Watchers of Nigeria’s political history would be somewhat amused at the recent call by the 19 Northern governors for the “immediate” establishment of state police. They made this call at their recent meeting with traditional rulers in Abuja.
Over the past 50 years or so, leaders, politicians and activists from the Southern parts of the country have shouted themselves hoarse about the need to do away with the centralising factors that make nonsense of our federalism and keep power beyond the reach of the people to whom it truly belongs.
The agitators have argued that maintaining the military command structure in our federal system is undemocratic, anti-people and does not promote good and accountable governance.
A major such centralising factor is our single, federal-controlled police force in a diverse, complicated federation with an exploding population. A country of over 200 million people is policed by 371,800 personnel, with up to a third of them attached to VIPs.
At a time when crime is getting ever more sophisticated, with terrorism, banditry, kidnapping for ransom, cultism, ritual killings, drug abuse, cyber crimes, human trafficking and others are choking the nation, even the Northern leaders have seen the foolhardiness in the continued objection to the establishment of state police.
The North had strenuously kicked against state police, even at the National Conference of 2014 convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Fears were, and still rife that the establishment of state police would water down the establishment ’s monopolistic power to control law and order for selfish political interests. Some have even argued that agitations for state police is a ploy for secession!
This myopic and self-serving argument has now given way to reason because of the insecurity that has overwhelmed the region and other parts of the country. Insecurity and poverty have led to the daily exodus of thousands of Northerners to the South because terrorists, jihadists, bandits, kidnappers and armed herdsmen have taken over the North’s huge ungoverned spaces.
Even the “almighty” Federal Government, which Nigeria’s supremacists depend upon to maintain law and order, is no longer able to do so effectively. It has finally dawned on them that unless the people are allowed to play a part in their own security, total anarchy is unavoidable.
What we need is not just “state police”. We must totally decentralise policing such that, not just the states, but also the indigenous communities should be allowed to have their own security outfits and correctional arrangements, as may be constitutionally defined. The traditional institutions should have a role in security, intelligence and law enforcement. Every community should be able to police not just their towns but also their forests and farms to keep off criminals and intruders.
Now is the time.