T he Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has championed the decentralisation of the nation’s policing system for quite a while now. Although past efforts to create state police in various constitution amendment efforts failed, the agitation has returned with greater acceptance in the wake of the soaring killings, particularly the recent carnage in Plateau State.In this interview monitored on Channels TV, Ekweremadu, who chairs the constitution amendment panel, speaks extensively on the benefits, shape, and possibility of state police.
You have heard the various perspectives to the issue of state police. We know where you stand. But can you give us a clearer sense of why your position is what it is?
First, as a member of government, I am of the view and I recognise the fact that under our constitution, the primary purpose of government is the welfare of our people and the protection of their lives and property. On account of this, we need to review, from time to time, our actions, especially as regards the protection of lives and property and the welfare of the people.
You could see that the country is presently challenged in many directions and one of the major areas of concern is the security sector. People are killed every day; some are kidnapped; and others are robbed. We can’t continue this way. Something needs to be done. It is on the account of this that we started looking at other options. One of them is decentralising our police.
In the formation of the society, government is given enormous power to have control over the instrument of coercion. What has happened now is, the criminal elements have overwhelmed the government. Government is not able to perform that responsibility of protecting lives and properties because that instrument of coercion is not structured in ways to be able to contain the rise in criminality. So, we need to look at it again to see if there is anything we are doing wrongly that we need to reform and do correctly.
You know there is a contrary opinion that it’s not so much that the federal government is overwhelmed, but also, the police have not been given the resources that they need.
Regrettably, the issue is not funding. If you bring the whole money in the Central Bank and give to the police, nothing will change. If we do that with the army, nothing will change. The problem is the structure and not the funding. Imagine that we are now telling the Ministry of Education to hire primary school teachers. No matter what we do, there will be many primary schools without teachers. So, we are applying the wrong solutions to problems that are within our reach to resolve.
But if there is corruption in any system; if the funds are not enough to recruit high level graduates into the police force; and if they don’t have the necessary logistics, the equipment, the vehicles, and trainings, can we say that the problem is just structures?
What you are saying is just part of the problem. Yes, we need all those mechanisms in place, but even if we provide them, the problem will still be there. In Abuja, for instance, we have all kinds of equipment the police are using, all kinds of weapons, and well trained policemen. But they killed seven policemen yesterday. I am not even talking about citizens, who die on daily basis and nobody accounts for them. I am talking about trained policemen. The criminal elements have overwhelmed the security sector. That is the issue. We need to do something. What we are talking about is decentralising the police.
When we talk about state Police, you hear various iterations. There are concerns…
There have been a lot of fears and misconceptions about the issue of state police; and of course it is well founded. But we have an attitude of running away from our problems in this country. I think the best thing to do is to confront them. We should ask ourselves critical questions. What are those concerns? What are those fears? How do we address them? Who are the people that are worried? Can we dialogue with them so that they can understand the issues? Again, is it something that is necessary? Will it solve the problem? If it can solve the problem, why don’t we deal with those fears? Let me take you back in history.
The first set of police we had in this country were Native Authority Police, not the National Police. The Ordinance of 1916 established the Native Authority Police in Nigeria. It was further enhanced in 1924. It was only in 1936 that the nationwide police was established. They all existed side by side until in 1966. That was why in those days, if you were selling groundnut, you could keep your groundnut in front of your house and go to the farm. Somebody would drop the money and pick the groundnut he or she wanted. You didn’t need to fence your house, or have a policeman following you around because there were policemen everywhere. That was how it was structured.
As we approached independence, our founding fathers, Azikiwe, Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, and others had agreed that for us to live peacefully in a multiethnic and large country, there was the need to adopt the federal system of government. And federal system of government comes with certain characteristics. One of the characteristics is that different states handle their affairs differently, but they are all coordinated at the national level. Security is one aspect of it. We started living that way.
Unfortunately, at the time they were laying the foundation for federalism, especially as regards the security sector, they did not put in place the proper checks and balances. Those police at sub-regional levels were being abused, especially in 1963 and 1964 elections. When the army came in 1966, it was one of the major concerns. They felt we could not continue with this subnational police because they were being abused by politicians. They were using the police to chase their political opponents. Remember I said we run away from our problems instead of resolving them. What they did was to set up a committee to look at the issues around the sub-national police. By the time the police report came out, General Aguiyi-Ironsi had been assassinated.
Part of the concerns people had about Ironsi’s government was that he was trying to unify the country into a unitary system of government, thereby running away from the federal system of government that was agreed upon. When that report on police came out, the Gowon government that was accusing Ironsi of a unitary system of government adopted the report of that committee, which was saying that we should do away with sub-national police and have a centralised police. That was the beginning of our problem. Thereafter, we started having armed robbery, kidnapping and now terrorism. It is going to get worse if we don’t do the correct thing.
The point I am making, therefore, is that what we need to do is to decentralise the police in such a way that there will be a policeman at every point, in every corner. If you go to Europe, especially in Germany, one out of every five persons you meet on the street is a security person. That doesn’t happen here. If you have three hundred thousand policemen to take care of the population in Nigeria, let’s say two hundred million, how is that going to work? I am looking at just protection of lives and properties. I am not even talking about detection or investigation of crimes, which is another kettle of fish.
If you are a policeman and you are assigned to investigate a crime in Enugu, for instance, and two months after, you are transferred to Kano, that matter is closed. Or you send somebody from Cross River to serve as a policeman in Sokoto, he doesn’t know how to speak the language and he doesn’t know the culture. He doesn’t even know the road. Or you send somebody to Benue to quench insurgency, he doesn’t know the route. These are the issues.
You have clearly laid the foundation, but I just want to be very clear here. When we talk about state police, what will it ultimately look like? What will be the role of government, for instance?
First, it has been done in Nigeria before. Secondly, it has been done all over the world. Nigeria is the only country in this world, mark my word, the only country in this world that runs a federal system of government with a unitary police system. There is no other country. Even a country such as UK that has a unitary system of government, they have a federal or decentrlaised system of policing. So what we need to do is put the proper things in check to ensure it is not abused.
How do we do that? If you are conversant with the structure of the judiciary, I am sure you know what we call the NJC (National Judicial Council). Nigeria is one of the few countries with that. It is unique and it is helping. What that means is that we have an authority that is in charge of the judicial system in Nigeria. It is the central authority that appoints and disciplines judges- whether they are federal or state judges. That is why, for instance, in Enugu, we have state judges but nobody has ever complained in Enugu that political opponents have used the judges against him. The reason is that there is NJC in Abuja making sure that, that doesn’t happen. So, if we structure our police in that manner and have a National Police Service Commission that helps to appoint Commissioners of Police for those states and discipline them, just like the NJC, we will have no problem; if at the state level, we have State Police Service Commission that deals with the state lower cadre of the police; if these commissions are populated in such a way that the governor cannot have control over them, then we are making progress.
Getting into the nuts and bolts of the proposal, when we talk about the establishment of the forces ultimately, who is going to have the power or the control over who is recruited, over the composition of those forces when they are established?
It is still work in progress because we will still bring the bill. My committee has been given the responsibility of dealing with that. But let me tell you how we think it’s going to work. We are going to have in the constitution a provision for the establishment a Police Service Commission in states. This Police Service Commission will be completely independent of the governor. Even if the governor is going to make inputs, it will be by appointment of the chairman. We are expecting that bodies such as the Nigeria Union of Journalists, National Human Rights Commission, Nigeria Bar Association, Public Complaint Commission, and other stakeholders will put their representatives at the state level. It will be their responsibility to recruit policemen and discipline them. They are going to have a Police Commissioner.
In order to make it difficult for any person to manipulate them, we expect that, that State Police Service Commission will make a recommendation to the National/Federal Police Service Commission, telling them who could be a police service commissioner in that state. They will look at their credentials and recommend further to the governor for appointment. When the governor appoints him, the name will still be taken to House of Assembly for approval. And you cannot just wake up and remove the police commissioners. Remember that the State Assemblies now have financial autonomy, which will make them more independent-minded.
This particular matter about state police came up in this last amendment but it didn’t pass as well. Are you not afraid that it may suffer the same fate?
Well, constitutional advancement is a continuous effort. What does not pass today may pass tomorrow. In 2010, we wanted to create some level of independence for our legislators at the State Assemblies to put their funds as first line charge. It didn’t pass. Now, in 2017, we tried it again and we got more than the number we needed and today it has been signed into law by the President.
When we started speaking about the state police in 2009/2010, nobody gave it a thought, but when the matter came up in the Senate and House of Representatives yesterday (Tuesday), it had an overwhelming support. So, it’s a way of building consensus. If it doesn’t work, we will keep trying. But, let me assure you that unless we decentralise our police, our security crisis will continue to increase and multiply until it gets to an alarming situation.
As I said in the case of the killings in Plateau State, unless we do the correct thing, there will be more killings. The earlier we realise this and address these issues, especially our fears regarding decentralised policing, the better for all of us.
Let me give you this example, in September 10, 2000, I was kidnapped. I was then the Secretary to Enugu State Government. I was kidnapped by some young men in the evening, around 8pm. They took me to Anambra. Throughout that night, it was raining. Eventually they brought me to Enugu and then took me to Benue. We slept in the bush. The next day, they went and robbed the market. All the places they took me to, there was no single policeman. Not one. When they wanted to get fuel the next day, some policemen came, bought fuel, and left. They didn’t even know I was being kidnapped. It can’t happen in a place where you have a decentralised police. We should give the state and local government the opportunity to get policemen that suit their own environment and understand their language; and who will be living there until they are dead.
Some argue that many states are finding it difficult to pay salaries. How are they going to fund state police….
State police will not be compulsory for the states. Those who can afford it should take the lead. The federal or national police will still be there to serve every state. In fact, what will happen is that if Rivers sets up a state police service, the federal police can transfer a fraction of its men to other states that are unable to afford a state police yet. So, basically, what we want to do is to create a window for those who can afford it to take the lead. Presently, the constitution is holding everyone down.