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.
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.