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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 11

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Osinbajo and Buhari

The nation woke up yesterday to reports and photographs of a cross-section of police and special constabulary officers and their passing-out parade at the Police College in Lagos.

The authorities in Nigeria would like the people of Nigeria to accept their fact that the present administration has launched community policing in the country. This newspaper would like to reiterate its long-held view that what was launched on Tuesday is not what we have consistently advocated.

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The governing party in their manifesto we have consistently quoted here promised restructuring and their document generated in fulfillment of this includes the state police, not community policing façade the federal police seems to be foisting on a docile federation without federalism. 
 
As we have repeatedly noted, the recurrent issue of federalism within the contextual discussion of restructuring has become a metaphor for the curious failure of state actors to do the right thing about nation-building at the right time. The issues that have been shaping and even triggering discussions on the much-needed federalism have been dominating political debates across the country. In fact, it is fast becoming a Frankenstein’s monster – a thing that becomes terrifying or destructive to its maker. The governing party promised a qualified one they even called ‘‘true federalism.’’ They prepared the blueprint in January 2018 and told the nation publicly.

But sadly, execution – the discipline of getting things done – has been curiously elusive as both the president and the vice president have been speaking in tongues about the same public-interest issue called federalism. They have been conceptually divided about the crossroads they both hit on the volatile issue they can’t eventually escape as state policing is an idea whose time has indeed come.  

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The reasons are again not too fat to seek. The current level of violence and insecurity in the country, calls for new thinking about our security policy and architecture. But the clincher in all this begins with federalism, a restructuring genre that will allow different regions to tackle insecurity and other concomitant challenges with their local policing arrangement. Kidnapping, marauding killer-herders in the Middle Belt, and perennial acts of brigandage in other parts of the country have made it imperative for us to go back to the drawing board and do things in a different and better way.  

This newspaper believes that as a federation, as proclaimed in the 1999 Constitution, we ought to begin the process of creating different levels of policing in the country in consonance with the spirit of federalism. 

By definition, the police force is expected to perform investigations, detection of crimes, and protection of the citizenry as routine duties. This onerous assignment makes them first line in the security apparatus of the country. They are legally in charge of internal security. And so, they are usually expected to be close to the environment where they maintain law and order and protect lives and property.  Besides, the police officers and operatives need credibility, respectability, and acceptability in the community or town where they serve. 

Sadly, the Nigeria Police as currently constituted is not near any of these ideals. The average policeman in the country is poorly remunerated, despised by the people, seen as friends of criminals, poorly armed, and very corrupt. The nation is still smarting from a devastating protest (#EndSARS) mounted by young Nigerians who could no longer endure their brutality. The police force hasn’t recovered from the opprobrium the remarkable protest triggered for their image. Even the Nigerian soldiers drafted to quell the revolt of the youth because the police could not cope, are still facing a presidential commission of inquiry on why they had to fire shots at young protesters at an open tollgate.  

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Often our policemen are seen as aliens or an occupation force because they receive instructions from commanders who are politically, geographically, and culturally distant from the people.  

They are also seen as agents of a Federal Government that are virtually resented by the people in different states. As a result, the ‘police-is-your-friend’ slogan of the Nigeria Police is treated with derision and received with disdain. As much as possible, whether citizens are right before the law or not, they simply avoid the police as much as possible.  

We are deconstructing a country’s police setting whose men and officers collect gratification from both the complainant and the accused. The effect of these anomalies is that we have a very crude and inept police force in a flawed federation. 

The Inspector-General takes instructions from the President of the country even if the orders are inimical to the overall interest of the nation. Indeed, he (IGP) is beholden to the President. For, as we know, our public officers would rather be loyal to the appointing body than the Constitution. 

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At the state level, although the elected governor is described as the chief security officer of the state, the police commissioner is not obliged to take orders from him. It has come to be that State Commissioners of Police are often at odds with State Governors on security matters. This inanity cannot and should not be allowed to continue. It is against this background that we once again reiterate our call on the Federal Government to tinker with the political structure of the country. And so Abuja can begin this with legal decentralisation of police operations as once suggested by the Vice President. The unitary system that gave birth to the unwieldy federal police has failed the nation. It is not sustainable anymore.

As this newspaper has often noted, the states, particularly the ones that can afford it, standing as constituent parts of the federation should be allowed by law to have their own police force.  

The elected representatives in the National Assembly once saw the wisdom behind this advice and opted for the creation of State Police. This has not been a reality as the presidency has been unyielding to the political restructuring suggestion that can save the nation from the brink it is at the moment.   

Some cynics have expressed fears that state governors would use the police under their control to threaten and intimidate opponents. This argument does not hold water. The rule of law and independence will be thus tested if there are abuses of power. Its introduction should be part of our political development. Until we give it a trial we cannot be so sure of its effectiveness or otherwise.  

At the moment, the country is under policed. With a population of 180 million citizens, Nigeria has 350,572 men and women, at a ratio of 205 per 100,000. A significant percentage of these men are attached as guards to holders of public office and some wealthy private citizens. These officers are under the control of an IG that is located in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The result is that there is a palpable alienation. Policemen in the states do not see it as a constitutional duty to protect the citizenry. Elsewhere in the world, for example, in the United States or the United Kingdom, the police command is localised. The Sheriff is the local police chief whose tenure in office is dependent on a good performance. The U.S. has a total of 794, 300 policemen across the country at a ratio of 254 per 100,000. The New York City alone has the NYPD with a force strength of 40, 400 officers. These police officers are not under a general or federal command. Therefore, the duty bearers in the country should not get it twisted, the future of our nation depends on how its current managers handle the clamour for federalism. And so institutionalisation of state police in this context is critical to the survival of our convoluted federation whose leadership seems unconcerned about federalism, which is now a desideratum.

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