Since 1999, there have been fierce debates for the decentralization of the nation’s policing system to allow for the establishment of state cops that would be charged with the responsibility of providing security at the local level.
Every attempt to get the constitution amended to pave way for the establishment of state police in the past had met the brick walls until recently when there appeared to be a consensus on its inevitability considering the reality of pervasive insecurity across the country.
Incidences of armed robberies, kidnappings, assassination, insurgencies and lately herders/farmers clashes leading to untimely death of innocent Nigerians have made the people in authority to begin to have a rethink on the imperatives of decentralization of the nation’s police architecture.
The long overdue overhaul in the nation’s police system in relation to the prevailing security reality was adumbrated by no less a person than the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who recently, at a security summit organized by the Senate in Abuja, pointed out that “We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go.
“The nature of our security challenges are complex and known. Securing Nigeria’s over 900,000sq km and its 180 million people requires far more men and material than we have at the moment.
“It also requires a continuous reengineering of our security architecture and strategy. This has to be a dynamic process.
For a country of our size to meet the ‘one policeman to 400 persons’ prescribed by the United Nations would require triple our current police force; far more funding of the police force and far more funding of our military and other security agencies.”
With these words, the Vice President gave an indication of a paradigm shift in the thinking of leaders indicating that the clamour for state police may be close to realization.
Governors, under the aegis of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) chaired by Zamfara state governor, Abdulazeez Yari, equally gave its backing to the call for decentralization of the nation’s police.
The NGF had planned to nominate some of their members to interface with the National Assembly on the modalities and legislative framework for the establishment of state police.
Similarly, the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who spoke to State House Correspondents last week also backed the suggestion made by the Vice President adding that going down to having community policing, like in the 60s, won’t be a bad idea. According to him, this would go a long way in addressing the nation’s security challenges.
Proponents of state and community policing believed that having neighbour-to-neighbour policing system would ensure close monitoring of strange faces in the society with immediate capacity to nip criminality in the bud.
They held that since local men and women would be engaged, there would no hiding place for criminals and men with evil intentions. The menace of ritual killings, kidnapping and insurgencies would surely be addressed by local policemen who are adept in the culture and topography of their local communities.
Observers argued that the Boko Haram insurgents would have been tamed earlier before it metamorphosed into a monster had it been the local men who organised themselves to become the Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF), an equivalent of community police, had been engaged from the onset.
Members of the Civilian JTF were instrumental to the identification and arrest of of the blood suckers in Maiduguri township before they eventually relocated to Sambisa Forest. Fighting the insurgents by the military became easier when they have their territory carved out unlike when they were ensconced among their kith and kins with no one ready to give information for their apprehension to the authorities.
The menace of the killer herders could also be stopped by employing local policemen who would identify intruders and men of questionable characters when they begin to gather in their society. Ditto for kidnappers, ritual killers and pipeline busters.
As currently constituted, the central policing system in practice has a defective deployment system. In the spirit of nationalism, officers are deployed to unfamiliar territories where they find it difficult to operate. Sometimes before they acclimatize and get used to their new environments, they get posted out again to begin a new cycle.
Even though state governors have been designated as the Chief Security Officers of their states, this remains an empty appellation in practice as they have no control over those state commissioners deployed in their states.
There have been various instances where state governors, who fell out of favour with federal authorities, are left at the mercies of their commissioners who may decide to be uncooperative in tackling insecurity challenges.
But there have been arguments that decentralizing the Nigeria Police would come with its own challenges. Fears have been raised that doing so would make the governors more powerful as they could deploy the local police against their critics and political opponents.
Attorney General the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had last year at a retreat organised by Southern Senators’ Forum in Calabar on the need for state police raised the fears of overt politicisation of police activities, arms proliferation and bias.
While acknowledging that state police may ensure deeper grassroots penetration and become a veritable means of mass job creation, he however cautioned against likely abuse by governors who would now be transformed into complete mini gods in their respective states.
The minister also raised the fears of possible negative possibility each state police operatives supporting their respective communities in cases of boundary disputes. This, of course could throw communities back into the dark ages of internecine wars among tribes even within the same state.
What to do? Modalities for the operationality of the law setting up the state police should be worked out by the National Assembly. This is where the collaboration between the governors and the lawmakers in the National Assembly would become important.
The federal police should reserve the supervisory roles over the local cops just as the judiciary must be strengthened to adjudicate where their functions overlap. Both state assemblies and judiciary should also act as checks on the excesses of any state governor who may choose to go berserk in the euphoria of his newly acquired power.
Having state police would, doubtlessly, be a fresh approach to the myriads of security challenges facing the country.