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Again, who is afraid of state police?

By Editorial Board
08 February 2022   |   4:10 am
Two recent incidents and the divergent commentaries they elicited have once again rekindled public discussion on federalism and state police.

Nigeria police

Two recent incidents and the divergent commentaries they elicited have once again rekindled public discussion on federalism and state police. The first was the recent face-off between the Lagos State Government and federal authorities represented by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Nigeria Police over the Magodo Estate controversy. Whilst the legal tussle over the ownership of the Magodo Estate remains a complicated matter requiring expeditious dispensation of justice, incidents accidental to the litigation­­—such as the intervention of the Office of the AGF and the deployment of officers of the Nigeria Police in order to impress the interest and might of the Federal Government on an issue concerning parties residing in Lagos, are aberrations that should be condemned in a democracy. The other is President Muhammadu Buhari’s reinforcement of the prevailing unitarism when, in an interview with Channels Television a few days later, he counseled that “state police is not an option.” Whilst both incidents, unfortunately, signify the eccentricities deployed by opportunistic ruling elite in subverting democratic ideals, they reinforce the argument for the establishment of state police.

President Buhari, in the said interview, had objected to the idea of state police on the ground that states do not have the financial resources to service a state security outfit. He buttressed this point with the tension between state governors and local government executives on the managements of federating units. We recognise the president’s appeal to the non-viable financial status of many states of the federation as an argument against the establishment of state police. Indeed states have been found wanting in this regard. Many governors lack the creativity to exploit and harness the potential in their states for growth and development. Others are plain lazy, churning out empty rhetoric whilst subjecting their workers to continual penury. Still, other turn their states into fiefdoms as they beggarly await federal allocation. It is true that many states may not be able to finance state police.

However, the president’s argument is based on unjustified paternalism and naivety. He might seem to have understood the plight of governors as they grapple with managing lower federating units, but the facts of history and realities on ground do not support his position. To argue that states are not economically viable, and by that fact object to the establishment of state police, is not a strong argument against state police. Different states have different security peculiarities and complexities. It is also understandable that the president acknowledges the role of traditional rulers in fighting insecurity. However, this is not new; traditional rulers have been prominent actors in crime bursting in their respective communities. Yet these same traditional leaders are helpless victims of the insecurity plaguing every cranny of the federation.

What seems evident from the president’s pronouncement and the habitual flaunting of federal might by the AGF is the lack of understanding of the modus operandi of multi-level policing as well as the constitutional backing. If at all there is some understanding, it is also evident that there is an uncanny fear for its establishment.

Consequently, it becomes imperative that Nigerians be continuously educated on the necessity and value of state policing in a multifarious society like ours.

It bears repeating that, as an index of federalism, state police or multi-level policing is a true symbolic gesture of democracy. With the establishment of state police, rather than being hamstrung to effectively function by incidents of adequate manpower, poor logistics, under-staffing, the police would enjoy a healthy synergy with the community that yields fruitful results. A well-managed state police would also enable state communities to know the proper police/citizen ratio in their states as stipulated by global best practice. It would facilitate the creation of adequate and up-to-date statistics of crimes, and promote effective management of data. It will also put to rest the impunity perpetrated by a monopolistic police force that deploys officers to VIPs for personal security purposes.

For those skeptical about the modus operandi of the state police, and who think it will be an extension of the Office of the Governor, experts assert that constitutional provisions that will precede its establishment will codify the police institution in a deregulated manner according to laws, crimes and jurisdictions. In areas where it is likely to be operational, the government would be so exposed and independent that public officers would be deterred from using state/community for evil.

Moreover, in the spirit of collaboration and purposeful nationhood, states of the federation that do not have the capacity to manage a police force of their own may either seek the assistance of neighbouring states or depend on the federal police. The argument here is that, for a united and greater Nigeria, states should be able to support, assist or help each other intellectually and financially.

Above all, the subsidiarity that will ensue is likely to foster a police force that would be service-oriented, business-minded and technology-driven. The resultant competition that will come out of this expanded police system will further enhance an appreciable sense of security in the people.

Despite the seeming inevitability of state police, certain people still express fear about its management by all the states of the federation. Given the capricious and whimsical nature of politics in this country, such fears are not unfounded. The volatility of social events and political activities, with their inbuilt tendency for rivalry, and the high premium placed on clannish loyalty, are likely inducements for governors to turn state police into ethnic militia. With the police under their control, governors, who ordinarily enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution in office, may become overlords to their people.

Besides, as experiences in some other climes have shown, mutual interest in a case by both federal and state authorities may lead to clashes between officers of the national police and state police in the prosecution of justice. And if not properly managed, such clashes may result in bad blood and deliberate obstruction of justice with fatal consequences. There are also fears that not every state has the financial capacity or the political will to establish state police.

Justified as these fears are, they are not really strong enough as arguments to oppose the establishment of state police. The weakness of this argument lies on the fact that compared to the benefits of state police, the challenges of impunity and clashes of interest are merely aberrations of standard practice.

In all, the fundamental argument in support of state police is that, beyond being a symbolic gesture of democracy, the seeming intractable problem of insecurity in the country has made the introduction of state police an imperative. As this paper has once argued, the call for state police is recognition that certain cultural practices, religious sentiments and traditional political structures affect the way the different peoples of Nigeria view law enforcement and crime management. This recognition is not peculiar to Nigeria. The United Kingdom has 46 semi-autonomous categories of police. Canada, the United States, amongst others, have such classification.