“Igbo businessmen are allowed to parade around the northern region without any restrictions or stopped from doing business. It will be unlawful to reject any northerner or restrict them from coming to do business in the south.” –Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
The above quote was linked to Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. I did not believe he said this. But I have also searched to read of any statement credited to him denouncing this comment. I did not find any. So, it is safe to assume that he actually said this as justification for the migration of persons said to be Almajiri to the southern part of the country during a nationwide ban on interstate movement. For me, nothing is wrong with migration. In fact, it is one of the realities of living. Either in peace time or war time, people migrate to places where they believe the grass is greener. Migration is always for one reason: to escape hardship. To that extent, I hold no issues against those who migrate between the north and the south.
However, describing such migrants as ‘businessmen’ leaves me with one demand –to know their investment profiles. A businessman who migrates takes two basic things along with him: idea and money. It is either he is coming to a new place with investible cash or he has new ideas that could attract investments and create jobs. Someone who hides between baskets of pepper and tomatoes, or bags of onions and other food items to migrate to another place, cannot be said to hold investible funds. He or she may however have some ideas. But the task is to find out the sort of ideas he/she is coming with. Reason: ideas could either be destructive or creative. If he/she has creative ideas to market, he/she will come with a proposal to those who hold the investible cash, that is, business partners. If on the other hand he/she comes with destructive ideas, he/she is most likely to sneak in. So, where does that leave the ‘business’ delegation migrating from the north, hidden between bags of food items?
But, this discourse isn’t about those ‘business’ delegates. It is rather about the Police and its refusal to police Nigeria. When I write about the Police, I do so as someone who grew up within the Police community and had opportunity to join the force but refused. My refusal was premised on the fact of the pain my dad went through to get his gratuity. I had asked why he would like that I joined the Police after seeing the pain he went through in pursuit of his legitimate gratuity. I remember him telling me that “Police will change”. I am still waiting to see the change more than 25 years after he told me so. To my mind therefore, the migration to the south at a time when a Presidential directive against interstate movements was I place, as a strategy to contain the spread of coronavirus, is a signature of the failure of the Police to effectively police Nigeria.
If the Police was adept at its assignment, those nocturnal migrations wouldn’t have happened. But here we are, in a Nigeria, where law enforcers see tribal mark and tongue as determinants to enforcement. Almost all states of the federation put up boundary patrols to check influx. These were manned by operatives of the Nigeria Police (Force). But they chose to supervise the movements and wave the migrants on instead of enforcing the presidential directive. Somehow, they told the President that he was on his own when he gave the directive. So doing, the police endangered the lives it was supposed to protect.
I was not surprised it happened. Turning situations like this into a cash cow, has always been another signature of law enforcement in Nigeria. If you ban the importation of any item, some officials of the Nigerian Custom Service smile. So, for the policemen who manned interstate boundary security checks, it was money making time. The consequences, however, far outweigh whatever income they may have made. This has always been the bane of security in Nigeria. When law enforcement agents lend themselves to criminality and abuse of the law, there is no how the crime rate will ebb. Remember a certain senior police officer that was publicly executed alongside Lawrence Anini and his gang in the 1986. That was a most notorious expose. There have been several others afterwards suggesting that the Police needs a thorough mindset reset to factory mode. You may like to call it restructuring.
This resounding failure of the Police reinforces the call for the unbundling and decentralization of Nigeria Police so as to allow for the creation of State Police structures. This has been a consistently deafening call in Nigeria. Those opposed to this call always situate their opposition on a narrow argument of governors mismanaging it, or using same against their opponents. They fail to realize that societies are governed by law not by the whims of a governor. It is therefore debatable if the total disregard for the Presidential directive against interstate travels in the Covid-19 era would have happened in much the same way if states controlled their own police and used their own policemen to secure their boundaries.
The tendency, under s State Police regime, would be to recruit people from the same state into the force. Deploying them to guard their state boundaries will enhance security and safety. Such persons are not likely to cut corners and jeopardize the health of everyone in their home states. A proof to this is the several videos showing dexterity of adhoc boundary security teams set up by state governors as a response to discriminatory policing by the Police. They are the ones that consistently busted the migration of those ‘business delegations’ from the north to the south.
So, the time may now be ripe for us to review our policing structure and philosophy and think towards legal amendments that would allow states to operate their own Police. I may be wrong, and would like to be told so, but I think that is the most sensible thing to thinker with by the National Assembly at this time. We cannot continue to live in fear of what use a governor may put the Police under his control and then allow a situation where the Federal Police is mentally, physically and structurally incapable of securing lives and property because of primitive sentiments that operate on ethnic fault lines. And sadly, until we agree to dismantle this inefficient policing system and allow the 36 states to create, fund and manage their own Police, the sort of flagrant disregard for a Presidential directive on interstate movement, and other sundry crimes which policemen either encourage or get involved with, won’t abate neither will my father’s conviction that “police will change”, ever come to pass.
However, this policing failure now tasks leaders of states to be more creative in securing their state. That, according to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is the primary function of government.
The constitution says under Chapter Two which deals with the fundamental objectives of and directive principles of state policy, and specifically at Section 14(b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Government in this regard does not mean the Federal government. The constitution recognizes three levels of government of the Nigerian federation and these are federal, state and local government.
Besides, even where the governors are not prepared to secure their states as permitted by the constitution, the people of the state, standing on the provisions of Section 14(a), have constitutional powers to do so. That sections empowers the people when it said “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority”. A simple interpretation of this provision empowers the people of every state of the country to take action to protect their boundaries against external or internal aggression. Therefore, the governors and the people have no reason(s) to abdicate this constitutional responsibility for a police that is unwilling to police appropriately.