Nigeria’s security challenge today is gargantuan. The security agencies are stretched to the fullest in the effort to keep the rate of violent crime down but there is no let-up. The crimes cover a wide assortment of areas: armed robbery, kidnapping, drug and human trafficking, oil theft and smuggling, cybercrime, cultism and electoral violence. If you add to these the Boko Haram insurgency and the Fulani herdsmen’s menace, you would have a full portfolio of insecurity to contend with. This situation has been aggravated by the easy availability of small arms bought illegally or manufactured illegally or smuggled illegally into the country. They are all in the wrong hands today. Efforts by the police or the state governors to retrieve these arms in exchange for favours or amnesty have yielded very meagre results because the reasons for acquiring them in the first place have not gone away.
Over the years, we have had to live uncomfortably with inter-ethnic clashes in various parts of the country. A few examples will suffice: Crisis between Ife and Modakeke in Osun, Aguleri-Umuleri in Anambra, Tiv-Jukun and Jukun-Kuteb conflict in Taraba, Ibaji-Anambra in Kogi, Berom-Fulani in Plateau, Bassa-Egburra in Nasarawa, and now the conflict between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers in various parts of the country has upped the ante and turned the country into one huge slaughterhouse. Every week, people are being dispatched to death in one village or local government or the other. Violent crimes, which were hitherto a largely urban phenomenon, have now taken residence in rural areas. The reason for this shift is that the villages are soft targets, they have neither police stations nor army cantonments and the means of communication such as telephones are few and far between. There are still the well-known groups with their militias asking for self-determination or resource control or for a more egalitarian society. In a democracy where people insist that their voices must be heard and their grievances redressed, it is easy, even if not rational, for people to resort to arms when they feel that they have been ignored by the administering authority. These problems have been compounded by the high level of poverty (70 per cent of Nigerians live on the margins), the prevalence of hard drugs and the emergence of violent cult groups among the youth population. These insecurities need to be tackled with a multi-lateral approach, which must include economic and political strategies.
However, the Federal Government seems to think that it is largely a law-and-order affair. In the short run, this is a correct reading of the situation. The immediate task is to stop the mindless killings and bring the killers to justice. To be able to achieve that goal, we must step up to the plate so that this gulf of despair can wear away. Every day or every week, as people get killed in various parts of the country, especially the northern region, those who survive the onslaught are bound to feel that their own lives are in the fast lane. As tears pour down the cheeks of relations of murder victims like rain, they feel that their own reality has been beaten by fiction in its own game. They feel that they are now living a life, which has probably negated all their dreams. That is like wearing a mask of hopelessness.
President Muhammadu Buhari announced recently that he has authorized that 6,000 policemen and women be recruited into the Nigeria Police Force. He also said that those recruited will serve in the local government areas. The recruitment process has begun. Since we have 774 local governments in Nigeria, it means that each local government will get fewer than eight new police constables, if shared equally. That is a tiny, tiny drop in the ocean of our huge insecurity wahala. This is a kind of Dame Partington solution. Dame Partington was a lady who tried to tame a very high tide with a mop and a bucket.
We are told that we have about 400,000 policemen and women today. The fact is that policemen do get killed in the course of duty or die from other causes and they are never routinely replaced. So the number keeps going down as deaths occur. You may remember that the Police Service Commission announced recently that about 150,000 policemen and women are attached to Very Important Persons (VIPs). These VIPs may include politically-exposed persons with hands soiled or unsoiled, economically-exposed persons on the wanted list of the EFCC, or socially-exposed persons who have been, like Evans, in the business of detaining people for big dollar negotiations. They may also include flashy girls with oh la la figures who are the side-chicks of politicians and political appointees and an assortment of crooks and swindlers who line our landscape and are yet to be put away by the long arm of the law. Don’t you still see these policemen and women at airports carrying their oga’s big bags and wigs and their own small bags and pure water. They, most of them, are still on duty in the wrong places for the wrong reasons.
Let us do some number crunching. If our population is 198 million as stated by the National Population Commission, and the United Nations prescription is for one policeman/woman to 400 persons, it means we need a minimum of 495,000 policemen. If we downgrade our population to Buhari’s preferred figure of 180 million, then we need 450,000 police operatives. It does not matter which population figure you prefer, 198 million or 180 million, we are still underpoliced. And, if you remove those policemen doing menial jobs for VIPs, we are even much more underpoliced than you can imagine. Let us go on with the number crunching. If our population is 180 million and all of our 400,000 policemen are available for duty, we would still be short of demand by 50,000 policemen. However, if you accept our population to be 198 million, then we need an additional 95,000 policemen and women. So, adding 6,000 to the number makes no significant impact on the security problem we currently face.
Mr. Buhari seems to have no faith in state police even though he has not said so explicitly. He merely dismisses it on the ground that he does not think that state governments can fund it. His position is unitarist, not federalist. His position is different from what his party, APC, has approved. His position is also different from what the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has said on the subject. The APC set up the El-Rufai committee that sampled opinion at public hearings in the six zones. The overwhelming opinion was in favour of state police. The APC adopted that position and said so publicly.
When he was Acting President, Osinbajo gave a lecture to participants of Course 25 of the National Defence College, Abuja, titled “Economic Dimension of the National Security: The Nigerian Experience.” He said: “State police is very important because there is no federation of our size that does not have state police … if you look at countries of the world, it is important for there to be a police force in the local community that is homegrown and understands the language.”
At the security summit organised by the National Assembly sometime ago, Osinbajo, as Vice President, said that “the centralised form of policing as it is in Nigeria today cannot control the rate of crime going on.”
He recommended state policing as a pragmatic solution to our security problems.
It is obvious from the foregoing that the President and his Vice President and the ruling party are not singing from the same hymn book on the matter of policing. Looking at the level of deep penetration of criminals in our rural areas today, it is most unlikely that the federal police alone can cope with the problem. In the first place, the federal police is not well funded today. All the state governments support it in their states. The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, says the police needs N1.13 trillion annually to function effectively. He told the House of Representatives that the police received only about 50 per cent of approved budget in 2016. This was hardly enough to meet its commitments, including the maintenance of its 14,306 vehicles and 3,115 motorcycles nationwide.
The Federal Government alone cannot fund the federal police effectively. Similarly, the federal police, even if it is well funded, cannot police the country effectively. The Police Trust Fund bill, which can generate money for the police if passed, has been sitting in the National Assembly since 2010. It is the view of this column that the present National Assembly ought to set aside its problem with Mr. Idris and pass the bill in the national interest. Such a bill should also be initiated in the states. The states can learn from the Lagos State example. A Lagos State Security Trust Fund Law was signed on September 5, 2007, and the agency inaugurated two months later. Within two years, the agency was able to raise N4.7 billion in cash and kind. Other states may not have the kind of muscle that Lagos has but they can do something to improve security through the Police Trust Fund route.
If a federal police served its purpose fully in the past, it does not have the muscle to do so now. We need state police. Money cannot, should not, must not, be the roadblock. Without security there can be no peace and without peace there can be no development. If the states have their police, they can utilize their security votes better. They can receive better intelligence and can give a more rapid response to distress calls. The two police forces can work together and an enhanced partnership in crime prevention or detection can emerge. Those who oppose state police on the ground that governors may use them to victimize their political opponents are making the fraudulent assumption that the federal government is a saint and state governments are sinners. The view ought to be that the people of Nigeria must protect their democracy by ensuring that all institutions, whether federal or state, operate in accordance with the laws of the country and in the supreme interest of the people.