an army of occupation. Their instructions come from Abuja. The mentality is that of a force deployed to occupy the states.

While it is true that there were allegations of brutality, nepotism and double standards levelled against the local police in the First Republic, the subsequent centralisation of the force under the military government did not fare any better. Politicians abused their access to the police at that time as they do today.  

 

The Us Example

The USA, whose presidential system of government Nigeria adopted in 1999, offers a template for a decentralised police structure with about 18,000 police departments, federal, state, municipal, county, village, college, campus and corporate organisations. (Punch, 2018.) State Police in the USA are also known as Highway Patrol, State Highway Patrol, State Troopers, all carrying out law enforcement activities including criminal investigations across the state. They collaborate with local police (county and village) to address complicated criminal cases. 

In other words, policing in the USA involves an independent autonomous police system at different levels of governance in the country. This implies that law enforcement in the USA is decentralised and the Federal police authorities deal with violation of federal laws while states police enforce state laws (see

I have argued for decentralisation of the police over the years. I am firmly of the view that, the bulk of the present personnel of the police force should be transferred to their states of origin to form the core of the police service for the states while the federal government embarks on a massive recruitment drive for fresh hands to man the new federal police with a minimum entry requirement of a university degree or Higher National Diploma. 

The on-going bombing campaign by Boko Haram and the threat of renewed violence by some elements in other parts of the country clearly show that the current structure of the police force under the ‘sole administratorship’ of an inspector general who reports to the president is unworkable. Each state should have its own police force headed by a police chief who reports to the governor of the state. 

I have heard arguments about the possible misuse to which politicians could subject the state police. I think it smacks of intellectual laziness to just sit idly to parrot a cacophony of fears of the unknown instead of pooling ideas to neutralise those fears. The argument that state governors will misuse any security force under their power is fraudulent. The greatest champion of impunity and self-help in Nigeria over the years is the federal government — and no one has suggested that we should strip the federal government of the power to control forces of coercion.  

The devil is in the details. The law enabling the establishment of state police should make it difficult for governors to hijack the body for selfish political purposes. 

 

Mark The Boundaries

The federal police should be something like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. That organisation is saddled with the task of protecting and defending the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and to enforce federal laws. It currently has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal law. The national security priorities are stated as terrorism, counter-intelligence and cybercrime while the criminal priorities are public corruption, civil rights, organized crime, white collar crime, violent crime and major thefts. We can replicate that to delineate the duties and limits of the powers of our new federal police. 

The present nomenclature of inspector general of police should be converted to Chief of the Nigerian Bureau of Investigations to head the new body. The current crop of officers and men in the police force would have to be retrained to be useful to their states of origin before they are redeployed.

Some states in Nigeria are bigger and more populous than several countries in Africa and Europe. To argue that their governors are mere children who cannot be trusted with managing their own police service is fallacious and insulting. 

Every state can afford to fund a police service if security is prioritised.

Thankfully, the House of Representatives has started the process of legislating state policing into existence. I urge President Tinubu to put the weight of his office behind the initiative because, as things stand now, we are all sitting ducks at the mercy of random merchants of terror.

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