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State police revisited

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[FILE PHOTO] Nigeria police. PHOTO: GOOGLE<br />

The joy of the possibility of the establishment of state police being in the offing reverberated through the land.

This is not surprising given the grave and yet worsening state of insecurity pervading the land. There is Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, with concentration in Borno State; there is armed herdsmen menace; there is cattle rustling; there is kidnapping, there is banditry; and there is the phenomenon of cultism and ritual killings.

Farming communities live in fear of their lives and homesteads burnt down. Rampaging herdsmen and kidnappers hinder free movements and free economic pursuits. There is what you may call travel advice on when vehicles can safely ply certain roads. Over-booked train services have become a welcome alternative to the joy of road transportation. Not a few throw up their hands in resignation that we have never had the security situation this bad.

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The most incurable optimists are confused. The security services have thrown themselves into the battle, stretching themselves and facilities thin.

It is against the backdrop of this troubling milieu that the news broke that a Presidential Panel set up by President Buhari had come up with a report recommending, among other issues, the establishment of the state police. The panel was on Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Reform.

Predictably, there is a sense of relief that, at last, there appears to be light at the end of the long tunnel. There is a rekindling of hope. It is what headline caster are wont to write with glee: Hope rising! Never mind Mr. Tsav, one-time commissioner of police in Lagos. He was quick in trying valiantly to pour cold water to dampen our celebratory spirit. It is the same old hackneyed sermon of Nigeria not being mature for state police that is the reason for his objection to the emergence of state police. It is the same beaten track, the same old hat that has led the country to no solution, but to the land of fear and preventable bloodletting. There are no fresh ideas, no new solutions.

Who today does not go about with bated breath? Certainly, those who have service pistols tucked under their pillow can entreat the ordinary citizens more at the receiving end to exercise patience; the government is leaving no stone unturned to reverse the worrisome trend, they are quick to say.

It is not as if Nigeria has always run a centralised police formation. Two Nigerian scholars have done exhaustive studies separately into policing in our country.

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While Dr. Okeke V.O.S. of the Faculty of Social Sciences, in the renamed Anambra State University, Igbariam, gave insight into the emergence of the phenomenon of vigilance security apparatus, Professor Kemi Rotimi, one-time head of the Department of History, Obafemi Awolowo University, did extensive work on the development of policing system even from pre-existence of Nigeria.

After going through Professor Rotimi’s work, one can’t but come to the conclusion that state police is the answer to the seemingly intractable security challenges afflicting the country. It is an imperative. It is inconceivable that we can think of any other way out of the mess without giving the establishment of state police serious consideration.

In the First Republic the West had three tiers of policing, namely, the Nigeria Police Force, (the Federal the Yoruba called Olopa Eko), the Regional with headquarters at Iyaganku at Ibadan; and the then Akoda.

The local government police transformed from Native Authority Police which itself evolved from local arrangements –Ilari in Oyo and Ibadan; emesse at Ife.

Ilesha and Ekiti; and agururen in Ijebu, all in Yoruba Kingdoms. In the end, the Native Authority Police Force existed with Akoda.

In the North there were Dogarai and Native Authority Police Force. With the reform in Kano Emirate, Dogarai evolved to become Yan Gadi with staff strength of 151 for Kano City alone.

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So, up till 1966, the North was boasting of Native Authority Police Force and the Nigeria Police Force. As of 1924, Abeokuta had 65 policemen (Olopa) who were different from court messengers who doubled as Akoda.

Under such an arrangement as obtained in the two Regions—West covering Benin and Delta; and the North, how could there have arisen the security mess of the kind we have in the land today? The East did not have Regional Police. It was content with the Federal, that is the Nigeria Police Force. The first formal police formation known in the country took place in Abeokuta, set up by Egba Union Government in 1905, followed by Ibadan in 1906 and Oyo in 1907.

The Native Authority/Local Government Forces came to grief with the advent of the military in 1966 under General Ironsi. The first step he took was to place the NA/LGPF under the operational control of the Nigeria Police Force. Ironsi then empaneled Yusufu Gobir reform group to do a study of the police and prisons services. The panel in its report submitted in August 1967, recommended the abolition of the NA/Local Government Police Force and the establishment of one single police force for the entire country. One: It was consistent with the command posture of a military administration.

Two: The regional police were scrapped ostensibly because of abuse to which they were put. Professor Rotimi extensively catalogued the abuses to which the Native Authority/Local government Police Forces were subjected. Fair enough.

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However, what became clear in the study was that practically all the cases cited were political. Mrs. Dideolu Awolowo (H.I.D) was stopped from holding a political rally in Otta in 1964 not until the intervention of a Nigeria Police (NPF) officer who asked her rally to continue.

Premier Michael Opara was prevented from entering and campaigning in Ogbomosho, home of rival premier, on the platform of UPGA. And not until Lawrence Omole, the well-known industrialist and business mogul, was harassed to declare for NNDP did he have peace at Ilesha. He feared his businesses might be crippled.

In 1957, the Borno Youth Movement /NEPU had its rally disrupted and flag torn even after necessary approval in Maiduguri. The secretary of the alliance was deported under NA police escort, first to Ilorin and then to Ibadan.

An UPGA candidate in Gumel, Kano, had to swear to an oath renouncing membership of his party, NEPU, and declare for NPC. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) itself was not immune to being misused in the East. Revered Dr. J.O.J. Okezie was prevented from filing his nomination paper to contest in the East.

I have made this reference to the exhaustive studies by Professor Rotimi to show that this column is not pressing for the establishment of State Police out of ignorance and lack of informed history of the police in Nigeria.

Hardly was there an incidence of misuse of the police that was not political and it was usually at the approach of elections. But as in the words of Joseph Daodu (SAN), one-time president of the Nigerian bar Association: “State police is for law and order.”

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Former President Ibrahim Babangida throwing his weight behind calls for state police, said the abuse to which present-day governors would put the state police was being exaggerated. And in any case, Nigeria cannot be detained by its ugly past. The world has moved on and Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind, he said. Babangida should know.

I believe every institution should be nurtured and allowed to evolve, especially as it concerns power and power relations.

Since the misuse was largely on the political terrain, it cannot be said that Nigerians cannot think out of the box to find solutions to the political misuse of the police by the governors. It is a question of stringently enforced guidelines part of which would leave all political cases to the Federal (NPF) to handle.

Leader of Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation and former governor of Niger State, Dr. Aliyu Babangida, during a condolence visit to Benue State, said governors were merely glorified security officers of their state. He narrated his experience as governor.

As this column has had cause to state, there is no way the Nigerian security situation could have deteriorated this badly were the state police to be in place, more so that the incidents are purely law and order. There was no way state police recruited from among the indigenes of Borno State would have, with their eyes open, folded their arms and allowed their society to disintegrate socially and economically.

Around Maiduguri alone, there are nearly three million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). There are about 780,000 of them in Benue and no fewer than 10,000 in Taraba. In Zamfara the figure is higher. Under the leadership of Aziz Yari, the Governors’ Forum had pressed for the establishment of state police.

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Not surprising. The governors are roaring to go. Visiting a community a few kilometers from Maiduguri, attacked by insurgents the second day after he was sworn in, the new governor of Borno State, Prof. Gana said he was going to arm young men in the state who are assisting or wish to assist the military to forestall any further attacks by the insurgents.

In the words of Dr. Okeke, “…the distance between the police and the community, unlike in Britain, resulted in the proliferation of vigilance security apparatus in Nigeria. It entails community partnership in creating a safe and secure environment for all.”

With the creation of Anambra State Vigilance Service, by an Act of Parliament, Act 9 of 2000 signed into Law on 06 December, 2000, Anambra became the first to arm a vigilance group. The state government officially recognised it, fund it and pay members salaries. Abia State, Imo, and Ebonyi followed suit with their Houses of Assembly passing bills each establishing a vigilance service, resulting in what sounded like a formal launch of community policing in 2004.

Two years ago, Lagos was the first to break out and signal its readiness to set up its own police with Governor Lateef Jakande setting up what amounted to a state police in 1980.

The formation was downgraded following the controversy that police was on the exclusive list of the 1979 constitution. Since then succeeding Administrations have retained the form but not the essence.

The outfit has largely been confined to traffic control. There was however added bite to the project with the establishment of Neighbourhood Safety Corps Initiative by Akinwunmi Ambode. The corps is 5,700 men strong. They have the charge to work collaboratively with the police.

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All along, the seriousness with which Lagos has taken security has been a model to several states in terms of support to the Nigeria Police.

From the Administration of Tunde Fashola, report on state government’s Security Trust Fund he set up is given at a yearly Town Hall meeting which afforded members of the public to ask questions and make suggestions.

As of 2017, the Fund had received a cash donation of N199million and N91million worth of equipment—cars and gadgets—from corporate organisations and individuals.

The government itself put in N1billion to meet police running expenses. Femi Okunnu was so impressed by the posture of the state government that he said “…the manner the state government makes money available to the Fund is the proper way to spend security votes.”

When Fashola speaking at the 2014 edition of the township meeting, said after five new area commands were approved for the state by Abuja, his administration had to provide buildings and equipment for them.

The then police commissioner in the state, Yakubu Alkali, corroborating the account by Fashola said Lagos State Command received from the Fund two helicopters, 300 patrol vehicles, mobile workshop vehicles and 60 patrol motorcycles.

The command additionally received two million ammunition, five fibre boats fitted with 75 Hp outboard engines, 30 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) and 1000 AK-47.

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The Lagos State model was endorsed by the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Some states asked for guidance on how they could simulate the Lagos model. Principal among the states was Kano.

According to Idris Ibrahim the commissioner in Kano who later became the Inspector General: “ We had to travel to Lagos to understudy the Security Trust Fund. It has served as a model for other states in the Federation.”

Barely two months Ambode assumed office in 2015, the cash donations to the Fund soared to N1billion. There were pledges of electronic gadgets. Indeed, by 2015, the private sector had contributed N4billion to the Fund and the government itself altogether N8billion.

Following the Lagos model, Kano gave the police 25 patrol vehicles and it sought to set up a peace corps organisation made up of 6,000 corps.

It started with 2,000 and paid N80million for their training and N3million for application forms. Although the establishment did not materialise, it nevertheless demonstrated the felt need for its own state police formation.

The Senate reportedly passed the bill to legalise the corps initiative. Kaduna established what it called Vigilance Service Committee. Before the official vigilance committee there had existed many what Governor El-Rufai called self-help groups. All of this goes to show nothing other than the yearning for another if not two tiers of police formation in the country.

The Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo himself some time ago delivered a speech where he said: “The nature of our security challenges is complex.

Securing Nigeria’s over 923, 768 square kilometers and its 180 million people requires far more men and materials than we have at the moment. It also requires a continual re-engineering of our security architecture and strategies…We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and community policing methods are the way to go.”

With the new thinking by Buhari himself, let us hope that all that remains is to make the formal establishment of the State Police a reality, and giving it the necessary teeth and bite—in the interest of all of us. The time of ostrichism is over. The days of living in self-denial are gone. The Vice-President, Prof. Osinbajo has said it all.


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