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Right time for state police

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A report the other day that President Muhammadu Buhari had instructed Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to work out modalities for the implementation of the report of a committee which was set up in August last year on police reform is gratifying. The Panel was set up in response to abuses, which the citizenry had suffered in the hands of men of the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), notorious for extra-judicial killings. The special-purpose committee was chaired by Tony Ojukwu, secretary of NHRC and it came out with broad and fundamental suggestions on how policing could be more effective in Nigeria. More gratifying is it that the executive summary of the findings was made public immediately.

The Panel’s findings generated nationwide interest because the issues of state police and national security were addressed. Though the social media buzzed with the wrong information that the president had approved the creation of state police, no one was in doubt about the public expectation that state police is expedient at this time.

Obviously, Nigerians were excited that Buhari gave a nod to state officials to prepare a White Paper on the core issues of the report. This is encouraging and the ruling party along with all stakeholders must ensure that the nation takes a decisive step on this fundamental reform. The president deserves commendation for creating room for state police and national security to be discussed under the framework of human rights. For state police to be created, we need a constitutional amendment, which would extricate policing from the exclusive list. This is where the National Assembly comes in. The Eighth National Assembly had initiated moves to revisit the 1999 Federal Constitution on state policing. However, the effort was thwarted by politicking and conflicting interests – from various quarters.

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Yet, the panel’s report, like the El Rufai report before it, recommended the creation of state police in recognition of the deep and fundamental cracks in the policing architecture of the country. With a population of nearly 200 million citizens spread in 36 states across six geographical zones, it is foolhardy to stick to the atavistic notion of a central police command. Policing communities requires close proximity to the area so that preemptive and preventive actions could be taken at all times.

State Police refers to the idea of the constituent parts of the nation creating and deploying security personnel for the purpose of protection of citizens and crime detection. Under such an arrangement, the state governors working in consonance with other constitutional organs would hire police officers. Such officers are expected to be accountable to the people of the state as represented by the governor and House of Assembly.

This contrasts fundamentally with the current practice in which a central command under the Federal Government polices the entire country. The State Police Commissioners are not obliged to take orders from state governors who ironically are refereed to chief security officers, under this convoluted arrangement. How may a chief security officer carry out his functions if he is not equipped to perform his duties? This is one of the anomalies of the federal system that was foisted on the nation by the military.

Some critics of state police have opined that the state governors are likely to abuse the powers invested in them. The counterpoint to this is that existing structures in the legislature and the judiciary will serve as a check on the governors. Besides, the federal police will still be operated and where there is an inadequacy, the federal authorities would step in. The American system has made provisions, for example, for federal crimes and crimes that are within the purview of other security agencies like the sheriff’s office. Our local experiences and cultural affiliations do call for the adoption of local policing to reduce the level of insecurity in the country. No federal state can be homogenous in all facets of life. Indeed, the federal system best suits a country with a diverse people spread over vast geographical distances. Thus policing ought to be a local concern. In the light of current experiences the need for a return to state policing cannot be over-emphasised.

Already, there are quasi state or community police organs in the country in the form of vigilante groups and traffic regulators in some states. These have complemented the efforts of the federal police. Lagos State is a clear example of this state-policing brand ambassador. State policing, therefore, is expected to stick closer to local issues, which an Inspector General sitting in Abuja may not be bothered about.

Specifically, ours is the only federal system the world over that operates a unitary style of policing. Elsewhere and as we have seen, the local governments, the campuses, the transport agencies, the maritime world, hospitals and other sectors require their own police. These would then be coordinated by an appointed state official. The security architecture currently in existence has led to serious security breaches to the extent that ethnic militias are beginning to rise. Some ethnic leaders are also calling for self-defence measures because in their view, policing as offered by the Nigeria Police Force has failed. Also, it is an open secret that some state governments have been funding police activities in their states owing to paucity of funds from the Federal Government.

Furthermore, there is widespread perception that the Nigeria Police is inherently corrupt and inefficient and cannot be trusted to protect citizens in their dire hours of need. The present federal police is a force that acquiesces readily to the federal authorities to the detriment of local security. How else do we account for the criminal failure of the police to arrest the perpetrators of dastardly crimes committed by herdsmen across the country? Lives are daily lost to vagabonds and criminals in the form of armed robberies and kidnapping. And curiously, the Federal Government appears to be at a loss on how to deal with enormous security challenges arising.

We, therefore, call on the National Assembly working with the presidency to respond positively to the report of the NHRC panel. The expected constitutional changes would easily sail through once there is a consensus among stakeholders. The Federal Government should read up the report of the 2014 National Confab, the El Rufai Committee recommendations on policing.

Mr. President should not miss this opportunity to yield to the wishes of the people. The notion that we are not mature enough to run state police at this juncture is balderdash. It is through practice and innovations that a country makes progress. To do the same thing in the same way and expect a different result is tantamount to a Sisyphean effort. Nothing will come of it.

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