With the rising spate of insecurity spreading across the country, particularly with banditry and kidnapping taking frightening dimensions, even late convert President Muhammadu Buhari has seen reason to pursue the agenda of instituting state police. Apprehension about its possible abuse by political actors perhaps made the president and many others to want to err on the side of caution. But as the situation continues to escalate, with no corresponding economic palliatives to take youths out of idleness and mischief, only drastic measures become the sole recourse to full sanity.
But in a country where power has been so centralised and concentrated in the hands of a powerful few, democratising it could prove problematic. But democratizing Nigeria’s security apparatus, especially the police system, seems about the only way to deal with the multifaceted security challenges that have become all too evident.
Both as source of privilege and patronage, the unitary structure of the police has been its major obstacle, as one man at the centre (Inspector-General of Police in Abuja) determines the fate of 36 state police commands and commissioners who will serve in areas he has never been to or has little or no knowledge about the local environment. What is worse, those he posts there are complete aliens to the areas they are to police, as they neither understand the environment nor the local languages and cultural nuances.
For instance, lawyer, activist, and playwright, Mr. Fred Agbeyegbe, has lamented the manner of policing deployed in the parts of the country, especially the south. He described the current policing system, as ‘spy and occupy’ police force, noting that those who head police commands in the south are usually police officers from outside the zone. He wondered why it should be so if there is not a ‘spy and occupy’ agenda for the zone for whatever reasons.
For such radical and innovative state policing system to take root, there is the constitutional hurdle to pass where the National Assembly would have to amend the constitution to decentralise the police. For those who see the police system as a source of privilege and patronage, it might be a hard idea to sell. But with the increasing level of insecurity and the lawmakers themselves sometimes being targets of daredevil security breaches, it will be understandable if lawmakers made move to fast track the process of amending the law to decentralise policing in the country.
Perhaps the next hurdle would be how to get the 36 states’ Houses of Assembly to also pass the law. Nevertheless, with the level of unanimity of endangerment already being suffered across the country this might perhaps be the least difficult hurdle to surmount.
Also, there is fear in some quarters that some state governments might resist the move on account of the hefty wage bill it would impose on them. Many of them have ready excuse anchored on the N30,000 minimum wage bill and might not want another police burden added to it. At surface level, this would seem a valid argument. But on closer examination it would be discovered that some, if not most of the state governments, already take a huge chunk of the responsibility of policing their states with the level of support they give to commands in their states. This is on account of the heavy investment they already make towards equipping the police command to tackle crime.
A few years ago, the 774 local government councils were made to donate one SUV each to the police. A state like Lagos State has its security committee that periodically donates equipment to the command in the states. Other states make similar contributions to boost efficiency and moral. So, to a large extent state governments already make huge contributions to policing in their states. Autonomous state policing that is free from the unitary command structure from the centre might just be the right step away from the seeming ineptitude currently on display.
But the real bogeyman of the state-controlled policing system is the possible negative use state police could be put by vindictive governors who might send them after perceived political opponents. This fear is real and could be made nightmarish if not properly handled. But experts have said safety counter measures could be put in place to check such possible abuse of power.
For instance, Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd) canvases that appointing a commissioner of police should be through a collegiate committee made up of prominent citizens and professionals such that the appointee is not responsible to the governor but the committee so constituted for the purpose. In which case, the governor of a state does not have a hand in the appointment of the commissioner nor be able to fire him or her at will for failing to do his biding. He argues that with such a body, no single individual, no matter how highly placed, can sway the police in a state to do his bidding without being challenged.
With such counter measures, the perceived monster state policing could possibly pose would have been tamed, as the force would be answerable to the people and not only to one man holding power at any given time as governor. Indeed, one of the provisos to forming a state police as it is done elsewhere is to set up committee made up of respected individuals from the judiciary, civil society, academia, religious groups, and the professions who will interview and select who becomes police commissioner and which committee he or she also becomes answerable to at any given time.
Indeed, adopting state policing also has the larger, viable implication of devolution of powers from the centre to the constituent parts of the country. This would mean also tinkering with the system of government that best serves the interests of Nigeria’s plural society. Presidential system, many argue, does not seem to be working.
Former Delta State Commissioner for Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, put it thus, “In my opinion, the general principles are what matters most for now; the rest would be the fine details of constitutional provisions to give life to them. And as for the principles themselves, they are too well known: the federating units as the primary centres of power; the radical devolution of powers and functions to the federating units; a fiscal or revenue generating and allocation formula that unequivocally respects derivation; the centre or federal government as primarily responsible for the security and defence of the nation (against external aggression), external affairs, currency and monetary policy, customs and excise, communications and any other functions that it may be asked to assume without derogating from the (inalienable) rights of the states, etc.”
He went to aggregate some suggestions already in the public domain but added that the parliamentary system appears best suited for Nigeria.“This, of course, will require a restructuring of our present system of unviable states but there are calls for a return to the regional system that worked so well from 1957-1966, even if not precisely along the same lines (six to eight geo-political zones have been proposed). For me, the need to return to the parliamentary or prime ministerial system, which is far more cost effective and ultimately more flexible and dynamic, should be part of any discussion of restructuring. The fact that elections are local and governance is shared (the executive is part of parliament) reduces some of the more egregious problems of the presidential system, especially in a poor country with weak or non-existent social institutions.
“Furthermore, it (parliamentary system) is more flexible and dynamic: that elections can be called any time means that a suffering populace does not have to wait for four years to change a bad government. By the same token, a good government does not have to be restricted to two terms: it can be re-elected for as long as it does not betray the trust and confidence of the people. That way, visionary state/regional and federal governments with truly transformative and people-centred agendas can have the needed time to actualise their programmes or bring them to irreversible points.”