By Sunday Ani
For many Nigerians, the increasing issues of banditry, kidnapping and other security breaches in the country are gradually becoming a nightmare. The development is no more a joke and constitutes an existential threat to the nation.
What many thought was a local problem peculiar to certain parts of the country has become a national challenge. As it is today, no part of the country is safe even as there is so much fear and uncertainty in the land. It has become so alarming that secondary school students are now the soft targets of the increasing community of criminals in the country. The situation has led to the forceful shutdown of several boarding facilities, not only in secondary schools but also in some universities.
Critical observers wonder that while the nation literally burns, the security agents appear helpless in protecting the lives and properties of citizens.
The mood of anxiety escalated in many quarters last week when the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, declared that kidnapping and banditry were not federal offences and that it was not the responsibility of the Federal Government to prosecute suspected kidnappers and bandits. Expectedly, Nigerians reacted angrily and in different ways.
Some persons were completely disappointed that the Federal Government could take such a position. For some, it was an admittance of failure to tackle the burgeoning criminal activities in the land. Others saw the statement as mere buck passing and want the Federal Government to rise up to its primary constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and property rather than shifting to the states and local governments. Yet, there are those who argue that the statement has only reinforced the urgency of having a state police in place.
To those who support the establishment of state police, all the coercive forces of the country rest with the Federal Government, and as such, it should do its work and protect the lives and property of Nigerians. They argue that if powers are devolved to the federating units in such a way that states are empowered to have their own police system, a statement by the minister would then be reasonable and tenable. Their position is that as long as the state governors are mere titular heads when it comes to the issue of security, with all the instruments of coercion resting with the Federal Government, such statements will only amount to playing politics with people’s lives. Former second vice president of the Nigeria Bar Association and civil rights activist, Monday Ubani, didn’t quite agree with the minister as he doubted the statement. He insisted that the statement was not correct because it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to secure the lives and property of the citizenry since all instruments of coercion rest with it. “Who controls the instruments of coercion in Nigeria? It is the Federal Government. It also controls the army, the police and all the organs of coercion in the state. Are the states controlling any agency of coercion in Nigeria today? The answer is no. So, it is the Federal Government trying to run away from its responsibility by that statement? That statement is not correct,” he said.
He noted that it is a collective effort of both the state and federal governments to secure the lives and property of Nigerians. He called on Nigerians to keep on emphasizing that it is the responsibility of the government at state and federal levels to protect life and property of Nigerians, but noted that most importantly, the Federal Government is the one controlling the army, the police and all other security agencies.
But, the former national president, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, agrees with Lai Mohammed on points of law. He agreed that legally speaking, banditry and kidnapping are actually legislations within the sub-national entities in the sense that the offences are created by criminal laws of states. “They are different from offences like terrorism because terrorism at the moment is created by the Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Act which is an Act of the National Assembly. That is as far as the legalism of all of these is concerned,” he said.
However, he noted that instead of dismissing the situation by such a classification as the information minister has just done, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice should be challenged to give concrete expressions to efforts of the respective state Houses of Assembly to deal with the recent trends of criminalities noticeable and prevalent in their respective states. “Remember that these are relatively new offences that had, in the old criminal and penal codes, similar offences, but in different variants. Kidnapping and banditry are recent crimes that emerged from recent difficult socio-economic and political challenges in Nigeria. To the extent that they are offences created by laws of respective states, they are state offences,” he said.
The minister’s statement, according to the rights activist, fortifies and emphasizes not just the state police, but even policing down to the community or local levels. “It has become almost indispensable and you could see the anguish of even governors now. It was the Niger State Governor that dramatized the frustration the governors are facing when he said that they would have loved to do more than what they are doing now but that they have very little control over the coercive forces of the country. Such a statement coming from somebody who is expected to provide security for others simply means you can no longer beg the question of state police.
“Much as it reinforces the argument for state police, it also throws up the fact that it is only the Nigerian federalism that is this peculiar. Every other country where federalism is practised, from India to Canada and the United States among other countries, you have a policing system at the federating units, even lower than the federating units. In some of these countries, you have an established police system in the universities and even farm settlements of large magnitude that collaborate with the state police.
“And, those policing formations now collaborate and cooperate with the state policing architecture that is under the control and supervision of the state government in a way that enables them to deploy these forces and deal with security situations as they emerge. So, there is nowhere in the world where you have federalism and you find a centralized police system. It does not work because it is antithetical to the concept of federalism. These centric tendencies, either in policing or in judiciary, simply show that we have very little understanding of the concept of federalism. Federalism recognises juxtaposition of state power at different levels of government,’ he said.
For an Enugu-based lawyer, C.I Nnamani, most federal laws are always domesticated in the states. “For the minister to say that kidnapping and banditry are not federal offences is wrong because almost every offence in the state is just copied from the federal and domesticated. So, I don’t agree with him that banditry and kidnapping are not federal offences,” he said.
National Publicity Secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Alex Ogbonna, also disagreed with the minister. He said: “I am not a lawyer but I know that banditry and kidnapping are crimes against the state. So, the minister cannot say that the federal government cannot prosecute bandits and kidnappers. Crime doesn’t have boundaries because a crime that is committed here in Nigeria is the same as the one committed elsewhere. So, I disagree with the minister that banditry and kidnapping are not federal offences.”
President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima also believes that since the instruments of coercion are within the control of the Federal Government, banditry and kidnapping are squarely in the domain of the Federal Government.
He said: “I think it was a slip of tongue on the part of the minister because no state has control of the police or armed forces. Has the Federal Government fully implemented the law that allows state police in Nigeria? The answer is no. So, certainly, the Federal Government must continue to take responsibility, pending when the constitution is amended to accommodate state police.
“As it is today, even if you have state police, there are certain crimes that will not be left for the state police. State police or community police, the way I understand it, is an attempt to put up another force that will complement the efforts of the central police; that is how it is done in other federal climes. But, now that we don’t even have a state police, it is solely the responsibility of the Federal Government to protect lives and property because the commissioner of police takes orders from the Inspector General of Police just as the army receive orders from the Chief of Army Staff; the same thing applies to the Director of State Services (DSS). So, none of these coercive forces is at liberty at the state level to execute any action against major crimes like kidnapping and banditry without an approval or order from the above. We must continue to push for the decentralization and devolution of powers because the powers at the centre are too much. So, I want to believe that what the minister said is a slip of tongue.”
Former Secretary General of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, (NUPENG), Frank Kokori disagreed with the minister’s assertion but agreed that the governors must wake up from slumber and do their jobs.
He wondered how the minister could say banditry, which he classified as armed robbery, is not a federal offence. “Bandits are armed robbers; they commit crimes against the state. So, the minister cannot say the offence of banditry is not federal but state in nature,” he said.
However, he maintained that the minister’s statement should challenge the governors to sit up, instead of shedding crocodile tears. He lamented that the governors have become so weak that any slightest thing, they would begin to shout on top of their voice calling on the president. “Can’t the governors arm their vigilante and the youths? Is it not guns that they need? Is it not because of guns that bandits and kidnappers are oppressing people everywhere in Nigeria? Let the governors take the bull by the horns and arm their vigilantes. You can’t fight armed people with bare hands. President Buhari does not care whether you die in Abia State, Delta State or any state for that matter,” he stated.
Indeed, the Federal Government, through the information minister, was just passing the buck. It has forgotten that since it controls all the forces of coercion, it behoves it to protect Nigerians against such violent crimes as banditry and kidnapping among others.