In their wisdom, which matches the thinking of most Nigerians, the officials of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) decided, appropriately, to beam the searchlight on Nigeria’s existential crises at its 17th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference in Abuja last week. The crises are multi-faceted but they include the political push and pull within the two major political parties that threaten our democracy; the reckless carpet crossing; the huge corruption within the system and the creeping dictatorship that is threatening to sink the ship of our democracy. In the economic sector, we have the asphyxiating debt burden, the sharp fall in the value of the naira, the high rise in petrol subsidy, the failure to maximally exploit our assets in agriculture and solid minerals, all of which are giving our economy severe goose pimples. Of importance, also, is the incessant strike in the health and education sectors, and the deterioration in the quality of service in those two vital sectors, which has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. These issues have led to worrisome brain drain in the two sectors by some of our valuable personnel in their search for the proverbial greener pastures. But by far the most important crisis that our beloved nation has had to contend with is the high level of insecurity in the country that has taken many lives and limbs, rendered road and rail travel unsafe and put millions of our citizens in the abhorrent portfolio of internally displaced persons (IDPs). They live from day to day without knowing if and when the next meal will come. The only situation that is worse than that is death but some deaths are far better or less worse than a life of extreme misery.
The NGE, in its generosity, reserved three sessions at the conference for the discussion of insecurity. Some of the key players in the security arena assigned speaking roles at the conference were the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno, Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, and Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi. None of these eminent managers of our security turned up for the engagement. I have no idea what went wrong, why they would deprive themselves of the immense opportunity to talk to a gathering of more than 300 editors on a vital matter within their portfolios. That gathering was a unique opportunity for them to rub minds with 300 decision-makers and gatekeepers in the media industry. Whatever anyone reads in newspapers and magazines, hears on radio or views on television is largely and ultimately decided by those 300 editors that our security apparatchik snubbed undeservedly. That is enormous power assembled in one hall. To make matters worse, the governors were also expected at the executive session to tell the editors how the security situation was in their states and what in their view could be done to tame the monster. Only one governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, turned up. However, two others sent representatives who were not directly supervising security issues in their states. Hajia Hannatu, who represented Governor Nasir El-Rufai, is the Special Adviser on Inter-Governmental Affairs, while Prince Adeyanju Binuyo, who represented Governor Oyetola of Osun State, is the deputy chief of staff to the governor.
It is a crying shame that these highly placed officials missed a valuable opportunity to air their views on this excruciating national issue. I was assigned to chair one of the sessions during which I mentioned seven anomalies that I believe are hindering effective and efficient security management, despite the commendable efforts of our security personnel.
Anomaly number one is that Nigeria is a federation that is culturally, linguistically and traditionally heterogeneous but, unlike other federations such as United States, Canada, Australia and Germany, Nigeria is being managed in security matters as if it is a homogenous entity. If you send a police officer who is a Moslem from Kano to Lagos he will be wondering why the brewing of beer is permitted and why the beer brewed should not be destroyed. He will receive a culture shock because Sharia law in his state objects to beer drinking and that is the orientation he carries with him wherever he goes. It is only policemen and women from the locality who can understand the local idiosyncracy.
Anomaly number two is that the governor of a state is designated as the Chief Security Officer of the state. That is merely de jure. In real terms, the Commissioner of Police assigned to a state is the de facto chief security officer, who reports only to the Inspector-General of Police in Abuja. Many commissioners of police disagree and quarrel with not only the state governor but also with the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) who heads the zone to which their state command belongs. Their loyalty goes only to the Inspector-General of Police.
Anomaly number three is that, in 23 states of the federation, there is one form of local policing system or the other, yet the Federal Government refuses to accept the concept of state police. The states that operate one form of local security outfit or the other are Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Rivers, Osun, Benue, Katsina, Cross River, Enugu, Taraba, Adamawa, Anambra, Ondo, Ebonyi, Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, Bauchi and Abia. So, in real terms, there is de facto state police in these states but the President Muhammadu Buhari government doesn’t want the concept of State Police formalised. It is simply looking the other way while these entities exist because he knows that the Federal Government alone cannot police the country. Since Buhari does not want a bifurcation of security power in the country, he continues to pretend that these state security outfits do not exist. He allows them to exist because he has no choice.
Anomaly number four is that the APC panel headed by the governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, toured all the zones of the country, gathered memoranda and received verbal presentations on various national issues, including security. The overwhelming opinion of Nigerians was that, to be able to police the country effectively, state police was a necessity. Now, the APC government has refused to implement the report of the committee it set up, which was headed by an APC governor and comprised only APC members. Isn’t this hypocrisy? Isn’t this public deception, giving the impression that it is doing something about an issue on which the public harangued it but it is in actual sense doing nothing about it?
Anomaly number five is that there is a regional security outfit in the South-West called Amotekun. In the South-East it is called Ebubeagu. The South-South has also decided to set up its own zonal security system. But there is no regional security outfit in the North Central, North West and North East, three zones that are the epicentre of maximum security infringement. So, are the three northern zones happy with the security situation in their zones or they are just hoping that, by some magical formula, the insecurity in their zones will simply vanish into thin air?
Anomaly number six is that the police force is the primary security outfit for the regular maintenance of law and order in the country. In cases of serious disturbance, the mobile police are supposed to be drafted to put down the disturbance with reasonable force. But in Nigeria, the army is now being used, more or less, as the regular law enforcement entity, to the discomfiture of the police. This has led critics to charge the government with the militarisation of our democracy. But, of course, the officers of the armed forces know the boundary of their duties. When they arrest a civilian for any offence, they always hand him or her over to the police for appropriate action. So, why is it necessary for the army to perform security duties that our mobile police can easily perform, except they are overwhelmed by the task they are handling?
Anomaly number seven is that it is estimated that more than one-third of the funding for equipment and services of the Nigeria Police Force is borne by the 36 state governments. Yet the Federal Government claims that the state governments are in no financial position to fund state police. This view is highly debatable and untenable. The state governments can establish police trust funds in their states to support state police, if approved, in addition to what they are currently spending on the Nigeria Police Force. The real truth is that the Federal Government does not want security power shared with state governments. The Federal Government wants a complete monopoly of the power of coercion. The other reason is that, if state police is created, the state governments will cease to fund the Nigeria Police Force in their states. That will leave a huge funding gap, which the Federal Government will have to fill, if it must have a police force that is able to do efficiently what it is expected to do.
Some of those opposed to state police say that the state governors can abuse it and use it to victimise their political opponents. Even the security forces are being used in that manner today but the public resists and hopefully will continue to resist such abuses of power. That also means that the public can resist state governors, if they attempt to misuse the police. Secondly, if we have state police, there will be a balance of terror, which will be a check on either side as it happened to the super powers during the Cold War. On every material particular, this country needs a second police in the states of Nigeria. Nothing less.