By Tabia Princewill
IN the 1920s, the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology defined State Police as “a specially organised and highly trained body, acting under state rather than local authority, and constantly employed in the prevention of crime, the apprehension of criminals, and the protection of life and property generally throughout the state and especially in the rural and sparsely settled districts distributed over the entire state in small groups for patrol duty, but quickly mobilised in larger units in an emergency.
In the selection of such a force the greatest care is taken to eliminate political considerations and to secure persons with the highest physical and moral qualifications and with more than average intelligence”. It is the latter part of this statement which should worry the reader.
It is a well-known fact that in today’s Nigeria jobs such as teaching, postings to the civil service or political appointments, only seem to attract the dregs of society rather than the best of what our country has to offer.
What are the qualifications of most of the gun slingers patrolling the nation today? The creation of state police is the perfect opportunity to re-organise and professionalise the police force by making it an attractive option for promising young people rather than the dumping ground for poorly trained, even worse paid and ill-equipped people who often seem to be under the influence of one substance or the other despite their easy access to assault rifles.
After each crisis, one hears the common refrain from the governors “the security agencies were informed the attack was coming but they were slow to act”. State police would indeed solve this particular issue. It is tragic that successive governments, starting with the military, focused more on accumulating money and power than enabling all of Nigeria’s regions and entities to thrive by giving them the tools to do so.
Having said that, I have written quite consistently in this column that without solving corruption, one could restructure Nigeria under every possible angle and still find the same result which is underdevelopment.
It is corruption (and bad leadership) that have held us back as a nation and not our inability to restructure. However, given the unending killings plaguing many areas of the country, the creation of state police appears inevitable given the support of a few governors and the national assembly. It is up to Nigerians to be vigilant and to insist that whatever recommendations are made include clauses to stop this new police force from being misused by desperate political actors.
Imagine the havoc state police could cause in a state such as Rivers where virtually every election is fraught with violence. There were actual beheadings in Port Harcourt in 2015.
What would happen if the political class of whatever party disposed of their own personal force? In response to the “lack of maturity” of certain governors, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, quoting Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba recently said: “It is not a question of maturity, but a question of the federal system we opted for. If you choose to travel in a car, you just have to use the road, not rail. If you get a flight ticket, you have to fly”.
What happens when many of the roads aren’t fit for horses or mules let alone cars or if the plane you boarded turns out to have an engine problem?
You don’t “have to” manage whatever you find on ground, hoping or praying for the best (that is sadly the Nigerian story). This mind-set is destroying Nigeria, it is at the root of our people’s apathy, it is also subtly encouraged by our leaders who tell us the situation we find ourselves in isn’t of their doing forgetting it is their responsibility, once elected, to repair it.
Senator Ekweremadu’s analogy hits close to home because both scenarios in regards to malfunctioning roads and planes, are all too real in Nigeria. Countless people have died on our bad roads and lost their lives in plane crashes which could have been avoided, if not for the negligence of our authorities, corruption and the failure of the Senate in its oversight duties. So, the question is, do you keep flying regardless of the difficulties or stop, pending when the plane is fit to take off again? Moreover, what happens when nobody seems interested in fixing the plane and the road? It isn’t enough to say “we must have state police” without presenting the measures taken to ensure it won’t be abused.
Unfortunately we are not used to asking for more details, we don’t insist on knowing our leaders’ plans. With our little regard for details, we allow them to be vague and imprecise forgetting the devil is in the details: Nigerian politicians leave room for error, for chaos to seep in because they profit from dysfunction.
We must no longer allow it. We must refuse the disregard proper planning and insist the finer points of the state police issue are discussed and handled appropriately. All our lives depend on this.
Privileges of the political class
Poverty in Nigeria enforces a dog-eat-dog society: we are not, as of yet, appreciative of justice and the rights of our fellow man, so long as we feel our own rights are protected.
Many of us would simply look the other way (as we already do) if governors used the police to terrorise communities etc.
In fact, it isn’t so much the governors we should be afraid of, but Nigerians themselves. Our “see no evil, speak no evil” attitude is precisely what worries me. We don’t stand up to the abuse of our system nor do we rise against the undue privileges of the political class: exploitation is the new normal.
If the creation of state police now seems inevitable to tackle our many security challenges, let us refuse what always seems to happen to any idea in Nigeria, that is, its predictable abuse or distortion by those who profit from dysfunction.
Femi Falana (SAN)
HE recently called on the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to investigate Attorney-Generals who have shielded murder suspects from prosecution. It seems an obvious request, except, this is Nigeria, a country where almost every level of society colludes to ensure the perpetrators of injustice walk free.
Many of the gunmen running amuck are known to politicians, the security forces and the judiciary. In fact, the sponsors of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups are allegedly known to the political class.
Until we kill corruption, the reforms we want to implement simply won’t work, no matter how well-intentioned. Most of the violence in Nigeria is sponsored, used as a tool to destabilise the polity or as a bargaining chip by those who want to make a statement to other power groups. We are easily distracted in Nigeria: until we continuously insist on a resolution to corruption cases, violence will always be easily funded while the courts and the entire justice system will be easily bought.
THE former President was recently in Otuoke, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s home town in Bayelsa where he was pictured at a church service in the latter’s company. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was dressed in traditional Niger Deltan garb, as politicians often do when they visit each other.
Hopefully no one is fooled by this attempt at portraying “oneness” and brotherhood when barely three years ago Obasanjo in his long letter to Jonathan barely stopped short of calling him clueless as well as a failure.
Alliances shift depending on politicians’ whims and not what is best for Nigeria. Has Obasanjo “forgiven” Jonathan for all that went on under his watch? Obasanjo himself is fond of mentioning “his watch” as if he were God’s gift to Nigeria or the only man suited to the task.
History will judge his contribution to Nigeria if we are too shy, cowardly or sentimental to do so. The same old guard is active once again, in the shadows. Nigerians must remain vigilant.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.