There is no doubt that our country is passing through one of its darkest tunnels in recent times. Except for the three years of the civil war, at no time in our history has the nation witnessed so much bloodletting of its innocent citizens than in the last one year. The primary responsibility of government is the protection of the life and property of its citizens. This responsibility lies at the core of the social contract and imbues the state with the moral and legal authority “to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.” Thus when the state is no longer in a position to enjoy this monopoly of legitimate force, it loses its rights, prestige, and privileges attached to the social contact between it and the citizen. The net result is anarchy and chaos.
This road to anarchy makes other state responsibilities difficult to attain since no meaningful development is possible in a state of anarchy. The sharing of power of coercion between the state and various arms-bearing criminal entities and enterprises is unacceptable. It is a complete negation of statehood and leaves the citizen no choice than to abdicate its obligation to the state. If the current government appreciates the enormity of the situation, and how it renders nugatory every other claim to success, maybe they would adopt a more serious attitude in their efforts to restore peace and order in the country.
I do understand the complexity in the intersection of security and politics. I also understand that politics, especially of the base and self-seeking species, which is our trademark, makes rational and informed decisions in security matters rather difficult. The primordial instinct of top state actors is a hindrance in this fight. However, there are also some common sense steps that could be taken in the short term while we build on the other pillars of our security architecture. One of such steps is the urgent need for the establishment of state police force.
In the last four months, Nigeria has lost nearly 3,000 of its citizens across the country to violent killings. Today, civil society leaders under the aegis of Joint National Crisis Action Committee, hosted the first ever National Day of Mourning, across 16 states in the country, to honour the memory of Nigerians who their states failed to protect when it mattered most. Here in Abuja, following the wreath-laying ceremony at the Unity Fountain, the group called for the firing of the service chiefs who they said had failed in their duty to protect the country.
It has become evident that the Nigeria Police, by its operational structure, is no longer able to provide effective policing of our communities. Apart from the shortfall in manpower, the police lack the basic tools to execute their mandate in spite of whatever budgetary allocation they receives. The command pyramid, with its apex in Abuja and the base at every local community in Nigeria, is so disconnected that crime and the seeds of terrorism can easily grow undetected. The police come into the picture always to confront full-blown crisis situations.
The emphasis, elsewhere, in line with global best practices is prevention of crime, which puts more efforts into intelligence gathering and surveillance of suspects. This requires continuous training of all relevant personnel and upscaling of investments in critical infrastructure. Whatever may be the argument against the establishment of state police cannot outweigh its benefits and the compelling need for it today, given the near breakdown of law and order in many parts of the country and the inability of the Nigeria Police to rise to the challenge.
I understand the apprehension of the centre about handing an armed security force to the governors, some of who may want to turn them into their private army. These concerns can be easily addressed by critical stakeholders. It is of utmost urgency that this matter be revisited by the Council of State, the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly. In any event, almost all the states have one form of “vigilante” group or another, all illegally bearing arms and operating without guidelines or operational guidance. This situation compounds the problem, encourages proliferation of arms and blurs the line between armed criminals and legitimate state entities entitled to bear arms.
The governors already “disburse” huge sums of state funds under the nebulous “security vote,” a line of expenditure unknown to the Constitution. The establishment of the State Police Force will block one of the well-known conduits for stealing public funds and bring the expenditure under legislative oversight. It will be a win-win situation. There is every reason to believe that this will help restore order in the chaotic environment where lives are no longer worth anything.
I understand the clamour for the restructuring of the country and I believe that some of the patriots who have tabled various models for discussion did so in good faith. However, I do not think there is enough political goodwill to drive a wholesale restructuring of the country at the moment. Most of these renewed clamours are mere posturing and positioning for 2019. This trend is consistent with the behaviour of the political class as each election cycle approaches. What I think is possible is piecemeal reform or restructuring, if you will, of our institutions of state. We can begin with our security architecture. If we make a success of it, then we can move to other critical areas, one at a time. Security is critical to the successful reform of other key sectors, since it is not possible to embark on restructuring a deeply fractured country.
The political clan must understand that their ambition to rule is not worth the blood of one innocent citizen. So, as they start prancing up and down across the country in their fancy armoured trucks, procured with public funds, they should spare a thought on the vulnerability of thousands of Nigerians whose lives hang in the balance for no fault of theirs and are unable to protect themselves. They should also know that, no matter how many security systems they build around themselves, it is only a matter of time before they fall victim of the monster called insecurity, which they helped to create. The time to revisit the conversation on state police is now.
• Odom is a legal practitioner and former Minister of State (FCT).