By Gambo Dori
SINCE the first part of this piece was published last week, the upsurge of killings particularly in the north seemed to have taken a very grievous turn. On Sunday last week, a day before my piece was published, reports came in that bandits had waylaid commuters on the very busy Kaduna – Abuja highway in broad daylight. Those who were caught in that horrible debacle reported that the bandits did not even care to put a road block as robbers are wont to. The bandits just lined up on the expressway, aimed their guns at the passing vehicles and took pot-shots on the hapless passengers.
Many people died in that melee including Professor Halimatu Saadiya Idris, a Professor of Chemistry and former commissioner of education in Katsina state. A few days later, it was the turn of Zamfara State where armed bandits stormed a mosque in Kwaddi village in Zurmi local government where the villagers were performing the asr prayer and killed 20 of them with impunity. Only the previous week, 39 people were killed in five villages of Maradun local government area in the same state. And some days earlier the village of Gandi in Rabah local government in Sokoto State was breached with many killed by the bandits including a District Head. Sokoto State had been spared of attacks by the bandits that had been having a field day in the neighbouring Zamfara, making the breach truly worrisome.
Perhaps, the most devastating of the incidences was the attack by Boko Haram terrorists on the village of Jakana which lies about 40 kilometres away from Maiduguri on the Kano road, on the Thursday night of the same week. They were reported to have engaged the soldiers manning a military point in gun battle in the village with casualties on both sides. The attack not only terrorized the villagers but also traumatised the numerous commuters on the road who had to park and wait in nearby Benisheik village before the terrorists had their fill and withdrew and faded into the surrounding forest. This attack was also worrisome because Jakana is just a step away from Maiduguri and on the main road that is probably the only safe link with the rest of the country.
All these grave incidences only tend to fuel the resolve of the proponents of the idea of state police. They continue to wail aloud that all these are pointers to the fact that the Nigerian Police Force as constituted is not in a position to guarantee the safety of lives and properties of citizens. They want a police that is primarily constituted by indigenes of the state who would know the nook and cranny of their area of operation and is also controlled by laws enacted by the state assembly. This is the basis for the clamour to amend the constitution for a state police to materialize. The agitation had been on for years and a bill to that effect was even circulated to the State Assemblies by the last National assembly but it failed to fly.
The idea of state police had always failed to catch on due to fears of many Nigerians that it would be misused at the hands of state governors. The opponents of state police ask: how do we stop a governor from stacking the state police with only members of his ethnic group, his religious or sectarian persuasion, or his political henchmen? They also ask: How do we stop the same governor from unleashing the state police on his opponents particularly at election times or whenever he is challenged by some maverick activist in the state?
Many of those I asked about the idea of State Police point to the fact that many states in the federation particularly those in the North-East, North-Central and the South-South are so heterogeneous that the fears of misuse of state police assumes greater proportion. Even in states where there is greater ethnic and religious homogeneity, the fact of political pluralism remains. The opponents of state police give the example of State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIEC, whose conduct of local government elections have always become a source of concern. All elections conducted by them were curiously always won by the ruling party in the states.
The proponents of state police claim to have learnt from the example of the SIECs and have gone ahead to propose aligning appointments to the top posts of state police to what obtains in the judiciary. In the state judiciary, the Governor can only recommend names to National Judicial Commission for appointment to the topmost position in the state judiciary. Wrenching the appointment of the topmost positions from the hands of governors would hopefully keep them away from having an overwhelming influence on the appointees. However this is cold comfort as there had been accusations against state governors getting their way to have their appointees into the topmost position of the judiciary in spite of the laid down procedure.
Nevertheless the most important consideration in this discourse is the fact our federation is still fragile having fought a brutal civil war to keep us together. The presidential system now in place is still in its youthful stage and should be tinkered gently on the route to maturity. I found unanimity among most of those I consulted that it would be better to look into the mundane problems of the police to start with. Efforts must be made to bring the police force to some parity with the other security agencies to maximize their impact. Massive recruitment into the police force, better remuneration and supply of better and more up-to-date equipment would definitely work wonders. I close with a letter from a friend of this page, M T Usman who asked: Preaetorian Guard or Reserve Ethnic Militia?
Local or state policing is the standard arrangement for the maintenance of law and order in any community or, indeed, country. Nigeria operated thus in its first half-century, via a plethora of Native Authority, N.A. Police forces across the country. They were absorbed into the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, under federal command in 1969, in reaction to the excesses of politicians in the First Republic. Returning to the pre-1969 status requires rigorous interrogation, for a variety of reasons. State police staffed wholly by locals and similarly commanded, risks morphing, in short time, into either a Praetorian Guard or Reserve Ethnic Militia. Gifted a disciplined force legally at their command, leadership in the states will, sooner than later, dispense with the groups of thugs hitherto under their employ and use the former to enforce their writ. The saga in Anambra state is not a distant memory – there a DIG (in federal police) caused the abduction of a sitting governor for the purpose of forcing his resignation at the behest of a political Godfather. Had there been a state police at the time, the case of that Governor would have been different.
Turning state police into a reserve ethnic militia is a distinct possibility in those states where ethno-religious irredentists are in power and yesterday’s minorities have become today’s majority with the conduct and the swagger to match. Police forces in these states will inevitably become the exclusive preserve of the dominant ethnic group.
The fears expressed above should be properly addressed in the run-up to the introduction of state police alongside, or in replacement of Nigeria Police Force.
M T Usman