Just Before the Creation of State Police -By Lemmy Ughegbe

Filed under: National Issues |

Lemmy Ughegbe

It is no surprise at all that one of the questions that have dominated our political space in recent time is that of: “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 as 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 the three mentioned 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 of Benue State 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 happened.

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 hour 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 the 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 require decisive leadership and consequential action. Unfortunately, they are. It is this helplessness of people said to be the chief security officers of their States as governors, in the face of heightening security challenges involving outbreaks of violence and gruesome killings, that makes the debate on whether or not state police should be allowed imperative and germane. It borders 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 resposibilities of chief security officers without 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 state police, no one can ignore the germane fears of many about the high propensity of this security apparatus for abuse by 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 a similar history of the intolerant attitude of many governors today to their political opposition. In a historical reflection, the first civilian governor of Plateau State, Chief Solomon Lar, toed the path of cautious optimism, noting that a “similar idea was implemented in the 1950s to late 1970s when the term “Yan Doka” was used for the state police, and the politicians of those times exploited the security apparatus by using it to intimidate, harass and oppress perceived enemies, until the creation of the Nigeria Police in 1979.” He therefore sued for a more thorough homework on the use of this organ.

However, some states already have semblances of the 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 percent in the area. 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 the quest for the creation of state police. The fears of many that governors would use these apparatuses 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 governors accountable for the abuse that they commit while in office, should they use the police for sinister purposes.

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 over alleged abuses of the apparatus of state police, and their trial if found wanting. Also Section 214[1] of the 1999 Constitution would need to be amended to accommodate two tiers of police – the 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 departments have 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 for this, but not before putting her house in order. To do so also mean the states must be ready and able to bear the salary burdens of running their own police departments. It is frightening to imagine that police personnel employed by states and armed to the teeth would be owed salaries for almost one year, as is the usual plight of state civil servants. The potentially 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 that all hands must be on deck and we should not just jump towards the creation of state police, but we should consciously and meticulously commit all stakeholders to attaining a national consensus for its creation, while eliciting commitments from all and sundry thereof to work out the fine details of setting this security organ up. This will include ultimately strengthening the nation’s institutions and statute books well enough to address whatever teething challenges would greets its creation.

Lemmy Ughegbe is the Executive Director of Make A Difference [MAD] Initiative, a good governance and human rights advocacy initiative.