By Tayo Ogunbiyi
The prevailing insecurity across the country occasioned by the activities of hoodlums who hijacked the hitherto peaceful #EndSARS protest, no doubt calls attention once again to the recurring subject of the need for the establishment of state police.
Before now, the most vociferous advocates of state police have been notable civil society and good governance advocates. It is, however, interesting to note that increasing agitation for the creation of state police can no longer be viewed as a partisan crusade. Neither can it be said to be the handiwork of mischief-makers or rabble-rousers. Today, serving governors and other prominent political leaders, transcending political borders, are in the forefront of a renewed call for state police.
Though, for some time, there have been several opposing arguments concerning the subject, it has become reasonably necessary for appropriate authorities to take a deeper look at the need for state police, especially with regards to the fallouts of the #EndSARS protest. Without a doubt, the central policing system has not really been effective and it is only logical that we consider other probable alternatives.
State police is an important component of true federalism and emblem of authority of governance, since sovereignty is divided between the federal authority and the federating components. It is not a new concept in Nigeria, but is rather a clamour for modification to the colonial legacy of Native Authority Police which successfully worked alongside the Nigeria Police Force till the 1970s before it was abolished and integrated into a single Police Force by the military junta to achieve a unitary command system.
Though the 1999 Constitution provides for a single federal police, this precludes states from taking charge of the protection of lives and properties of their people as chief security officer and denying them the emblem of authority. If Nigeria is really a federation, this is a constitutional lacuna that must be addressed through constitution amendment to pave way for state police.
Aside from the well accepted philosophy that policing is essentially a local matter, every crime is local in nature. Hence, it is only rational to localise the police force. No matter its form, crime detection needs a local knowledge that state police can better provide.
Similarly, police officers who serve in their indigenous communities are stakeholders with vested interests in such places. Considering the reality that they will always be part of their respective communities, even after retirement, it is doubtful if they will perpetuate anti-social activities in such communities.
A recent Human Right Watch survey reveals that most of the accidental and other extra judicial killings that have taken place in the country were perpetrated by officers posted outside their states of origin.
Also, knowledge of the local environment is needed for effective policing. It is only logical that to fight crime in the same locality, you need law enforcement personnel familiar with the terrain. Using police officers from Jalingo, for instance, to bust a crime in Onitsha could at best be counter- productive. The local criminals with good knowledge of the area will always outwit such ‘foreign’ police officers.
Intelligence gathering is an indispensable necessity in crime fighting. But this seems to be currently lacking in the system. It is difficult to access high-quality intelligence, unless you know the people very well, and they in turn trust you. The present arrangement certainly negates credible intelligence gathering. We live in a society where people treat perceived strangers with lots of reservation.
This, no doubt, is quite understandable. It is difficult to trust somebody whose language, culture and tradition you are unfamiliar with. The truth is that people will always be afraid of passing on information to those they don’t trust, and this is for obvious reasons.
Perhaps more importantly, it is important that a state governor, who ought to be the chief security officer of his State, has the control of the police command in the same state. The current trend where the Commissioner of Police in a state takes orders from the central authority is not too tidy for attainment of internal security.
It has been argued severally that state police is nothing but a recipe for anarchy as it could be abused. Those who hold this view believe that it could lead to abuse of power and political vendetta by the various state governors. Others are of the opinion that it could lead to political turmoil.
But then, this argument is neither here nor there because the present policing structure can equally be subjected to abuse either covertly or overtly. In spite of all the arguments against state police, the incontrovertible truth is that Nigeria is too huge and complex to be policed centrally.
If state governors could effectively manage other institutions of governance, there is no reason why they should not manage state police. For instance, in Lagos, the combined team of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, officials along with the police, are all collaborating and complementing one another on Lagos roads to maintain traffic and instill discipline in motorists. Just imagine Lagos roads with just only traffic police in control!
It has also been argued that many states cannot afford the cost of establishing and maintaining state police. Ironically, almost all the governors in the country are investing heavily in the respective Police Commands in their states. In Lagos State, for example, the government, in the last 20 years, has invested billions of naira on the State Police Command as well as other security organs in the state.
In fact, the first Security Trust Fund to be established by any government in the country was initiated by the Lagos State Government, and other states have since adopted the same model. A feasible and vibrant security structure is essential to maintain noteworthy development and guarantee the protection of life and property.
The police as we currently have in the country might not be able to ensure effective security across the nation. Currently, the police does not have up to 400, 000 personnel in a nation whose estimated population stands above 180 million. This is the clear picture of an institution that is in dire need of restructuring.
Given the necessary political resolve, we can effectively operate state police in the country. All we need to do is to give the subject the desired attention. If we are actually concerned about overcoming present security challenges in the country, we need to reconsider the issue of state police more sincerely and dispassionately. It is a burning issue that must be tackled without further delay.
Ogunbiyi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.