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The albatross

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Sadly, but inevitably, it had to come to this pass. On July 26, the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, launched Operation Sting, a state security outfit. The governors of the South-West, according to Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo State, plan to launch a new security architecture later this month to tackle insecurity in their geo-political zone.

On his first 100 days in office on September 5, Makinde also plans to launch his own new state security outfit. Lagos already has the Lagos State Neighbourhood Security Corps. The governors of the South-East have similarly decided to tackle the insecurity in their geo-political zone beginning with the employment of forest guards; not to guard their forests, obviously, but as part of their new, collective security architecture.

I expect more and more governors to wake up and take on the onerous constitutional duty of being the primary keepers of the safety of the lives and property of their people. Perhaps, the dire times have impressed on all of them to act more seriously and responsibly as chief security officers of their states. You cannot blame them for trying to do what they believe should be done to make us safe in our own country. The sight of internally displaced persons living wretched lives in unsanitary camps is a national disgrace and an indictment of the Nigerian state. The former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, said on Monday this week, that “there is anger (and) tension in Nigeria.” He was right – and we know it.

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It is no longer wise, despite the reluctance to do otherwise, for the state governors to leave security matters entirely in the hands of the federal government. The best by the central government in containing the security situation is not just not good enough any more in the face of the continued daily loss of lives in the current reign of criminals in our homes, offices and on the poorly-maintained federal and state roads.

Something has to give. What is about to give is what some of us have feared might happen. The states are bestirring themselves and are designing their security architecture outside section 214 (1) of the constitution. That section provides that “There shall be a police force for Nigeria which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section no other police for shall be established for the federation or any part thereof.” (Emphasis mine.)

This has tended to effectively shut the door in the face of those of us who argue that a single police force for the federation cannot, without prejudice to the competence of its personnel, adequately police this vast country and ensure the safety of lives and property. The generals who gave us the 1979 and 1999 constitutions thought that this was the right and proper thing for a unitary federalism. They had good reasons then based on either our experience with NA police in the first republic or, more correctly, based on the need to make the military and civil defence forces equal with each as a single entity as in one national army, one national navy, one national air force and one national police force.

However, the current security situation has made an eloquent case against their doubtful wisdom in placing the security of the lives and property of Nigerian citizens in the single police force they decreed for us through the constitution. No constitution is futuristic. Every constitution responds to contemporary situations and problems. To ensure that the constitution accommodates changes in the mores and the morals of the society, there is a provision for its amendments. This gives parliament the right to amend whatever section or sections of the constitution it deems problematic for good governance in contemporary times. No nation makes rapid progress by sticking to what no longer serves its national interests.

Section 214 of the constitution stands out like a sore, painful thumb. It has become anachronistic and a problem unto itself. It is time for it to give way through an act of parliament as required by the supreme law of the land. Various informed agitations have made it clear at various times that we need more than a single police force. The national conference convened by President Jonathan in 2014 said so in its report. The Nasir El-Rufai committee set up by the national leadership of the ruling APC said so in its report. These views are based on contemporary experiences with the inadequacies of the single police force.

We have now reached a critical bend on the road. The state governors are resorting to self-help to deal with the security challenges in their various domains. What they are doing suggests that the various new state security architectures would work around section 214 of the constitution. They would not have state police but they would have security forces that go by different names at their beck and call. Perhaps, so long as they are not called state police, they do not offend the constitution. This might come with a price if each state or geo-political zone is allowed to do it its own way. One problem might be a possible lack of co-ordination between the federal government and the states and among the states, thus leading to chaos that might compound the complicated problems we are dealing with. The federal authorities can prevent this by simply convening a meeting with the state governors and security experts to work out a new and comprehensive national security architecture in which the three tiers of government are assigned designated roles to be discharged in a manner that makes each level of responsibility fit in with the others.

In the new security architecture state governors should play an active role in our national security as chief security officers of their various states. A state police by whatever name it is called, must be part of this national security architecture. Security is a local matter and must be seen to be so if we are to walk through this darkening climate of security challenges and emerge unscathed. Let us not ignore the patter of the rain on the roof.

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It seems to me that the state governors are not just responding to the current insecurity situation in the land; they are also throwing up once more the need for the Nigerian state to have the courage to address the various crying imperfections in our union. I have written about this a whole lot because I believe that our refusal to free ourselves from the wisdom that served us in the past but do not help us that much any more, has hobbled our movement as opposed to mere motion in our national development. This country needs to move out of the crippling and stifling military federalism. The centralised federalism imposed on the country by the generals perhaps served its purpose then but it no longer serves the contemporary needs of our country. It does not sufficiently ventilate the nature of our federalism to guarantee the autonomy of the federating units.

Uniformity is strange to best practices in federalism. We stick to what is clearly not working because it seems sacrilegious to question the wisdom of the generals who made the changes when circumstances advised they should do so. No one says the changes were cast in stone and could not be changed or tweaked if contemporary national interests so demand. Those national interests, including adequate security, now so demand some fundamental changes in the nature and the practice of our federalism. Our leaders may play the ostrich but I am sure when they come up for air, they would see that living a lie in the name of leadership ill serves the leaders and the led alike.

Problems are solved, not prayed or wished away. If a nation chooses to unwisely ignore the inevitable it condemns itself to perpetually running around its problems. Palliatives serve limited purposes. A solution, no matter the price it may exact, is the only right path towards building a nation not for ever haunted and hobbled by its myriads of unfinished businesses.

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In this article:
Nyesom WikeSeyi Makinde
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