Community policing: Another creative distraction
The Federal Government the other day rallied forces behind community policing at a time of groundswell agitation for indigenous policing network that has already emerged as Amotekun in the Southwest. Except there is a deliberate mischief to circumvent the decentralisation of security and its control, this community policing agenda is an ingenuous distraction to the urgency of true restructuring of both the Nigerian system and its security architecture. And it is in the best interest of the current administration and public good to exercise sincerity of purpose, to save the country from the shackles of unitary system, which has been sustained as strange federalism since 1966.
As this newspaper has consistently noted, Nigerians across ethnic, political and religious divides have been unanimous on the imperative of restructuring the country. The theme song of true federalism and restructuring grew louder with worsening insecurity as the current security network has continued to show helplessness in protecting Nigerians nationwide. Unbundling the current security arrangement was at the heart of the 2014 National Conference and its report that has since been left to gather dust on the shelf. The All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 campaigned and crept into the hearts of the electorates on the promise of restructuring the moribund system too. Following denials and counter denials by ‘‘men of the broom,’’ the ruling party set up a committee to take a look at the propositions of restructuring. The committee led by Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, concluded that the country, just like its security structure, was overdue for state police, if the country must work again.
Apparently tired of Federal Government’s insincerity or tardiness with reforms, even as our ship continues to sink mid-ocean, states in the South West, took the gauntlet of self- protectionism under the regional security network, now known as Amotekun. After its initial proscription by Abuja, the Federal Government grudgingly agreed with the Southwest governors on Amotekun. The caveat was getting the legal backings at the states’ legislative arms of government and aligning with the national security policy. In March 2020, all the State Houses of Assembly – Ekiti, Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ogun – passed security bills in favour of Amotekun, with recruitments and other groundwork already at advanced stages across the region.
It, however, came as a surprise that the Federal Government made a U-turn from decentralising the security network, to consolidate and retain absolute control in Abuja under the community of policing initiative. Curiously, the National Economic Council (NEC), at a meeting chaired by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, recently approved the sum of N13.3 billion for the takeoff of the initiative across the country as part of measures to consolidate efforts to contain insecurity in the country. The meeting also resolved that the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, with two other governors, meet with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Finance Minister and the Inspector General of Police to coordinate the proper utilisation of the funding of the initiative. The police had subsequently stated that all indigenous security apparatus would fall under the community police network, with the state governors funding the scheme.
Clearly, the government is getting disingenuous here, attempting to subsume or confuse Amotekun with Community Policing. But they are not the same, if we are clearheaded. First, there is widespread insecurity in the land and attendant agitation for decentralising the unified security architecture because the existing system of mobilising and taking orders from unified police heads in Abuja has failed. A new sub-set of that failed structure, call it whatever name, is only window-dressing a failed structure. Second, the American system that we often cite as a standard, has a true decentralised system that doesn’t confuse community policing with the Federal Police in the United States. There is the Federal Police that has the likes of the FBI and Homeland Security Department. Each 50 States has its police and criminal investigation agencies. Then the counties have their Sheriff’s departments, among others. While they cooperate, the local county police are neither a subset nor take orders from Washington on local affairs. The United Kingdom has 43 police forces comprising central and local forces.
Third, the Nigerian State once had local independent police formations that worked in the pre-colonial days and before the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) that began as an experiment. The latter was to centralise the security network, yet it failed and turned out to be the worst form of the indigenous police system, going by the preponderance of crimes, social crisis and poor performances of the Federal police in communal matters.
It is important to note that the native communities till the present have their self-help security systems in place. Even before the coming of colonialists, indigenous settlements had their security apparatus, in the form of hunters, farmers and other walks of life. Security was the business of all in the close-knit traditional communities. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a more organised Native Authority, drawn from members of the community to serve the community. They were strong enough to repel threats and marauding forces. That was an architecture that worked because the natives were better placed to protect themselves and solve their problems before they escalate.
Indeed, it was a low-cost, empathetic, yet efficient and effective community policing system, until the country-wide NPF joined the mix in 1972 under a naive federal structure. Those that have seen the Native Authority and NPF of today can tell the yawning difference. That notwithstanding, there is an element of the old that we all still retain. The surveillance cameras and vigilante model in modern houses, streets, estates, towns, councils and even some states – whatever name they have been christened – resonates with the same indigenous and effective model to date. The point is that our security is better handled – formed, funded, controlled and held accountable – by ourselves. And that is the mindset of true community policing, agitation for decentralisation and creation of Amotekun in the Southwest states.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State has rightly rebuffed and clarified the idea of confusing the Federal Government’s Community Policing with Amotekun. A local, community or state policing structure without the local content is not worth the effort. A truly decentralised security network, like the Amotekun, draws from the community, for the people, and takes cognisance of the culture, their nuances and the immediate environment.
But beyond mouthing the most workable idea of Amotekun, it is time the Southwest governors also put their money where the mouth is. It is not enough to publicly support indigenous policing system, believers in its efficacy should also fund it to convince others, including the Federal Government. It is certain that once we are able to arrest insecurity from the communities, wards, local councils, state and regional levels, then our economies and attendant prosperity will boom.
As Dr. Bukar Usman, an author and a retired federal permanent secretary who was once in charge of special services, has consistently noted, the Nigerian Police Force is an experiment that has outlived its usefulness. In the main, it is time to restructure the central police from the roots and give indigenous security systems like Amotekun, their self-funding and control, a chance. Let us for once decentralise the policing of this country by reintroducing organic police as they are naturally in a better position to secure their familiar environment.