State police: To be or not?

Felix Nwaneri reports / 3 hours ago

  •  Gains, fears of state police

The debate over the creation of state police has heightened of recent, given the rising insecurity across the country, but the hope of its realisation seems not yet in sight despite the recommendation of the Presidential Panel on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Reforms, which sanctioned its establishment. Felix Nwaneri reports

One of the most contemporary challenges of present day Nigeria is the agitation for state police, which its proponents strongly believe will ensure better security for citizens’ lives and property given the rising state of insecurity across the country and obvious inability of the Nigeria Police Force that is saddled with responsibility of maintaining law and order to contain the situation. Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution, which deals with the operation, control, discipline and promotion of the Nigerian police as well as Item 45 of the Exclusive Legislative List (Part 1) of the second schedule of the constitution provides that the Nigeria Police Force shall be under exclusive control of the Federal Government.

The constitution, particularly in Section 215 (2) states: “The Nigeria Police Force shall be under the command of the Inspector-General of Police and any contingents of the Nigeria Police Force stationed in a state, shall subject to the authority of the Inspector-General of Police, be under the command of Commissioner of Police of that state.” This provision practically takes away the powers of state governors, who are the chief security officers of their respective domains and makes it inadvertently difficult for them to take actions on matters of security without recourse to the Federal Government even in times of emergency. It is against this backdrop that the campaign for restructuring of Nigeria, which has been in the front burner for some time, has creation     of state-controlled police as part of its demands.

A former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (now National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress – APC), apparently kickstarted the campaign for state police, when in 1999, he called on the then Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Federal Government to review relevant sections of the constitution to allow states to form and maintain their own police forces as practiced in other advance societies.

He said then that over N12 billion, which the state government spends annually on the police in Lagos State, was more than enough for the state to float and sustain its own police force. While the Obasanjo administration did not heed to the call, Tinubu’s successor, Babatunde Fashola (immediate past Minister of Works, Power and Housing), who sustained the campaign, argued that opposition to establishment of state police structures has largely been driven by an exaggerated, misleading and unfounded precedent that focuses on the abuse of state police through political interference and manipulation rather than its benefits.

“There is need for the establishment of state police. If we say we are practicing true federalism, then each constituent part of the federation such as the states, municipalities and federal government should have autonomy for their daily affairs, while issues like international affairs, common currency, defence and other unifying interests are vested in the Federal Government,” Fashola reasoned then.

While there have been arguments for and against the clamour, the debate on the issue got to a head in 2016, when the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF)    set up a committee to look into the possibility of allowing states to establish their own police forces. The committee, which was also charged to look into funding for the Nigeria Police Force was headed by then governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed, with then Governors Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti) and Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi) as well as Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta and Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) as members.

Then NGF chairman and immediate past governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, explained that the move was aimed at looking at the various options and come up with a safe way of policing Nigeria, but not much was heard about the committee afterward. The Ahmed committee was not the first time the NGF would toy with the idea of state police. The forum also mulled the idea at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, but it never saw the light of the day.

Then Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi (presently on his second term), who spoke on behalf of his colleagues after one of their meetings, said: “Each of the federating units should have control over their own security apparatus.

That is not to say that we still won’t have a federal police, which responds to federal issues. But in terms of wider knowledge of what obtains in my locality, the best person to use is somebody from that locality, who has a much better, much richer understanding and will be faster in response to the immediate needs of that environment.” To ensure that the call was not one to be treated with levity like when it was made in 1999 by Tinubu, the governors said then that they will follow up the demand by presenting a unanimous bill in this respect to the National Assembly. However, then President Jonathan held a contrary view as he insisted that Nigeria was not yet democratically ripe for the establishment of state police forces. His fear was that might be misused.

His words then: “State police may be theoretically good, but looking at our political environment, it could be abused to the detriment of the country. The consensus is that we should get to the point, where we will be sure that whoever is in power, will not turn it against the people. The first step is for us to have confidence in elections conducted at the state and local government levels.”

From colonial to Nigerian Police

What is today known as the Nigeria Police Force is the brainchild of the British colonial government and it dates back to 1861, following the annexation of Lagos. The British Consul charged with the administration of Lagos established a Consular Guard by the Police Ordinance of 1861 to help maintain law and order.

The imperialists followed this up in 1879, with a 1,200 paramilitary Hausa Constabulary. Seventeen years later, it formed the Lagos Police and in 1894, the Niger Coast Constabulary in Calabar, under the authority of Niger Coast Protectorate. In 1888, the Royal Niger Company set up the Royal Niger Company Constabulary in Lokoja. These constabularies were however collapsed in the early 1900s, into two police forces – Northern Nigeria Police and Southern Nigeria Police.

Although there was an amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914, the two regions maintained their separate police forces until 1930, when they were merged to form the Nigeria Police Force with headquarters in Lagos. The merger is what has grown to be the centralised police system although it is on record that it (the centralised police) co-existed with police forces in the then Western and Northern regions (excluding Eastern Region) until the military coup of January 15, 1966, when the provision in the 1963 Constitution authorising the establishment of local police was abrogated.

Fears over state police

The argument against then local police centred on recruitment of party thugs and oppression of political opponents as it is on record that Native Authority police earned notoriety for using undue coercion and intimidation to enlist support for the ruling parties in the respective regions; denied opposition parties permits for rallies and generally enforced the obnoxious “unlawful assembly” laws.

It was as a result of this criticism   that many are of the view that despite the seeming advancement in development decades after the local police was abolished, Nigeria is still not yet ripe for state police as there are no guarantees that state the governors will not like in the past, abuse the system. Those who hold this view reasoned that state police may be a catalyst for the disintegration of Nigeria given the country’s fragile unity.

The immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who shared the view when the clamour for state police reechoed in the present administration, maintained that Nigeria is not yet politically matured for state police. “I sincerely believe that the federal police is still the best for the country and with improved funding the challenges of crime will be addressed. So, those agitating for state police should consider the level of our political maturity,” he said. Despite the position of the then police boss, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), through its committee on restructuring, aligned with proponents for state police.

The committee, which was headed by Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, was set up in August 2017 to formulate the position of the party on true federalism. The committee in recommending for devolution of power, stated: “We are recommending that police should be both federal and state.” Even Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the time, called for the establishment of state police to effectively tackle the various security challenges facing the country. The vice president, who spoke then at the opening ceremony of the National Security Summit organised by the outgone 8th Senate, said the Nigeria Police with the current centralised structure is too defective to be useful in combating worsening security challenges in the country.

His words: “The nature of our security challenges is complex and known. Securing Nigeria’s over 900,000 sq 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 (UN), it would require to triple our current police force; far more funding of the police force and far more funding of our military and other security agencies. We cannot realistically police a country of the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go.” The then Senate even joined the fray, when it hinted that it will deliberate on the possibility of the country having state police. However, the various positions turned out to be mere talks.

The urgency of now

While arguments against state police centres mainly on the potential for its abuse, the spate of killings across the country as a result of the insurgency in the North-East, clashes between herdsmen and farmers, activities of bandits and kidnappers, among other violent crimes have rekindled the debate, with most stakeholders insisting that the current security problems facing the country cannot be handled under the present police system.

According to proponents of state police, the Federal Government must embark on a workable decentralization of the police force because the internal security of each state in line with the federal system of government in operation should be the responsibility of state authorities, while the central government plays a complementary role. It is also argued that it is dangerous to expose the military under the guise of joint task forces to handle internal security issues as such may over time affect the impartiality and neutrality that military personnel are known as well as compromise their traditional role of protecting the territorial integrity of the nation.

Twists and turns over recommendation of presidential panel

Perhaps, these lines of thought informed why the Presidential Panel on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Reforms, sanctioned the establishment of state and local government police as part of the eight recommendations it made in a report submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari last week. Other recommendations of the panel headed by the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, include strengthening information and communication technology of the force, significant improvement in the funding, kitting and facilities of the Nigeria Police Force, Institutionalizing a Special Investigation Panel to annually hear and determine complaints on alleged human rights violations against operations of the Nigeria Police Force; and Strengthening the Police Rapid Response Complaints Unit of the Nigeria Police and other internal complaints mechanisms of the Force to make them more responsive.

The panel further recommended the renaming of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS), which was its original name and to make the section operate under the intelligence arm of the police from the divisional, area command, state command, zonal command up to the Force Headquarters level. President Buhari while receiving the report directed that the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu and the Solicitor General of the Federation/Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice meet with the NHRC to work out the modalities for the implementation of the Report within three months.

The directive was however misconstrued by many as approval for state police, but the presidency, in a swift response, issued a statementin which it explained that Buhari did not approved state police. The statement signed by presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said Buhari rather requested that the report be studied and a white paper produced within three months.

“President Buhari’s specific directive is that a three-man panel is set up to produce the white paper. The report of the white paper committee will form the basis of the decisions of the government on the many recommendations, including the setting up of state and local government police made by the Ojukwu panel. “Until a white paper is produced, it will be premature and pre-emptive to suggest that the recommendations contained in the report have been approved by the President in part or whole,” the statement noted.

Stakeholders react

The explanation by the presidency, notwithstanding, stakeholders believe that Nigeria cannot run away from state police given the prevalent situation in the country. Pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, which said there was nothing to cheer about the presidential panel’s report recommending the creation of state police, rather advised President Buhari to send a bill to the National Assembly in that regard as state police is needed to tackle insecurity in the country. Afenifere, which spoke through its spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, however acknowledged the recommendation of the panel, saying: “It confirms what we have been saying for ages. Unitary police have collapsed. Nigeria is the only federation in the world, where unitary police is in operation. We hope the President sends a bill to the National Assembly, until then, there is nothing to cheer about.” Apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, on its part, expressed delight that the President has finally come to terms with long overdue need for the establishment of the state police as one of the measures to tackle growing insecurity in the country.

President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who spoke with New Telegraph through his Special Adviser on Media, Chief Emeka Attamah, said that the spiraling insecurity in the country, which appeared to have overwhelmed everybody, including the President, has left the nation with no choice than to embrace state police. According to Nwodo, the President, having accepted the need to establish state police, should also take further steps towards restructuring the country, stressing that the economic fortunes of the country would thrive better in a restructured Nigeria. He also charged the President and the National Assembly to quickly come up with the necessary legislation and modalities for immediate establishment of state police to ensure that governors don’t hijack it for selfish political ends.

His words: “I’m happy that it took such a recommendation by such a notable body for Mr. President and Nigerians to realize the relevance of state police in security issues in Nigeria now. And in any case, it’s like we don’t have a choice, because the insecurity in the country has come to a level where almost everybody is incapable of arresting the situation. “It is even clear that the President himself is hamstrung and unable to control the spiraling incidences of insecurity. So, the recommendation, coming at this time, it’s still good because there is no doubt that people who know their terrain very well will police it better.” Elder statesman and first speaker of old Plateau State House of Assembly, Prof. Dakum Shown, who also described the recommendation of the presidential panel as a welcome development, said: “It will reduce the security challenges in the county, especially in the Middle Belt region, where we have been advocating for state police for a long time.” However, while it is commendations over the recommendation, Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said Buhari cannot singlehandedly approve state policing given that it is a constitutional issue.

“The President cannot, by fiat, approve state police. It is a constitutional matter. A bill has to go to the National Assembly and the bill can originate from either of the two houses. And we have made this point repeatedly, for governors who are asking for state police it’s not to appeal to the President, but to mobilise the National Assembly members to amend the constitution. “We have had about four amendments of the constitution and this matter has never agitated the minds of our legislators. So, whether the President approves it or not, it has to go to the National Assembly and of course, if the legislature endorses it, it has to have the concurrence of at least two-thirds majority of state Houses of Assembly in the country,” Falana said.

Governors yet to take a position

As rightly pointed out by Falana, the governors have a role to play if state police is to be actualized. But the governors of the country’s 36 states, on Friday, said no position has been taken on the matter. The governors, who spoke through the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, stated this at the end of a meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Fayemi, who said the meeting was convened at their instance to address the security challenges in the country, highlighted that experience varies among states. According to him, while some of his colleagues are in support, others are against it. But, he said the issue and others relating to the security challenges of the country would be discussed during the forthcoming National Economic Council meeting.

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