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State Police : A scary but potentially potent therapy

By Ugoji Egbujo
State police is  in the works. The Vice-president wants it. The deputy Senate president wants to fast track a bill.  Political restructuring can as well come in bits. It appears, we cannot swallow it whole. Power devolution will enhance shared sense of belonging.  A weakened centre will reduce power struggle and cake-sharing mentality that have  with rabid tribalism engendered a perverted sense of nationhood.

Members of the Lagos State Neighborhood Safety Corps (LSNSC)

The establishment of state police, if judiciously prosecuted,  will  enhance the permeation of democracy and development throughout the nation. The monopoly of policing by the Federal Government has neither helped  crime fighting nor improved police accountability.  State governors have been glorified chief security officers of their states for too long.  State governors must be saddled with the actual responsibility to maintain law and order in their states. Consequently, they must be vested with real  powers, to train equip and administer independent  police forces in their states.  Perhaps, subsequently,  the assessment of the performance of governors will then include scores on prevalence of violent crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping in their states.

Sometime in 2009, Aba fell. Traders locked their stalls, banks shut their vaults, schools  closed their gates. Residents trooped to motor parks, their belongings  on their heads, and  fled the town. Kidnappers had menaced the town for months before they made it practically unlivable by abducting  school children and roadside hawkers. The state governor cried wimpishly to Abuja. A somnolent Abuja responded after the biggest commercial town in the southeast region had become a ghost town.  The governor went on to win a re-election.  The agony suffered by the millions that lived in Aba went unpaid for. If Abia government  had a police force,  and let Aba experience such  misery, the governor would have suffered grave retributive  political consequences.

Imagine a  Lagos state with its own  police force.  You would expect innovation. And it would  be  conceivable that the daily mugging of motorists in traffic snarls will be  forcefully  and consistently checked. Imagine a Lagos with its own special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). It would be inconceivable that the cries  of millions  Lagosians  against the brutality of such a branch of the  state’s police would have left  Alausa as  unruffled as Abuja is now. I know the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority was once filled with lawless zeal and ravenous rogues in uniforms. The Lagos governor’s ears got filled by the lamentations of bullied Lagosians.  Governor Ambode  responded and tamed LASTMA’s  predatoriness.

State police  could enhance prioritization of policing objectives to match local policing needs. State police could also  make  policing more accountable by being more vulnerable to the temper of the electorate. The introduction of  State police therefore should improve effectiveness  and  perhaps curb excesses.

But you can also imagine Ekiti  today with its own police force.  It would  be  improbable   that APC’s Kayode Fayemi would be contesting this month’s governorship elections in that state.  The fantasies of the current Ekiti governor would have been effected by his policemen. The temperament of some of our current governors make the creation of state police a piece of foolhardiness.

And if you like,  you can imagine Kogi state with its own police force. It would  then be   impossible to imagine a Dino Melaye   going back to his constituency to mobilize for votes  this election season. Today’s governors lack the  minimum  selflessness and sense of justice needed to run a police force  that would have constitutional powers to deprive people of their liberties

But there is something else. Imagine that Fayemi had an Ekiti  state police force in 2014. He wouldn’t have been left like a  cow with out tail while his opponent abused the army and the police and put his supporters under a siege on the eve of the governorship election in that State. State police could  check tyranny. But  it would perhaps  be  a little harmful to the senses  to imagine how a state police under Fayemi  in 2014 would have contended with  Birgadier Momoh and Chris Uba’s troops. The consequences of an all out confrontation in such scenarios could be calamitous.

There is a widespread anxiety about state police.  States have electoral commissions. In most states, the electoral commissions are sham institutions. The governors use them to allocate most of the local government chairmanship positions to their parties and cronies. The story of state owned electoral commissions does not recommend state police.

The federal electoral institution, INEC has never met our expectations. But no state has managed to fashion a state owned  electoral commission that even dreams to match  INEC’s moral standing. There is no state electoral commission that has the sort of credibility INEC possesses.

So we must worry. If the states get their police and employ them as nefariously as they employ their electoral commissions then  it will be  utter chaos. A unitary federal police has meant that we have had a worthy institution. Governor Wike will tell you that his opponents  in Rivers  state have used the Special anti Robbery squad in his state  like a political hammer. His opponents would counter that  Governor Wike and a former First Lady  had used a  former Commissioner of Police,  Mr Mbu, like a  terrorist.  Despite these shortcomings, many will agree that agencies controlled by the Federal Government have been a little less wolfish than those run by the states.

If tribalism meets abuse of state police in some of the states some minorities could be scorched.  You can imagine a Plateau  State Police force. The rampant  indigene-settler feuds would have conditioned such a force and left one or two minority groups in peril.  But you should look at the helplessness of the Benue governor after  Agatu and other massacres by killer herdsmen. The majority of the people of Benue would argue that if the state had an equipped police force the  elusive killer herdsmen would have been brought to justice. At least the Benue governor would have had to do more than begging the president and shedding tears on television.

What must we then  do?

The concept of the state police is appealing. It fits our federal constitution better and suits our crime situation. How then must we check its abuse by  our state governors. The answer would lie in making our idea and legal foundations  of  state police conform with the concept of community policing.

State police forces must be subject to the people and the constitution. The states have houses of Assembly but they have all become rubber stamps of governors. So the control of the police must rest in another institution. It could be a state police commission  which would have 50% of its membership as elected independents,  and 50% appointed by religious groups and the civil society. Regional police forces have been suggested. They  could check arbitrariness and abuse.  But they  would reduce many aspects of accountability significantly.

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