Omoniyi Salaudeen and Olakunle Olafioye
Pre-emptive of the outcome of the committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to work out appropriate modalities for reform of the Nigeria Police Force, a former Minister of Police Affair, General David Jemibewon, has advised the Federal Government to understudy the relevant provisions of the first post-independence Constitution on the operation of regional and Native Authority Police Force with a view to achieving smooth transition to state police.
This piece of advice is coming on the heels of the recent report submitted by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Reform of SARS, which recommended, among other things, the establishment of state police as a way of dealing with the challenge of insecurity in the country.
Following the submission of its recommendations, there was wide media report that the Federal Government had approved creation of state and local government police. But it was immediately debunked by the presidency, which said: “The President received report and directed IGP, Ministry of Justice and NHRC to work out modalities for implementation within three months.”
Speaking with Sunday Sun ahead of the outcome of the mandate of the committee, Jemibewon said that transition from federal-controlled Police Force would not be a difficult thing, if the authorities would take a cue from the First Republic experience when each region had control of the police.
According to him, “there were multiple police systems in the country prior to the enactment of the 1954 Constitution. Existing side by side with the NPF were the Local Government Authority Police and Native Authority of the Western and Northern regional respectively.”
He, however, said that trends in political developments arising from the perceived weaknesses of the 1960 and 1963 constitutional provisions for the control of the police ultimately compelled the establishment of one centralized police force.
His words: “Before we came to 36 states, the country was made up of certain number of regions. It was from the regions that states were created and the regional police converted to one centralised police force.
“I think what should be done is for government to decide on what was once done and then set up committee that will work on modalities. I don’t think it is going to be a difficult thing. It is just a matter of referring to what worked before and then resuscitate it, perhaps, at a higher level.”
He further allayed the fear of possible abuse by the state governors, saying that the move was in public interest.
“Anything involving human beings whereby some people are enjoying certain rights, and then they are deprived of enjoying those rights for the sake of society, people will come out to complain. There is no doubt about that. When General Yakubu Gowon established youth corps, people protested.
Today, if you want to stop youth corps, people will protest because they have seen the benefits of it. It is the nature of human beings to show resistance whenever something new is coming. But if government is convinced that it is for the good of the society, they should go ahead to implement it. I don’t think it is a new thing,” he posited.
On the imperative of effective funding of state police, Jemibewon maintained that security financing is as important as financing other critical departments of government. “Each state has its own ministry of education. How do they finance education? Each state has its own housing corporation. How do they finance their housing corporation? Each state has its own Ministry of Works.
How do they finance Ministry of Works? How do they finance road construction? So, it is not a difficult thing at all. Anything government conscientiously wants to do for the peace of the society, they will always find a way of doing it,” he said.
This is even as a renowned constitutional lawyer, Dr Tunji Abayomi, described the transition from federal to state police as a straightforward lawmaking process of the National Assembly.
Making submission to the proposal in an interview with Sunday Sun, he said: “Let me first of all correct the common mistake Nigerians are making and they have continued to make. This may be heart-shaking revelation.
We do not need two third of the state to amend the present Nigerian Constitution.
All we need to do is for the president to send an amendment proposal to the National Assembly and the National Assembly adopts it as a bill and then the bill is sent back to the president for assent. If it is actually a normal constitution, we will need 2/3 of the states to amend it on the assumption that they represent the people of Nigeria.
But our constitution is a mere law that was brought about by the military in exercise of its power to make law.
That is why it is called degree 24 of 1999. It is an act and nobody takes an act to the states for adoption by 2/3. We don’t need to go beyond the National Assembly. The only thing you can take to the people for amendment is the constitution. And Nigerian constitution as it is now is not a constitution. It is a mere law. There is a difference between the constitution and a law. A constitution is made by the people while a law is made by the National Assembly.
“So, it is confusion and lack of understanding of constitutionalism to keep saying that you have to amend the constitution by passing it to all the states. All that is needed is for the National Assembly to amend it and send it to the president who then signs it to law. It is a straightforward lawmaking process of the National Assembly.”
But Senator Anthony Adeniyi, who is also a practicing lawyer, in his own contrary opinion, insisted that the present Constitution must be amended before the aspiration for state police could be actualized. He said: “The constitution must be amended because the provision on the police is in the constitution. It will be unconstitutional to establish the state police without amending the constitution. Secondly, there must be rules and regulations guiding the operations of the police so that they would not be left looming large. There is also the need for the establishment of police service commission for the state and local government.
If you look at the 1963 constitution, we had local government police except that it was used as an instrument of oppression by the political class.” For funding and provision of equipment for effective policing, Adeniyi also suggested the deployment of security votes for creation of state police.
“At present, the state governments are doing their best in terms of funding and equipping the police force. You will see most state governments buying vehicles for them, though they don’t buy ammunition. That can be centralized. The security vote which is at the whims and caprices of the governors can be deployed to fund the state police,” he added.