By Pini Jason
Apart from the arm-twisting tactics of the sadistic proxies of the thieving oil marketers and the blackmail by the National Union of Electricity Employees, whose years of corruption and incompetence kept us groping in darkness, no debate has arrested the attention of the nation like the issue of state police.
But unfortunately, the debate about the desirability of state police to complement the efforts of the Federal Police is following the familiar road of Nigerian debate: shoot it down even before a debate; if the South is in favour of it, then the North must willy-nilly oppose it; and to scare everybody off the debate, throw in the ultimate dissembler: “it will break up the country”!
The scaremongers never tell us how state police will break up the country, except to dredge up the hackneyed charge that state governors will use the police against their political opponents!
I wonder why people resort to this cheap blackmail every time they want to hold tight to a status quo that works only for them! I know that Nigeria is greatly decelerating and is plagued by institutional fear, but is the country so cheap that the only thing some people can add to a serious debate is that “it will break up the country”?!
And if you thoroughly examine those who parrot this mantra of break up, you will discover that they are those who believe that they cannot coexist in a truly federal Nigeria and their daily activities to keep Nigeria under a stifling central command are seriously gnawing at the thin ligature that binds this country!
In the first place, should it be a Forum of ex-Inspectors General that must recommend to us the type of police that can serve our needs in the 21st century? Not even our chronic national amnesia can make us forget that the tenures of some of these ex-IGPs were some of the worst in the history of this country.
Some of these yesterday men could not manage even a change of uniforms for the Police; some were made to chaff under the collar by Lawrence Anini, the infamous Robin Hood of Benin City; some presided over a Gestapo Police during some of the most deranged dictatorships in this country.
Pray, why did we not invite Tafa Balogun to recommend for us the type of modern police we want? Should it surprise anyone, that what these men are doing is to defend their turf by preserving the status quo?
The case for state police cannot lead to the break up of this country! We must know that there is always a way to do things. The fear being expressed and the argument against state police, when not politically motivated, simply feed on fear of fear itself. We have not asked the question: How can we do it?
It is only when we try to answer this question that we can problematize and interrogate the fears. But some people have deliberately tried to obfuscate the debate and foreclose it with “state police will break up the country”. Truth is, the very problems we are trying to sweep under the carpet are stressing the country to the point of breaking up!
One deliberate misconception in the debate is that state police is a substitute and not complementary to the Federal Police. State Police does not imply abolition of the Federal Police.
The demand is not even to decentralize the existing Nigeria Police. It is also a wrong assumption that the states would just set up police without laid down criteria for recruitment, training and delineated jurisdiction.
I have not heard of any intelligent reason for opposition to state police except the jaded excuse that state governors may misuse it. Does the Federal Government not misuse the Police? In any case, Nigeria has since moved on from the type of politics of the fifties that necessitated the collapsing of regional police into the Federal Police.
Pray, why do people think that it is more important to put politics and politicians above everything else? So once politicians take care of themselves, Nigeria is okay? Why is this fear of abuse by state governors not expressed about state judiciaries? For 50 years we have insisted on a formula that has not worked for us. It will not work even if we insist on it for another 100 years!
Soon after the return of democracy in 1999, the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, led then by Dr Kayode Fayemi, incumbent Governor of Ekiti State, facilitated several workshops on constitutional reform. One of the thorny issues was State Police. Some geo-political zones were in support while others were opposed to it. That was democracy at work. But it did not discourage us.
We now had a reconciliation workshop (indeed a mini-National Conference) in Abuja to address the fears of those opposed to State Police. Resource persons were brought in from countries with similarity to Nigeria and who have state and local police. What emerged was that more geo-political zones signed up for State Police.
What we need to do is to create an inclusive forum to hear those opposed to state police and address their fears. I think such fears can be addressed if we prescribe qualification, set up criteria for recruitment and training, and delineate jurisdictions for state and Federal Police. In trying to devolve power and authority, we must not centralize the concept itself. In other words, the Constitution must provide that any state which so desires and can afford it can establish a state or even local government police. Nothing says all the 36 states must have state police. That will amount to another centralization!
Those who question the ability of states to fund state police are simply playing the ostrich. Today the resources some governors invest in supporting the Nigeria Police commands in their states and yet without getting results, are enough to fund a State Police of 20,000 to 30,000 people, pay them well and kit them adequately.
Twenty to thirty thousand youths out of unemployment queue is itself a great stride in reducing youth crime in any state. The funds going to sponsoring of pilgrimages and thousands of political aids can fund a 10,000 unit state police. Money stolen from the system can fund state police.
In any case, many states currently operate quasi enforcement outfits and vigilante groups that have not been used against political opponents. My point is that we cannot just dismiss the idea of state police based on fear of what is still imaginary abuse. Such abuse, if any, can be addressed. Those who easily jump out to tell us that we are not ripe for anything are themselves not ripe to lead this country. It is unfortunate that such people have been allowed to bestraddle positions of leadership in the past.
A culture of arm-twisting
Reports from many parts of the country in the last one month attest to marked improvement in power supply. I have enjoyed uninterrupted power supply for all of three weeks!
This has not happened in the last 30 years! We have to rally behind the Power Minister, Prof Bath Nnaji and his team to sustain this effort in the face of the nuisance of National Union of Electricity Employees.
For how long shall Nigerians allow a few selfish workers to hold the nation to ransom? It is time to stand up to all those who want to sabotage the transformation of this country.