Ours is gradually becoming a system where the ordinary is magnified and the serious trivialised. In such an arrangement, minor issues as religion and faith that should be private affairs are accorded undue attention while matters of profound concern to the existence of the nation are treated with levity.
Since the reported attack on Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, our tendency at trivialising serious issues has been at display, with arguments on whether he acted the story or was actually assaulted. Champions and foot soldiers of the contending divides even stretch their positions to outlandish points.
Of course, Nigerian politicians are a unique lot. You can never take anything beyond them. They can play games to ridiculous extents. We have had cases of politicians outrigging their opponents to the point of recording more votes than registered voters at elections. We have seen some of them taking positions even on camera, only to turn back later to claim they were quoted out of context. They can support something in the day, only to oppose the same thing with the same vehemence before the day runs out. For them, it is a matter of convincing or confusing their followers, as long as their interest is served. In that case, it may be difficult to determine who is right between those accusing Ortom of cooking up the story of the alleged attack and his supporters who insist that he narrowly escaped assassination in the hands of Fulani herdsmen.
But one thing is clear, the regime of insecurity in the country is taking a turn for the worse. If as claimed by the governor’s spokesman that he ran for over a kilometre to escape being killed by his attackers, even with the retinue of security details around him, the hopelessness of the situation is getting quite troubling. In other words, the noose is getting tighter on every Nigerian. No one is secure, if a governor could be that rattled.
Somalia, a country of one language, religion and ancestry, began the journey for its current sorry curve on this trajectory. While the ugly trend lingered, the leadership fiddled. The situation in Somalia today is piteous, with warlords taking over various parts of the country in their murderous campaigns. Gradually but consistently, Nigeria is toeing that dangerous path. Insecurity has remained a recurring issue in the country, lately. Criminal elements are on the prowl in all parts of the federation. Neither the cities nor the rural communities are spared the atrocities of the bad criminal elements in the society. Since December 2020, there have been abductions of schoolchildren in the remote communities of Kankara, Katsina State, Kagara, Niger State, Jengebe, Zamfara State, and Edo State. Bandits have also been attacking villages and communities in Kaduna, Nasarawa and other states, while Boko Haram sect members have repeatedly struck in Zabarmari and Maiduguri, in Borno, and other states, taking advantage of the absence of security agents in the affected areas. Even when the police are present, they are helpless, usually few, and lack adequate knowledge of the culture and terrain in their areas of operation. They also do not enjoy the cooperation of the host communities, who often look at them with suspicion.
The situation is not likely to change without drastic action at tinkering with the current structure of the Nigeria Police. Reality has proved that the present central police system is not sustainable, considering the rapidity and sophistication of criminal activities in the country. Among other limitations, the police force is encumbered by inadequate personnel, logistics and bureaucratic bottlenecks. With less than 400,000 personnel charged with policing the 36 states and Abuja as well as 774 local government areas in the country, it is quite difficult for many communities to be effectively protected. The obvious inability to effectively police the entire units in the country, gives room for insurgents, kidnappers and other criminal elements to run riot in the states.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo understood the enormity of these challenges in reinstating his call for state police.
“I have been a frequent advocate of state policing and I believe this certainly must be the way we must go”, he was quoted to have stated at a recent international conference on Patriotism, Security, Governance and National Development, in Abuja.
Considering his position and benefit of insight, Osinbajo has good knowledge of the limitations of the present centralized system and the need for decentralization. This is not the first time the Vice-President is making a case for state police. Why he has not translated his advocacy to an executive bill before the National Assembly is something he is the only one to explain. Perhaps he is being careful, to avoid appearing to be at opposing ends with the President who is overtly opposed to the agenda. But truth be told, the current police structure is not working for the country. If we are indeed practicing a federal system of government, there is no reason why the states, the regions and even the local government areas should not have their separate police arrangements, given the peculiarities of their environments and challenges. Most crimes are local and require local solutions.
The present arrangement that requires the state commissioner of police taking instructions from the Inspector-General of Police in faraway Abuja, rather than from the state governor, does not make for immediate response in emergency situations. There is no doubt that autocratic governors and dubious police commissioners may try to turn the force to instruments of harassment and intimidation of political opponents in the states. But with established legal and constitutional framework, these perceived excesses can be easily detected and checked. Even at that, there have been instances of the police at its current form pandering to the government of the day or being manipulated by the officials of the state. What is required is the political will to give state police a trial. Abuja, the federal capital, can serve as a pilot ground for the scheme. We can only continue to drag our feet on state police to our detriment. A central police structure in a supposedly federal system is anachronistic and out of tune with the realities of the day.