By Tonnie Iredia
Nothing has of recent given Nigerians more anxiety than the unprecedented high level of insecurity in the nation. Any one who watched the 2012 ministerial platform where the Minister of Police Affairs, Navy Capt. Caleb Olubolade (rtd), reeled out incredibly high figures of such crimes as robbery and kidnapping adding that 766 firearms and 31,175 ammunitions were recovered from suspects in year 2011 must have become apprehensive especially with the spate of bombings in parts of the country.
Those who believe that the problem is attributable to a weakness in the capacity of the federal Government to effectively deal with the issue have since been calling for the creation of State Police. Interestingly, some of those making the calls erroneously equate it with community policing where a contingent of the police made up of ‘sons of the soil’ is stationed in each community to maintain law and order there.
Of course, there is ample efficacy in community policing especially its feature of local ownership. And because everyone in the community knows the thief and his family just as the local police and his family are also well known, the entire community is well positioned to assist the local police to deal with a criminally minded family. Nigeria no doubt needs the model. But it is not the same thing as State Police.
When State Governors rose from a meeting in Abuja a week ago to join those calling for State Police ostensibly to stem the tide of insecurity in the nation, people like me could not be amused. Rather, it was for me a call that needed to be thoroughly examined because what the Governors want may not be community policing but a police force for each of them to deploy into whatever suits him at any point in time – an appropriation which the nation’s subsisting police system precludes them from doing.
According to Section 215(3) of the Constitution of Nigeria (1999), the President or such other Minister of the Government of the Federation as he may authorise in that behalf may give to the Inspector General of Police such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order in the nation.
While it is true that the Nigeria Police has hardly met the expectations of the people, it is equally hard to find areas of governance in Nigeria where state governments have done better than their federal counterpart. In addition, apart from the fact that nothing stops a Federal Police from community policing, other nations like France and Denmark which operate the Nigerian type of police structure do not have our type of insecurity.
Therefore whether a federal is better than a state police system is academic. Indeed, in the United Kingdom with a long standing decentralized police system, there are recent demands both in England and in Wales for a National Police Force.
Second, what the entire world including Nigeria faces today is not petty misdemeanors but bombings and other forms of terrorism that are trans-border and international which one State cannot handle alone. So, this is not the time for local crimes which are supposedly best handled at State level.
Third, that the call for State Police is self serving can easily be deduced from the request by the same Governors for an intervention fund by the Federal Government to help the States fight insecurity. Since the Governors do not have enough resources for the task, they are perhaps only using the subject to create a new sub-head for more funds allocation from the federation account.
No wonder, President Jonathan was so incensed lately by what he described as the playing of politics by some of leaders with issues that touch the life of the nation. We could have applauded the Governors if they had rolled their security votes into the intervention fund.
After all, Governor Kwankwaso of Kano State who was absent at last Monday’s meeting had earlier revealed that security vote was nothing more than a device for stealing. Kwankwaso’s Deputy who was in attendance reminds me of reports some years back that to ensure strict application of sharia law, he personally led a group of thugs to invade some hotels in Kano. I then visualized what he would have done with a State Police.
Such a verdict of history is another reason for caution in supporting the call for State Police. We need to recall our past experience where Local Authority Police were used to intimidate real and perceived political opponents and enemies. Unfortunately, there is nothing to show that politicians have turned a new leaf. Here, a few examples would suffice.
Whereas we all know that an electoral body is expected to be manifestly impartial and non-partisan, some Governors do nominate persons to serve as electoral commissioners from among the executive members of their political parties. During the previous administration in Osun State, the local government elections conducted by such contrived umpires had to be rendered null and void while the electoral commission itself was declared illegal by the Judiciary.
As for the running of local councils, it is an open secret that State Governments have also been an impediment. According to Governor Aregbesola “some councils had been so impoverished by their governors that they had to borrow in order to pay salaries”.
In Edo State, election to the office of Governor is due in two weeks. As part of political education, debates are being organized by different media houses for all the candidates contesting the election. The State owned station , Edo Broadcasting Service (EBS)in breach of the ethical value of balance and objectivity is spending 98% of its airtime telling the people what the incumbent Governor has done and is doing to develop the state as well as what he is likely to accomplish in his second term.
The remaining 2% is devoted to publicizing what the other major contenders have either not done or are incapable of doing. Incidentally, such a trend from which no one can distance ownership control is not new at the EBS considering that 21 years ago, the Station was responsible for the nullification of an otherwise hitch-free Governorship election held on December 14, 1991.
We are thus left to imagine the fate of the citizens of such a state when it acquires a State Police? Obviously, whoever is Governor is not likely to heed the old injunction of the famous Lord Denning that no government official “can tell the Commissioner of Police that he must or must not keep observation on this place or that; or that he must or must not prosecute this man or that man, nor can any police authority tell him so. He is not the servant of anyone save the law itself .”
For now, it appears wise to suggest the commissioning of a university research project on the issue of State Police in Nigeria. We may be lucky to get a finding that basic issues like gainful employment and food security would be more useful to the nation than policing.