Nigeria is currently in a state of security quagmire. There are so many biting challenges facing our beloved country. Insecurity of life and property has taken the centre stage. For over a decade now, Nigeria has been facing the heinous torture of Boko Haram, Fulani headsmen, kidnapping, armed robbery and militancy, all of which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives of innocent Nigerians.
With these wanton killings, many have wondered if truly Nigeria indeed has security agencies, paid with taxpayers’ money, to protect life and property. Notwithstanding the existence of the Army, Navy, Air force, Nigerian Police Force, DIA, NIA, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Department of State Services (DSS), unspeakable crimes still take place unabated. Of all these security agencies, the Nigeria Police Force is the one that is constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of the day-to-day protection of Nigerians. While Nigeria is still reeling from the April 2014 abduction of Chibok girls, one year to the 2015 elections, the spectre of yet another abduction of schoolgirls has just been reenacted at the Government Girls Secondary School, Dapchi, Yobe State. It was perpetrated by the same Boko Haram insurgents.
Many concerned Nigerians have cried out and suggested ways and means to improve on our security situation. One of such suggestions is the creation of state police.
Origin and state of policing in Nigeria
“Police” is a word derived from the Greek word, “Polis”, which consists of non-ecclesiastical administration that has to do with safety, health and public order of the state. Though derived from the Greek, it was the Romans that actually perfected the system, with the Roman “Policies”, which equated with the Greek “Politeira” – a symbol of power that resided in a central authority. In the UK, policing developed as a local affair, which makes every person to maintain law and order.
State or provincial police constitutes a type of sub-national territory police force that abounds particularly in Oceania, South Asia and North America. State police simply means the absence of a centralised national police force, which is outside the control of the IGP. This means a death blow to the over-bloated, behemoth federal police force established under sections 214 and 215 of the 1999 Constitution. Section 214 thereof provides for a unified and centralised police force that operates from the centre, and prohibits the establishment of any other form of policing in Nigeria. By virtue of Section 215(3), the President or Minister of Police Affairs may give directives to the IGP on matters bordering or maintenance of law, public order and safety. Although Section 215 of the Constitution makes the Governor of a state the Chief Security Officer of the state, Section 215(4), however, takes away this authority, by providing that a Commissioner of Police given certain directives by the Governor may insist that such matter be first referred to the IGP or President, before he could take action.
This was why and how Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State cried out. Herdsmen had given him notice of an impending attack. The Benue State Commissioner of Police was aware. The helpless governor cried to the centre in Abuja. No help came. The herdsmen attacked. The governor wept like a baby. Lives were lost. Mass burial took place. The world was shocked.
It appears that Nigeria is the only prominent democracy in the world that still maintains a unified central police force over a population of 180 million people, 36 federal states, and 774 LGAs. The New York Police Department is one of the most organized police forces in the world, founded by the New York City government that is headed by a Mayor. In the UK, there are about 45 territorial police forces and three special police forces. So, why must Nigeria retain her non-functional centralised police force?
What is state police all about?: The concept
State Police can be described as a body of police force unique to each state of the federation, having state-wide authority to conduct law enforcement activities and criminal investigation across that particular state. The concept of state policing is not altogether a new phenomenon in Nigeria. It has been widely recommended as one of the means to address the issue of insecurity in our country. This concept has received wide acceptance by most Nigerians for their peculiar exclusive reasons. The government has recently joined. Some said that the Federal Police Command is incompetent, or has failed in its duty of securing Nigerians. Some others believe that the closeness of state police to the people will help for more effective policing. I belong to this school. I have, over the years, advocated for state police and community policing. From the 2005 National Political Conference (where I had the civil society group), to the 2009 Vision 2020 (where I participated in the law and judiciary thematic area), up to the 2014 National Conference (where I headed the sub-group on outcome of the conference, within the legal, law reforms and judiciary committee), I have always shouted myself hoarse on the desirability of embracing this true federalism concept. I stand by it. Its advantages far outweigh its demerits.
State policing has, therefore, been defined as a police force under state authority, rather than under the authority of a federal, city or local government in the state. It has also been defined as the police organized and maintained by a state, as distinguished from that of a lower sub-division (as a city or LGA) of the state government (Mersim, 2012). However, in the Nigerian context, state police consists of a kind of sub-national police force, which is organised, maintained and operated under the jurisdiction of a particular state government, as against the federal government.
Arguments for and against the establishment of state police forces have been going on for a very long time. Proponents of state police like my humble self argue that this is consistent with the principle of true federalism and decentralisation of powers; as the arrangement would enable the states to effectively maintain law and order, especially during emergencies. Such proponents criticise section 215(4) of the 1999 Constitution, for hindering governors from the exercise of their power as chief security officers of their respective states. We contend that the Nigeria Police Force as it is today cannot adequately protect Nigerians. The present Federal Police structure is too detached from the more than 180,000,000 people. They cannot be effectively policed with a force of less than 500,000 police personnel; and hence, the need for states to start their own policing system. It is a truism that, most crimes, like politics, are local. Consequently, states’ response to crimes must also be local. This may, however, be done in collaboration with the federal police, as operates in developed nations of the world. Similarly, Nigeria’s geographical area is too large and complex for a central police command. Thus, policing citizens should be the sole responsibility of the respective states, as this goes a long way in reducing criminal activities within the states and local government areas.
The police as a security agency should not depend on donation from individuals and corporate organisations. It should be maintained from the resources of such states, to avoid compromising its independence, impartiality and effectiveness.
No doubt, the Nigerian federation is very dysfunctional. It requires urgent restructuring. The creation of state police is one of the fundamental requirements of the call by patriots for the operation of true federalism in Nigeria. Some fear that state policing would make governors possess absolute powers to make use of state police for selfish and devious ambitions such as illegal arrests and detention of opponents without trial. While this assertion may be correct, establishing state police under a proper legislative framework will definitely prevent state governors from misusing them. For example, there could be established a federal regulatory body that establishes minimum standards, qualifications and requirements for employment into the force, make rules to prevent jurisdictional and territorial conflicts, and related inter-state and inter-border problems. It could also maintain a basic training school for all policemen to have some uniform procedures and processes.
This argument, as attractive as it is, it requires various interrogation. The reason is that creating state police undoubtedly requires constitution amendment. The 1999 Constitution, as it is today, places the policing of the entire nation on the shoulders of the federal government. Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution provides that the Nigeria Police Force shall be under the full and exclusive control of the Federal Government. Furthermore, Section 215(2) of the same Constitution, provides: “the Nigeria Police Force shall be under the command of the Inspector-General of Police and any contingents of the Nigeria Police Force stationed in a state shall, subject to the authority of the IGP, be under the command of Commissioner of Police of that state”.
This is quite anomalous for a heterogeneous multi-ethic and religiously diverse country such as Nigeria.
After all, the very policing of the citizens of this country should be the duty of the various states that are close to the people and not the federal government.
This argument finds support from the fact that, in the United States of America, the federal government owns the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), while various police forces or departments are owned by the states, county councils, municipal authorities and even territory institutions. Apart from the US, countries like Australia, Spain, Canada, Brazil and India also operate state policing system.
I humbly submit that, with state-controlled police, security, law and order would be more effectively maintained within the state. The personnel of such a force, being mostly indigenous, would be better able to contend with any uprising, be it Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, kidnappings or armed robbery incidents. Besides, some state governments already have their own vigilance groups, quite akin to state police, established by law. For example, in the South West, we have the Odua People’s Congress (OPC). In the North, Hisbah is the Sharia Police in Kano and they work in cooperation with the Federal Police. In the South East, there exist the Bakassi Boys, IPOB and MASSOB. The South South boasts of the Egbesu Boys. The existence of these quasi-police forces is a pointer to the truth that there exists a policing gap across the states of the federation, which these groups are admirably filling.
As salutary as this argument is, many Nigerians are opposed to the creation of state police for various reasons, some equally convincing.
Some argue that to have state police is to have replicated in our localities the very inefficiency, corruption and failure of the police at the federal level.
(To be continued next week).
Thought for the week
“I am in favour of community policing because it builds better working relationships with the communities”. (Vincent Frank).