State police, not community police facade
For the umpteenth time, the issue of police service within the context of devolution of powers in a federation came up again the other day with some double speak on what the current administration actually wants to do with the inefficient federal police. Specifically, the issue of devolving policing to local levels came up when the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Abubakar Mohammed Adamu tried hard to make a case for ‘Community Police’ over State Police. What exactly is the need to split unimportant hairs over the difference between a state community, a national community and other types of community in respect of achieving a more effective policing of society?
For so long, through numerous national conference documents including the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, Nigerians have clamoured first, that the structure of the police be decentralised and second, that state police be established. The arguments for this are simple: the more localised the policing, the more effective for the reasons that the indigenes know the terrain as well as the people on it better. Indeed, community policing is described, aptly, as ‘‘a strategy of policing that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of the communities.’’ Under this arrangement, the local police and the local people can relate with one another with greater trust with the happy result that security can become a shared responsibility as well as better assured.
Toward the 2015 general elections that brought the All Progressives Congress (APC) party into government, it promised an electorate desperate for a change from the intolerable ways of the PDP government, that in the APC manifesto, if voted into power, would ‘‘begin widespread consultations to amend the constitution to enable states and local governments to employ state and community police to address the peculiar needs of each community.’’ The party added that, ‘‘this would mean setting boundaries for federal, state and community police through new Criminal Justice legislation to replace the Criminal Code, the Penal Code, and the Police Act.’’ It appeared to reasonable people that on this matter, the APC, hungry for power, had not only done its background work well but would ‘‘hit the ground running.’’ Indeed, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law, once noted the absurdity of an IGP sitting in Abuja and policing every part of the country. ‘‘There is no way we can continue running the police as presently constituted…’’
Alas, on such a crucial security matter, four years and a renewed presidential tenure have yielded more talk than concrete action by officials, including the highest level of the APC government.
There is the very strong argument for state and other levels of police. A federation must necessarily reflect the devolution of certain powers and responsibilities if it is to function efficiently and effectively. The decentralisation of the police is an integral aspect of a federal system of government. Besides, by the principle of subsidiarity, it makes absolutely no sense that a larger entity should take on functions that can be better performed by the smaller components. Pope Leo XIII is quoted to have described such as, ‘‘an injustice, a grave evil, and a disturbance of the right order.’’
In the federal democracy of the United States, which the Nigerian model largely imitates, the structure of the police follows the decentralised structure of government such that there are ‘’17, 985 police agencies including college campus patrol, sheriffs, local police and federal agents.’’ The U.S. has city police, county police, highway police, traffic police and transport police. In the United Kingdom, ‘‘there are 43 police forces in England and Wales, along with the British Transport Police, and the separate police forces of Scotland and Northern Ireland.’’ There too, is the City of London Police that exist alongside the Metropolitan Police Service.
In total contrariness to reason and federal systems around the world, Nigeria with a population of about 200 million spread over 36 federating states and subdivided into 774 local government authorities, is under one police structure atop which sits an IGP located in distant Abuja. It boggles the mind just what the problem is that the APC government will not adhere to its written promise to the electorate. Nothing is more tragic and terribly so for a people than to be ruled by a government that cannot fulfill its promise to them.
The IGP says ‘‘drawing from the Provisions of the Police Act in relation to the recruitment and utilisation of Special Constables,‘’ the force is set to recruit 40,000 community police officers (CPOs) for low risk and non-sensitive duties, act as liaisons between the police and their communities and ‘‘under the coordination of the Nigeria Police’’ that he heads and controls from Abuja. Accordingly, ‘the CPOs will be recruited from within the communities where the prospective applicants reside, and an average of 50 CPOs are to be engaged in each of the 774 local government areas. In addition, 1,300 CPOs will be drawn from professional bodies like the academics, road transport unions, artisans, traders associations, religious bodies, women unions, and youth organisations among others to ensure diverse representation.’’
It appears that, for reasons best known to it, and regardless of the weight of informed opinion on the matter, this government appears set upon its chosen course not to decentralise the police structure but circumvent what is a global best practice to keep the police system under its firm control in the nation’s capital. This is a pity.
The IGP and the authorities in Abuja should note that the current structure of police cannot work. It is unwieldy, antiquated, anachronistic and uncultured. They should listen to what the people are saying: that there should be state police structure within this complex federation of more than 450 nationalities.
The National Assembly too should freeze politics and begin discussions on legislative and constitutional reforms that will reflect elements of modern federation in the most populous black nation on earth. It is deceitful to recruit community police officers that will still be part and parcel of the present central structure that has failed the nation.