Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Abubakar Malami, has advised proponents of state police to balance it against fears of politicisation of police activities, arms proliferation and bias.
The AGF gave the advice in his address at the opening of a two-day retreat organised by Southern Senators’ Forum in Calabar on Friday.
He said that while there was no doubt that state police services may ensure deeper grassroots penetration, the fears of abuse should not be undermined.
“The discourse here has largely been driven by arguments by several State and non-State actors in favour of the establishment of State Police Forces or Services, as the case may be.
“Arguments both ways are quite persuasive in my opinion.
“There is no doubt that state police services may ensure deeper grassroots penetration by operatives of the Police due to greater understanding of local conditions, give governors more de-facto supervision of security and create employment opportunities.
“We must, however, balance them against fears of proponents of a strict Federal Police.
“They fear the negative possibility of respective state police operatives supporting their respective communities, say in the case of a boundary dispute between States,’’ he said.
On Federal Character principle as contained in the 1999 Constitution, Malami said it was one the most potent provisions for securing the unity of Nigeria.
He said that federal character provision as reiterated under Section 14(4) of the Constitution reflected geographical diversity and fairness in the composition of their various bureaucracies.
According to him, it has helped in maintaining political stability, and Nigerians have taken the provision as an article of faith that geo-political balancing must be reflected in all areas of governance and opportunities.
“This provision at federal level is further emphasised in other parts of the Constitution, such as Section 147(3) which compels the President to appoint at least one Minister from every State of the Federation.
“Section 153(1) (c) which establishes Federal Character Commission (FCC) to give effect to constitutional provisions on the principle on a continuous basis to ensure that Nigeria is run to guarantee participation for all to encourage national unity.
“And, Section 219 is on the role of the National Assembly in maintaining the federal character principle in the armed forces, among others,’’ he said.
Malami pointed out that the practice of the federal character principle in Nigeria was however without challenges.
He said it had been argued for instance, that rather than promote national unity, it had led to ethnic and regional prejudices, thus resulting in the exact opposite of what it was set to achieve.
He further said that it had also been posited that appointments were based on states of origin rather than suitability.
He said there was no doubt that the discussion of the principle would always be a sensitive issue in the view of different interests.
The AGF maintained that every federation required some level of affirmative action or regional balancing to ensure that all parts of the federation developed at a reasonable level.
He stressed that the practice of the principle must be predicated on using the best from every part of the country, adding that suitable people abound in all parts of the country.
“Gross inequalities within any federation in terms of access to power and its privileges or participation in the political space or distribution of opportunities can only result in greater political dysfunctions which may destabilise the nation.
“However, in applying the principle, there is a heavy responsibility on the Nigerian political elite, including those of us gathered in this room.
“We must operate the system in a manner that promotes quality and equity, and avoid a recycling process that alienates the majority of qualified persons even within our individual constituencies,’’ he said.
On security and its implications for national unity, the AGF said national security in Nigeria had been organised on a strict, central command structure under the Federal Government.
According to him, the security has served the interests of national unity since 1999 and should be strengthened to achieve optimal efficiency.
“We can legitimately ask whether this security architecture has served the purpose of national unity since the Constitution came into effect or whether there is room for its re-evaluation and re-positioning.
“I have no doubt that the centralised military architecture we have in respect of Army, Navy and Air Force and associated agencies like Department of State Services (DSS) has served the interest of national unity.
“It should therefore be strengthened to achieve optimal efficiency. Any other recipe will naturally be disastrous and tear the very fabric of our nation’s unity.
“Our focus should therefore be to continuously improve our military into an apolitical, professional and efficient force to carry out its responsibilities under Section 217 (2) (a) (b) (c) and (d) of the Constitution.
“It appears to me that all Nigerians are united on this point,’’ he said.
Malami commended the Southern Senators Forum for coming up with the initiative to organise the retreat.
He said the effort to gather and collate views of critical stakeholders from the country on the simmering issue of restructuring and national unity must be lauded.
“It is particularly instructive to note that the idea behind the formation of this forum is not to balkanise Nigeria into South and North.
“It is rather to galvanise and articulate view-points from all constituencies within the Southern part of the Nigeria for the purpose of ultimately achieving overall national consensus.
“Democracy has often been described as the best form of government to foster unity in a multi-cultural, multi-religious and ethnically-diverse society.
“Indeed, it has been posited that the worst form of democracy is better than the best form of dictatorship. This is to say that there is no alternative to democracy,’’ he said.
The minister urged the forum to examine his position further in the course of deliberations and come to a resolution to further promote national unity.