By Obi Nwakanma
A bill to establish the state police services is currently under consideration in the Nigerian National Assembly. It is a bill which will fundamentally alter the Police Act, and many hope, for the better. Some say it is a long time in coming. One of the great compromises reached during the 1957 Constitutional Conference in London leading to Nigeria’s independence in 1960 was the shape and structure of the Nigerian Police Force.
The leaders of the minority peoples had argued, and secured the guarantee for a Federal Police controlled at the center rather than Regional Police services as the only means for securing their safety and interests. They feared that with the regions in the control of the majority ethnic groups, regional police would be used to suppress, and contain, and tyrannize minorities. The Willinks report was clear on that, and on the recommendation that only a federally-controlled police system could prevent the appropriation of police powers to do harm in the regions. It was to stem the fears of the minorities under what seemed like the political dominance of the majority ethnic groups.
It is ironic today that this argument has been turned on its head. Most Nigerians now are clamouring for the state police as the only means to secure the ordinary rights of the Nigerian citizen, given the monumental failures of the Nigerian Police in preserving the safety, and the public rights of Nigerians. The National Police has been used to terrorize and suppress the rights of Nigerians, and has fallen short of the hope that as a federal institution, it would be deployed with the agreement of the executive authorities of the regions, in this case, the states, to secure the domestic safety of Nigerians.
The Nigerian police as a federal institution has proved to be corrupt, misaligned with the hopes of the people, and has retained its colonial constabulary character, rather than evolve as a civil institution under a civil authority with that mandate to protect and serve the citizens. The crisis of the Nigerian Police Force has only most recently come to its heights with the troubles between its current leadership and the National Assembly. There has been allegation of serious misappropriation of the Police Funds by the current Inspector-General of Police, a situation which warranted the National Assembly to invite him for questioning. The result of this has been a standoff between the Inspector-General of Police and the Nigerian National Assembly.
The Inspector General of Police Mr. Ibrahim Idris has refused to appear before the Senate following summons made to him, and in defiance of good reason, for indeed the senate of the republic is within the bounds of the law, to summon any functionary of the state under its oversight powers. The deployment of the Nigerian Police and the Department of State Services – Nigeria’s Secret Service – to harassing political opponents by the current executive authority under the administration of President Buhari, has also raised serious questions about the functions and allegiances of the Nigerian police in a civil government.
The arrest and brief incarcerations of Senators Abaribe and Melaye certainly put a lot of wrinkle on the integrity and impartiality of the police in the current political order. Clearly, there is a problem. And clearly that problem has been exacerbated by the current mood of national insecurity, the increasingly wide-spread attacks of Nigerians by the so-called “Fulani Herdsmen” across the length and breadth of Nigeria, in which the Nigerian Police under the leadership of Ibrahim Idris has been accused of possible complicity or at worse, deliberate inaction. To compound the current national security situation, a bulk of the last recruitment recently made under the watch of the current Inspector-General, left so much to be desired, and much question about the competence and future of the Federal police. The recruitment defied all the indexes of competence and performance seen through the national examination tables of performance.
How come Katsina state, for instance, often at the bottom of JAMB and WAEC national examination registrations, suddenly became top performers in the Police recruitment exams? It is an unanswerable question. But it does reflect the fears of the regular citizen about corruption inside the police system itself; the fear that the Police makes a habit of recruiting the dregs of society, whom they then give licence to terrorize Nigerians. It is a system that accounts only to “the oga at the top” whoever that might be, and who does whatever s/he wants, irrespective of the interests and opinions of tax-paying Nigerians. It is a federal police that has grown tyrannical and dated. And just as a bill for the state police, sponsored by Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy President of the Senate, is making its way up the legislative docket, last week in Ekiti, the Police were said to have beaten and tear-gassed the Governor, Ayodele Fayose and members of his party in Ekiti, during a PDP campaign. Members of the National Assembly must therefore be reading two basic unfolding situations: the concentration of police duties in the hands of this federal government will not guarantee the safety and interest of the public as we go into the 2019 elections. The incident in Ekiti is clearly an augury of what is to come. A federal police that will defy and bulldoze an elected governor, or arrest, in defiance of their legislative protections, elected Senators of the Republic, is a double-edged sword.
Secondly, the level of insecurity, with the serial hatcheting of ordinary Nigerians by “Fulani Herdsmen” to whom the Nigerian Police, constitutionally mandated to provide Nigeria’s domestic security has no response, indicates the necessity for closer local policing, from a diffuse police from the center. These sentiments are all well-nigh. But it is important that the bill on the State Police be not just a knee-jerk reaction. The National Assembly must get it right, and craft a bill that addresses the fundamental loopholes in the delegation of powers of the police. First, it must review the entire structure of law enforcement, start with the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation. Whoever is appointed to that office should not be by the express power of the president, but must be an individual recommended formally to him by the National Judicial Council, which itself must restructured to have Six council members of equal authority representing the six political and judicial zones of the federation.
The office the Attorney-General which normally answers to both the President and the National Assembly must be restructured, and made more independent, so that once appointed, the Attorney-General, though a member of the Executive Council, is independent of the president, and swear allegiance not to the president but to the constitution. That office must also be the supervising office for the Federal Police, the Secret Service, and the Foreign Intelligence Services, and all the enforcement and prosecutorial organs of the state.
The power to appoint the Head of the police remains with the president, but once appointed, he answers to the president only through the Attorney-General. The power to arrest any citizen must also be secured from the judge or the Magistrate only through the Attorney General or his designees, that is, we must now dare to establish the offices of Zonal Federal Attorneys, the equivalent of the District Attorneys in the USA, whose office must coordinate with the Office of the Federal Police Services , the (FPO) as the Nigerian Police should be called, for investigating and prosecuting al maters falling inside the ambit of what we must designate as “federal crimes,” in compliance and coordination with the local or state police. It has been the error of the current constitution to call the Executive authorities at the three tiers as the “Chief Security officers”) of the nation, or state, or the local government. This is not true. It is a conceit carried out by military rule that concentrated power in a single executive authority. The power of the state in a democratic republic is more diffuse. The Chief Security Officer of the nation is, and ought to be the Inspector-General of Police, not the president or governor as the case may be. The establishment of state police authority must take all these into consideration, and limit the powers of the executive to misuse the powers of the police against innocent citizens.
There must therefore be three police systems, under this proposed law – the Federal police, the state police, and the Municipal or Local government police authority, all independent of the other, and aligned to the oversight of a designated civil authority, and under the supervision of a Civilian oversight board, which must in the case of the state and local police systems, recruit, discipline, and compensate police personnel.
Where a citizen feels threatened, s/he reserves the right to petition a judge to investigate the activities of each of these police authorities, and exact severe sanctions. There also has to be a special branch of the Police – the ombudsman – under an independent Internal Review Directorate, which must review police conduct regularly. Otherwise, it will all be motion to nowhere. The president must reserve the right to muster state or local police during national emergencies under his emergency powers, and the National Assembly may, should a state police system fail to protect citizens, assume temporary operational control, through the Federal police. That way, we shall have balance.