• Speaks on state police, calls for service chiefs’ removal
By Olalekan Bilesanmi
Mr Femi Falana, SAN, in their interview, speaks on the calls for state police in Nigeria amid the mounting insecurity challenge in some states in the country.
Security issues facing the nation are many. What are your thoughts on mounting calls for the establishment of state police in the country?
It’s a rather knee jerk reaction and it is a proposal that has to be well thought-out. I am not opposed to the establishment of state police but you also have to know that, right now, we do not have a federal government police. We have a Nigeria Police Force created by Section 214 of the Constitution to be managed ,supervised ,administered and organized by the Nigeria Police Council. The Council is constituted by the president as chairman , the 36 state governors, the inspector general of police and the chairman of Police Service Commission. So you have a 39-member body dominated by the 36 state governors but that body never meets to organize the police. In fact, the president cannot appoint or remove an inspector general of police without seeking the consent or advice of that Council.
But we have seen in the past where IGs removed without recourse to the Council.
That is because members of the Police Council, particularly governors, have simply abdicated their power to the Presidency. That is the cause of this problem, there is no coordination. So, if the body that is saddled with the power to organise and supervise the police simply does not meet, what do you expect, even at the state level , where you have the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, that harasses and dehumanises Nigerians? That body, in each state of the country, is funded by the state government. Even then, no state government has ever bothered to call the operatives of SARS to order that ‘you are harassing our people. you are killing our people’. So when you are talking of passing a law for state police, you have to think it out very well. What is the fear? The fear Is that governors are likely to use state police to harass political opponents. Right now, some governors are using the federal police and the army to demolish the houses of citizens in their states. I can talk of Kaduna State. In December 2015 , 347 members of the Shiite community were killed by the army and their bodies buried in a mass grave with the connivance of the state government. After that, the state government, headed by Mr el Rufai, went to demolish the houses of leaders of the Shiites. If everyone thought that was the business of Shiites because they are an extremist group, recently, the house of a sitting senator was also demolished by that government. Now if you then give a state police without conditions, you are going to run into a bigger problem than we are currently witnessing. Second, state governments that cannot pay civil servants cannot maintain state police because you are going to have young men and women armed on the streets without salaries. You just heard in Maiduguri where federal police men and women were not paid ,and they went to the streets and you know what that can be if in all the 36 states of the federation.. So we have to think it out; if you are going to have state police, you must ensure that their salaries and allowances are deducted from source in Abuja.
The Deputy Senate President, when we spoke with him on this platform, said his proposal was going to establish the State Police Service Commission and the National Police Service Commission similar to the PSC we currently have and the abuses potentially from governors would be checked by the hierarchical institution in the state coordinated by the National Police Service Commission. Is that not enough?
It is not enough. We have to examine what goes on. Right now, we have a Police Service commission which does not take cognisance of the so many petitions against serving police officers all over the country. In fact, most of the petitions are ignored. I have a court judgement to the effect that police officers were illegally removed and had be reinstated but the PSC, led by Mr Mike Okiro, simply ignored our petitions and judgement. Now, if you then have a State Police Commission, without giving powers to the people, this is my problem with the people talking about horizontal restructuring and not vertical restructuring. If you devolve powers without responsibilities, without giving those powers to the people in the state to monitor the activities of government and the police, you are not going o have a peaceful society. If you have a state police , funded by the state government , the members of the Police Service Commission are appointed by governors and, mind you, they may just be made up of party members and you are going to have a serious crisis on your hands. Hence we have suggested, if you are going to have state police, you must start with a Police Council or Police Service Commission peopled by accredited representatives of credible civil society organizations, but you are not just going to have transferring operation from Abuja to the state.
The DSP was clear on the board of the Police Service Commission, saying would be members of organizations like the NBA
Not just members appointed by the governor, they have to be nominated by their organizations so that, at the end of the day, the members of the body would elect their Chairman and Secretary. It has been done in Ghana and some other places where you have bodies whose members are simply nominated and would be appointed by the president or the governor who would then allow the members to elect their leaders so that what the state government would therefore do is to fund adequately. And the only way you can do that is to ensure that funds for the police would be taken from Abuja and put in an account.
There are speculations at the moment that the bloodshed we have seen in the country so far, the urgency to resolve it gave rise to the calls for the establishment of state police. This action, we are told, has undercurrent of politics in it. The leadership of the National Assembly is believed to be seeking to make the constitutional amendment before the 2019 elections in the hope that state governors would have the police under their control to protect their electoral interest on the day of election.
I don’t agree. If we want state police, we need a State Police Service that would be administered by the organizations of the people , not by state governors, not by legislators. All that the state House of Assembly would do is to appropriate money for the running of the Police Service. And that is what has happened to the running of the judiciary. If you had allowed state governments to give money to the judiciary if and so desired, by now, many judges would not be paid their salaries and allowances. Once they give judgement considered rather confrontational, they will be punished.
You don’t see politics in this?
I don’t. We have been in this struggle since 1999. Why is the National Assembly just waking up? With profound respect to concerned members, and I am talking about those who have just been converted, is it because of this recent crisis? We have made the point abundantly clear since 2014 at the National Conference that the limited success recorded in the fight against Boko Haram was made possible by the local community, I am talking about the Civilian JTF.
Do you subscribe to the school of thought that suggests that Section 308 be amended to the extent that if any executive, either at the federal or state level , is found to have used the police to perpetuate political crime or otherwise, criminal prosecution should be instituted against him as a caveat so that you can put all of them in check and don’t use the police wrongly.?
No. Section 308, which allows immunity , we have always advocated that the immunity conferred on public officers with respect to criminal offence should be removed and it is in the interest of everybody in the society, including those who are serving, because I recall a situation whereby a governor of one of the states set up a killer squad, peopled by his own thugs and police officers. At the end of the day, it killed a number of citizens. The move by us to get the governor prosecuted was very difficult even when he left office because the case was compromised. So you cannot have peace in that kind of society. I support the amendment of Section 308, not just in respect of abuse of police power, but also generally.
The renewed clamour for state police is borne out of n the failure of security apparatus to protect lives and property and call for removal of service chiefs. What do you think about the removal of the service chiefs?
I think the removal of the service chiefs is long overdue. As a matter of fact, based on my contact, serving soldiers, including those who are languishing in custody illegally , I can tell you that part of what we are witnessing in the country is what I would regard to as internal sabotage. When the tenure of the current service chiefs expired, the president, in his wisdom, extended same. There are ,with information at my disposal, serving officers and soldiers who simply say ‘let them continue since the president believes these are the only people who can restore law and order in the country.’ So, you have a problem even from that area, but, more importantly, I think the current government, with profound respect to the president , finds it very difficult to remove those who have been appointed to man any aspect of our lives. You have a duty as a government to remove those who are not performing if they are not going to resign out of honour. So , this business of removing a commissioner of police and replacing a commissioner of police or commanders of troops, to me,is rather diversionary. You simply sacrifice people when those at the top are not going to resign. If we are talking about security, thsesndiscussions are essentially built on what I call the architecture of security. Whether you have federal police or state police, once you do not address social security, you cannot talk of physical security.
Do you think that if these service chiefs are removed, the demand for the state police would still be as strong as it is?
It is still going to be as strong as it is. All we are simply saying is that you need to inject some new blood into the security system. Right now, nothing is going on, everybody is on his own. Nobody is in control. The National Security Adviser just addressed the Senate. Whereas under the National Security Act, the NSA is in charge of all security agencies in the country, he said the Chief of Defence Staff and the Director General of the DSS simply do not allow him to coordinate them. So you have what I might call lack of coordination, no synergy. Sometimes, the police would parade some suspects who may have committed armed robbery, while the DSS would parade another set who committed the same offence. So we have a problem on our hands. EFCC and ICPC investigating the same set of criminals.
You talked about your experience with the Police Service Commission. In your view, is additional regulatory bureaucracy at the national and state levels needed under the political climate we are in now?
This is my point with restructuring. You must devolve power to the people, not to the state government, not to the legislature. You must ensure that those who exercise power on our behalf are accountable. And you can only do that if you give power to the people, to monitor them. For instance, local governments in the country have been taken over by state government, not by the people.
This is part of the issues we are trying to address.
I am talking of democratization of power.
*Interview first aired on Channels Television.