Buoyed by the need to tackle rising security challenges in the land, the National Economic Council (NEC) recently resolved to map out plans to decentralise police operations across the country. Disclosing this to newsmen in Abuja after the council meeting, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, said the decentralisation of the police would aid greater access to information, unlike the present centralised approach.
A committee to be headed by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, with representation each form the six geo-political zones, would soon be set up to come up with plans to carry out the exercise. Those at the meeting included the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Abubakar Sadique; Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Abubakar; Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and the Acting Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Matthew Seifiya.
It is envisaged that the exercise would make police operations more effective and more responsive to current security challenges. There is no doubt that there are subsisting issues with the ability of the police to effectively police the country and ensure the enforcement of law and order. The downturn in the economy has led to rising security challenges such as armed robbery, kidnapping and terrorism in the land. Unfortunately, the centralised nature of our policing system has not helped matters in arresting the general insecurity.
However, critics of the planned decentralisation of the police see it as an attempt to paper over the real problems. They, therefore, believe that state policing is the way to go. To them, any arrangement that still puts the overall control of the police under one man located at Abuja would not solve the problem. We believe that mere tinkering with the present over-centralised police structure may not go far enough.
Only state policing will solve the problem. Besides, the government has not explained how the new arrangement would address the bigger issues of capacity building and improving the operational environment of the police. There are currently obvious issues with recruitments, training, retraining and remuneration of police personnel. These are challenges that should be addressed before we can have the police of our dream.
We urge the Federal Government to face these challenges headlong. It should not circumvent them. However, in carrying out the decentralisation of the police, care must be taken to ensure that the arrangement is consistent with the extant laws. There is the need to ensure that the provisions of the Police Act and the 1999 Constitution cover the envisaged arrangement. If not, the relevant sections of both laws must be amended.
The fear of abuse of the police at sub-national levels can be mitigated if adequate provisions are made in the enabling laws to define the functions of the police at those levels as distinct from the federal police.
Adequate funding and insistence on professionalism could be another safeguard for the police. When our federalism is properly defined and the federating units are adequately empowered, there would be no issues about component units rising to their responsibilities and finding the means to meet them. The present system that allows for deliberate obfuscation of lines of authority, crass abdication of responsibilities and abuse of powers should be done away with.
Above all, we think the proposed de- centralisation of the police is no more than a stop-gap measure to address nagging internal security problems. Although it falls short of public expectations, it must be given the opportunity to work.