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Magodo and our wacky federalism

By Ray Ekpu
11 January 2022   |   2:20 am
The basic facts of the recent siege of Magodo GRA phase II in Lagos by policemen imported from Abuja and thugs recruited from Lagos are in the public space already.

[FILES] Lagos State Governor and Chief Security Officer of the state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu addresses the officer who led men of the Nigeria Police to invade Magodo GRA, Lagos

The basic facts of the recent siege of Magodo GRA phase II in Lagos by policemen imported from Abuja and thugs recruited from Lagos are in the public space already. However, for the benefit of those who have been distracted either by their personal problems or the larger problems of a limping country the story is worthy of being retold. Between 1984 and 1985 the Military Government in Lagos State acquired land in Shangisha village without paying compensation to the land owners or giving them alternative land. The aggrieved land owners went to court and won the case all the way to the Supreme Court which gave its verdict in 2012. It asked the Lagos State Government to allocate 549 plots of land to the judgement creditors as a “matter of first priority.” Plots of land have over the years, been allocated to some of them in Badagry and Ibeju-Lekki. About 300 of them have taken the plots while others refused, insisting it must be Magodo GRA phase II or nothing. It is obvious that if the various governments in Lagos were interested in complying with the Supreme Court order this matter would have been resolved before now. As 2021 was gliding to a close a contingent of armed policemen accompanied by thugs besieged the Magodo GRA phase II estate marking buildings in different colours with the inscription “ID 795/88 possession taken today 21/12/21 by court order.” The police gang from Abuja tried to enter the estate with bulldozers but the residents locked the two entry gates even though some of the policemen were already camping in the estate, armed to the teeth.

This provocative incident easily throws up a number of issues. One, if the residents of the estate most of whom are people of influence and affluence decided to defend themselves and protect their families against the invaders there would have been bloodshed caused in a civil matter by the use of force. The invaders never reported to the Lagos State Police Command and never showed the Supreme Court judgement on the decision to anybody. They merely produced a press release on the matter. Is that how things are supposed to be done in any civilised community? I doubt. The Governor of Lagos State is designated by the Constitution as the Chief Security Officer of the State and his state was about being set on fire by some external forces. Even though the State Government is a party to the dispute, that action was very disrespectful to the office of the governor which has supported the police massively, financially, and materially in Lagos State. That means that the governor is only de jure chief security officer of the state. The de facto chief security officer of the State is the Inspector General of Police, someone not elected but appointed by the President and the Governors.

The altercation between the Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) that led the police invading team is very illustrative of the extreme dysfunctionality of our law and order architecture. Here it is:
Sanwo-Olu: “Please call your superiors in Abuja, tell them that I want you to disengage right now.”

CSP: “You can call them yourself sir. I am too low or small to call them.” The CSP as a way of burking the issue had to issue duchessy orders to a Governor who is the Chief Security Officer of the land on which he stands. To him what the Governor asked him to do was the equivalent of squaring the circle. For him the best approach was to behave like Horatius at the bridge, a clear master of artful evasion. That short conversation has thrown into bold relief, once more, the dysfunctionality and the aberrant nature of our governance system.

Two, in the present security imbroglio that Nigeria faces today whereby Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, Imo and other parts of Nigeria are terrorised daily by an assortment of criminals, thousands killed, houses burnt, is the Magodo invasion on the top burner of our nation’s priority. It is fair to say that it is appropriate for the police to seek to get an enforcement for a Supreme Court decision taken some years ago. However, it is by no means such a top priority issue when juxtaposed with wide ranging insecurities nationwide as to warrant the deployment of a large army of policemen all the way from Abuja to Lagos. Many Nigerians are asking what may have been the special interest of the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami in this matter. Only they can tell Nigerians since by all counts this matter, though important, could by its poor handling, have easily brought bloodshed to a hitherto peaceful community but for the maturity, reasonableness and law abiding nature of the Magodo GRA phase II residents. Is sending a large contingent of fully armed policemen to Magodo more important than confronting the debilitating uprooting of Nigerians from their towns and villages in the north by terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and arsonists? By my hierarchy of security priorities it is not.

Three, Magodo is a peaceful community because the people who live there have made it so. They contribute money to establish a security outfit that polices the estate and even though there is a police station there, the policemen are virtually idle because the crime level is minimal. The residents contribute money to use in tarring the roads and managing the waste. They manage their transport and parking system and noise pollution, thus making the estate a kinder and gentler community of civilised people. They carry on their backs a burden that ought, ordinarily, to be borne by the government and the police.

Four, the Buhari government and its police high command have been crowing about community policing. Community policing is basically an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, using policemen and community leaders who speak the language and are versed in the culture of the community. The basic difference with what is touted as community policing in Nigeria is that operational authority resides in the community. In Nigeria the operational authority resides in Abuja, not the community. That is why the CSP had that disrespectful altercation with the Lagos State Governor. The CSP kept sir-ring the Governor but the disrespect was manifestly obvious because he knew that the Governor does not have the last word on security in a State in which he is called the Chief Security Officer. If the Inspector General of Police is an apostle of community policing did he try to resolve the dispute by talking to the Governor instead of simply sending a large army of armed policemen to intimidate the Governor. Talking to the Governor to find a way of resolving the matter would have been community policing at work.

Five, while the Magodo show of shame was going on Buhari gave Channels television an interview in which he said magisterially that “State Police is not an option.” Then he took off on a tangential detour: “Find out the relationship between local governments and the governors. Are the third tiers of government getting what they are supposed to get constitutionally? Are they getting it? Let the people in the local governments tell you the truth, the fight between local governments and the governors.” What he said about local governments and their governors was some kind of irrelevant meandering on the outskirts of the subject of state police. The last time that the President spoke about the workability of State Police he made money the issue, by stating that he was offering states bail-out funds and they would therefore not be liquid enough to fund state police. To him at the time money, or lack of it, was the issue not its necessity or desirability. The truth, however, is that President Buhari is living in denial. There are more than 20 State Police formations in the states of the Federation today. They are established by law enacted by the State Houses of Assembly and they are called by various names.

In Kano there is a fully kitted State Police called Hisbah Corps; in Cross River State it is called Green Sheriff; in Taraba they are called Taraba Marshalls; in Rivers State they go by Rivers Neighbourhood Safety Corps; in Sokoto there is Yan Banga and in Buhari’s state Katsina it is called Yan Sakai; in Zamfara it is called Yan Kansai Local Vigilantes. Some of them may have limited mandates but they all perform police duties: intelligence gathering and arrest of offenders. All of these outfits can be generically called State Police. In the same manner there exist today two regional police outfits namely Amotekun in the six states of the South West and Ebubeagu in the five states of the South East. The South South is working on its own. So frankly we have three police forces today (a) Federal Police force called Nigeria Police Force (b) Regional Police Forces and (c) State Police forces called by different names in the states that they are domiciled. These various police forces may be limited in their operational capacity but the fact that they exist means that there was, and still is, need for them. It is obvious that Buhari as a former military leader is not open to any act that appears to be a bifurcation of his authoritarian powers.

But he will not be able to solve the country’s security problems if he continues to resist the operational involvement of Governors. Every crime is local. Governors are on the ground in their communities and if operational command does not reside with the Governors in the states we are just tilting at windmills. We are simply fooling ourselves. In security terms, Nigeria has gone far beyond what one centrally controlled police force based in Abuja and removed from local crime scenes in the states and local communities can handle. Even in matters of crime the heterogeneity of the country is obvious, because crimes have a nexus with the economic, cultural and idiosyncratic tendencies of our regions and states. I know of no federation of Nigeria’s size and complexity that has a single, centrally controlled police force. None. Those who surround Buhari may choose to deceive him with fruitless legal pyrotechnics so as to deny the country statutorily established and fully functional State Police that can lead to a de-escalation of insecurity. At the end of the day we will all be the losers if insecurity persists unabated because of the unreasonably stiff stance of the ruling elite.