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State police and effective policing in Nigeria (1)

THE  first official recommendation for state police came up in the Constitutional/Law Review Report of the National Think-Tank early in 2009.

The next recommendation following that came from the National Vision 20:2020 Report handed the Federal Government of Nigeria 2009-2010.

In both cases, the thinking being that the first essential requirement of policing is knowledge of the community, the local environment. Local policing has firm roots in Nigeria and never a new idea. In the colonial times, alongside the Nigeria Police Force, were the Native Authority Police.

Despite cases of abuse, the NA Police were very effective in the regions, particularly the Northern and Western regions responsible for local and community policing combating crimes and criminals up until the early seventies. It was just after the civil war that General Gowon peremptorily integrated the Native Authority rank and file into the Nigeria Police Force and thus began existence of a single police force in Nigeria.

There are many problems associated with full scale centralised policing in the last three or four decades in Nigeria. There has been complaints of uneven distribution of policemen and material, with some states getting more than their fair share while others are left unmanned open to unchecked criminal activities; second, many states are also frustrated after committing huge state resources into a federal police force yet having no real or legal control over their use and utility; third, countless cases of men without knowledge of the local environment deployed to man or take charge of places, violating several local sensitivities leading to ineffective policing; fourth, cases of stunted careers of generations of officers not favoured by the political control of the police forces which led to lack or loss of morale and reduces professional output.

To be sure, section 214(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides: ‘’There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force and subject to the provisions of this section no other police force shall be established for the federation or any part thereof’’.

Those are the words in the Constitution. What the Constitution has done is to limit the potential of effectively policing the Nigerian state by rigidly prescribing one single federal police force. Truth however, is, as Nigeria continues to consolidate and evolve on its federal structure, certain anomalous governance institutions must begin to give way for the federating units to take proper care of their local and state challenges.

One of such is the police force and by extension the correctional centres, i.e the Prison services. As a federal republic, the imperative of state police and state prison service is obvious and a contradiction of the federal arrangement if otherwise and that is why this heady disagreement within the governors ranks only shows how frightful we often are to take first steps in solving obvious national problems. A new framework for effective policing is needed now.

There is the legal absurdity of a federal police enforcing state laws, prosecuting state laws in state courts, and incarcerating state offenders in federal prisons. That kind of arrangement does not allow effecting governance in a federal arrangement or even in a modern democratic state. No state government can budget properly for security and crime control and criminal management.

The state governments cannot invest in more men to man the streets because they are federally provided; the prisons are congested because states cannot bring state offenders into their budgeting lines. This is a fundamental problem in addition to the chain of command which is directed elsewhere to the higher federal authority.

Now, only a few days ago, the Lagos State government signed into law a radical traffic regulation with stiff monetary penalties for offenders.

This then is the issue: How can a federal police buy into the states traffic or policing agenda when the state may see huge revenue potential in the law and the matters thereto are peculiarly a state’s local challenge? It is natural for some conflict and passivity to follow the enforcement of the law as both the legislative initiative and policing possibilities are of divergent sources.

This is not to say that the said Lagos traffic law, as it stands, has or may enjoy popular acclaim knowing for example that infrastructure deficiencies- bad roads, limited access ways, insecurity on the highways, lack of street lights, etc, in part,are often responsible for limited or outright non-compliance with several road regulations.

In all the comparative studies done on federal states across the globe, nowhere else do you have this large amount of police and correctional forces under one, single command.

Mr. TONY ODIADI, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.



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