It is no surprise at all that one of the questions that have dominated our political space in recent time is “State Police: To be or not to be” given the orgy of violence that has enveloped the nation and the seeming inability of the Police or lack of will by the powers that be to quickly arrest the situation.
Although the killings in Benue and Taraba states by terrorists dubbed Fulani herdsmen and the most recent murderous rampage in Zamfara by those that have been widely described as armed bandits seem to be the areas of media attention, it is a notorious fact that the killings are widespread across Nigeria. Particularly, Governors of these three states have publicly lamented their helplessness in tackling these challenges since the hierarchy of the Police and even the entire military architecture take their briefing from the President and Commander – In- Chief of the armed forces, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari.
After the mass burial of about seventy persons massacred in cold blood by these terrorists, Governor Ortom reiterated his earlier statement that if the president had responded to his several messages raising alarm about an impending attack of his people and ordered the security forces to take decisive steps to curtail it, the tragedy that befell his people would never have.
The Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari wasn’t less vocal in the song of lamentation following the gruesome murder of eighteen people in the state. Yari claimed he gave security agencies a – twenty four hours’ notice of the impending invasion of communities in the state by armed bandits.
Yari said “on this particular incidence, we had intelligence reports 24 hours before it happened that the bandits were grouping and ready to attack. I alerted the security agencies but unfortunately they sent inadequate personnel to confront these people from where they came from. Whatever humanly possible that needed to be done, we as a government have done to mitigate this disaster. But it does appear that security agencies are failing in their responsibilities. I feel let down facing the people of this state whenever I remember the promise I made to them that when they elect President Muhammadu Buhari into power, these killings will end. But unfortunately, things are now getting worse.”
These songs of lamentation by Ortom and Yari highlighting their lack of authority to deal with security challenges and literarily going cap-in-hand to beg President Buhari for intervention underscores the joke that the Nigerian federalism is.
Under federalism … true federalism, surely governors should not be this helpless in the face of daunting security challenges, which need decisive leadership and consequent action. Unfortunately, they are. It is this helplessness of people said to be the Chief Security Officers of the states – governors in the face of heightening security challenges – outbreak of violence and gruesome killings across that makes the debate as to whether or not state police should be allowed imperative and germane. It does border on the absurd to tie up a child’s hands to his back and yet put him in the boxing ring to fight a professional pugilist. That appears to be what the Nigerian style federalism has done to the governors when it gives them the intimidating name – Chief Security Officers but does not give them commensurate authority to control the Commissioner of Police and his men in their states.
The order of the CSO governor becomes a nullity in the face of a counter order from the Inspector General of Police [IGP] at the behest of the Chief Security Officer of the Federation [CSOF]. While the prevailing security predicament increases the narrative in favour of the state police, no one can ignore the germane fears of many as to high propensity for abuse of the State Police by these governors.
To ignore or downplay this concern, in itself, would constitute more security risk in future than we have now, especially if we take a more than cursory look into history of similar nature in the past vis-a-viz the intolerant attitude of many governors today to opposition.
In a historical reflection by the first civilian Governor of Plateau State, Chief Solomon Lar, toed the path of cautious optimism, noting that “similar idea was implemented in the 1950s to late 1970s and the term “Yan Doka” was used for the State Police, but politicians of those times exploited the policy using it to intimidate, harass and oppress perceived enemies until the creation of the Nigeria Police in 1979.”
He therefore sued for a thorough homework. Already, however, some states already have a semblance of state police, which are doing well. For instance, the Lagos State’s Rapid Response Squad [RRS] is said to have succeeded in reducing crime rate by over 50%. While the citizenry and public interest commentators continue to express divergent views on this subject matter, it must be noted that the present attitude of intolerance by governors, which has roundly resulted in state legislatures and their leaderships becoming appendages of state governors for fear of impeachment and sundry victimisation, does not do much service in their quest for the creation of state police.
The fears of many that governors would use the apparatus of the state police to stifle opposition or any voice of dissent is beyond ignoring. Therefore, efforts must be put in place to strengthen our institutions to be able to make these governors accountable for abuse of office should they use the police for that purpose.
To this end, the provision of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution which confers immunity on The President, Governors and their Deputies must be amended to take away criminal immunity from these public officers with the Chief Justice and the National Judicial Council empowered to cause investigations of governors for alleged abuse of the apparatus of state police and their trial if found wanting. Also Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution would need to be amended to accommodate two tiers of police – State and Federal Police with a clear provision defining the class of crimes to be dealt with by either tier just like is obtained in the United States and Canada.
In the United States, state police have a state-wide authority to conduct law-enforcement activities and criminal investigations. It is a given for all federating states, so Nigeria needs to brace up to it, but not before putting her house in order. To do so also mean the states must be ready and able to bear the salary burden of running its own police. It is frightening to imagine that police personnel employed by states and armed to their teeth would be owed salaries for almost one year as is the usual plight of states’ civil servants.
The potential calamitous consequence of a fully armed man walking the streets hungry compels trepidation for any imaginative mind. Already the current police structure is underfunded and consequently the country is under-policed given the yawning deficit in the United Nations’ recommendation of one policeman to four hundred and fifty persons. This also adds to reasons all hands must be on deck not just jump to the creation of state police, but consciously and meticulously commit all stakeholders into a national consensus for its creation and elicit commitments from all and sundry thereof to work out the fine details, which includes ultimately strengthening the nations institutions and statute books well enough to address whatever teething challenges would greets its creation.
Ughegbe is the Executive Director of Make A Difference [MAD] Initiative, a good governance and human rights advocacy initiative.
Disclaimer: This article is entirely the opinion of the writer and does not represent the views of The Whistler.