The first right step forward
The Senate has, at last, decided to take the first right step in tackling the worrisome state of insecurity in our country. Practically every day, someone, somewhere, is being shot. Gunmen, marauders, bandits, kidnappers, cultists and sundry criminals have for some years been on the loose; laying siege on the country with alarming impunity. In towns and villages most Nigerians go to bed with their eyes half closed. People travel with baited breath, feeling relieved only when they reach their destination. In some motor parks, prayers are said before vehicles take off. Few luxury buses on a long haul have their own covert armed security outfit.
The worst hit zones in terms of insecurity have been the North East and the North Central, in the former where insurgents have held the country by the jugular, and in the latter, where herdsmen have swept though farmlands and rural communities in an orgy of bloodletting, killing and maiming as well as mindless destruction of property. It has been so clear, even for the blind to see and the deaf to hear, that the police have been overwhelmed. Dare devil gunmen have been known to take the battle to the police themselves. Only on Monday night, seven policemen were shot dead while on duty at a check point. Three had been killed earlier. The security situation has been so bad that the Governor of Zamfara State who doubles as the chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Mr. Abdullaziz Yari, has had to throw up his hands in resignation! He washed his hands off as being decorated as the chief security officer of his state. He sees his position as a joke. His argument is that he has no operational control over the police. The instruction of a governor may have to be forwarded by the state police commissioner to his boss, the inspector-general, who may wish to seek clearance from the president before it is carried out.
Troops have been called in because the police are overwhelmed and have spread thin because their hands are full, facing challenges in several fronts at the same time. The soldiers that ought to be the last resort, the last line of defence, are themselves engaged in community combats and have not fared much better. They have spread thin, too. I recall grieving Governor Sam Ortom announcing the killing of 60 more people in the last week of February. He said the people were killed by rampaging helmsmen despite what he called “the launching of Ayem A. Kpatuma military exercise to check the excesses of invaders.” In January, on the New Year eve, about 70 people were killed by the herdsmen. Last year, Speaker Yakubu Dogara drew attention to the ubiquitous presence of the military everywhere even, according to him, in civil matters the police ought to be able to sort out.
It is astonishing to say the least that we are just taking the first concrete step at addressing the grim security challenge in the land. In my response to President Buhari’s disappointing cold attitude and incomprehensible obstinacy to the issue of state police on this page last week in the wake of killings in Plateau State, I did ask: How many more people are we waiting to see killed before we become wise to apply the most simple, the most commonsensical panacea: establishment of state police? I said policing is local and that is how it is in all stable and secure free world. Newspapers have shouted themselves hoarse on the urgent need to set up state police. The Governors’ Forum comprising all the 36 state governors called for it. They know where the shoe pinches them. About the time the Forum met, Mr. Yari’s backyard was on fire; 31 persons had just been mowed down. The worst has since then happened, again in Zamfara. Long before their clamour, the 2014 National Conference Report had strongly recommended state and community policing. The report of Governor Nasir El Rufai Committee set up by APC and submitted in January leaves no one in doubt about the imperative of the establishment of the state police. At the Security Summit the Senate organised earlier in the year, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo reinforcing the argument for it had said that it had become difficult for the Federal Government to provide security for the country from Abuja in view of the fact that Nigeria had failed the United Nations requirement of a policeman to 400 people. At the Security Summit organised earlier in the year Osinbajo said as follows: “The nature of our security challenges is complex. Securing Nigeria’s over 923, 768 square kilometres and its 180 million people requires a continual re-engineering of our security architecture and strategies…We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are the way to go.” Governor Henry Dickson corroborating what the vice president said went on to argue that the prevailing security situation and the need for an effective response to the challenge had made the establishment of state police mandatory. His conviction is anchored on the fact that the personnel would be drawn from the locality that make up the state.
Such personnel would be able to access valuable information required to track down criminals. Agreeing with the vice president, he said the current federally controlled police had become overstretched owing to the wide ratio of the police to the rapid increase in population. Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Joseph Daodu, in the heat of the debate, had said it in all striking simplicity that state police is for law and order. And listen to the clincher from General Ibrahim Babangida, a former President: Speaking last year on the subject of restructuring behind which he threw his full weight, Babangida had said: “Added to this desire is the need to commence the process of having state police across the states of the federation… The initial fears of state governors misusing the officers and men of the state police have become increasingly eliminated with renewed vigour in citizens’ participation in and confidence to interrogate power. We cannot be detained by those fears and allow civilisation to leave us behind. We must as a people with one destiny and common agenda take decisions for the sake of posterity in our shared commitment to launch our country on the path of development and growth. Policing has become sophisticated that we cannot continue to operate our old methods and expect different results.” These are thoughts he has carried in his mind since 2010, and enshrined in his manifesto when he attempted to contest the presidential election. On another occasion he had said the claim of misuse by the governors was unfounded, indeed exaggerated
I have gone this length to demonstrate the fact that we have never been short of necessary literature on the imperative of state police and community policing. What is more, the police authority themselves have long recognised the necessity for some form of augmentation by way of community policing. In 2003, the Nigeria Police sent some of its men to Britain to train in community policing. There are self-evident predicaments in which the country has been plunged by those who can be said to be ignorant, deliberately unfeeling or enlightened but are of impure motives. In March, I did draw attention to the figures. At the time, Taraba State and Plateau State were not in the reckoning. As of 13 February, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons more widely called IDPs, in the North East and North Central was estimated to be over two million. With the displaced people in Plateau, things have obviously gone worse. The front page photograph in this newspaper of women and children on a queue clutching bowls at an IDP camp in the issue of Monday says it all. They are IDPs from the Plateau mayhem. With the figure as of February, Nigeria was host to the sixth largest IDP population in the world. Borno, Adamawa, Yobe States had the largest number of IDPs. Together with its outskirts Maiduguri was reported to have seen its population doubled from one million to two million with people fleeing violent attacks in their communities. In Benue as of February there were 160,000 displaced persons.
Several governors have resorted to some clever security engineering to protect their states and people. Lagos is a classical example. Before Lagos, let’s consider Anambra State. Through its Anambra State Vigilance Service Act No.9 of 2000, signed into law on 06 December 2006, Anambra State Government became the first to arm a vigilance group officially, who are publicly funded and paid salaries. Abia followed with its own called Abia Vigilance Service and then Imo also called Imo Vigilance Service. Ebonyi House of Assembly passed its own bill as well establishing Ebonyi Vigilance Service. This was not without justification because cases of missing persons in the country as of this time had become alarming. As of 2017 August the head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross said by that month more than 10,000 Nigerians were missing.
Under the security engineering, Governor Akinwumi of Lagos State recruited 5,700 youths under his government’s Neighbourhood Safety Corps initiative last year. The move, he said, was another step towards enhancing security at the grassroots level in the state. They are to provide intelligence for crime prevention and to facilitate the arrest of perpetrators of crime. In August, 2016, barely two months into his administration, the state security Trust Fund (LSSSSTF) gathered N1billion in donations at a dinner organised by the fund and the corporate organisations. In Kano, the then Commissioner of Police, who is now the IG, received 25 patrol vehicles from the state government. Kano facilitated the recruitment of 2000 youths into a peace corps. The plan was to have 6000 of them and it paid N83m for their application and forms and training of the batch of 2000, N3million for forms and N80million for training. The government provided office space and accommodation. Although the police ordered their immediate closure, it did not vitiate the government’s felt need for a state police formation. In Kaduna, the said Peace Corps numbered 4,363 youths, 1,060 of them females. The Senate bill to legalise them was turned down by the president. The corps had its headquarters in Abuja. Their commandant, Sunday Baye said their training included parade and drills. Governor El Rufai then went to establish Kaduna State Vigilance Service Committee to replace several self-help groups in existence in the state.
The Lagos Security Trust Fund gave the Lagos police command two helicopters, 300 patrol vehicles among which were mobile workshop vehicles, and 60 patrol motorcycles. Also provided to the police by the Lagos State government were two million rounds of ammunition, five fibre boats fitted with double 75 HP Outboard Engines, 30 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), and 1000 AK-47. The Lagos model started by Babatunde Fashola was endorsed by the United Nations Congress on Crime prevention and Criminal Justice. Some of the states in the country also asked for guidance on how they could simulate the model. The Kano State command of Ibrahim Idris as commissioner was one of such states. “We had to travel to Lagos to understudy the Security Trust Fund. It has served as a model for the states in the Federation.” Ambode went all out to arrange what he called “proper care of welfare of police officers who are assigned to Lagos.”
Who will not see that the states are roaring to go? They are irrepressibly gearing to have their own police —state and community. I have said it in this column that were there to be state police in Borno when Boko Haram matters were brewing, through intelligence gathering helped by familiarity with the land, and culture, they would have nibbed the plans in the bud. And if it showed signs of getting out of hand, they would have moved swiftly to put down the rebellion. They would have given their all rather than watching their society, their towns, disintegrate socially and economically. Who would be happy seeing his own people wandering with few belongings on their heads and clutching the hands of their children, looking for an emergency place of abode, and makeshift camps?
Our legislators must have seen how policing is arranged in other lands. We have two scholars who have done extensive studies on policing, Prof. Kemi Rotimi of Obafemi Awolowo University, and Dr. V.O.S Okeke of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Anambra State University, Igbariam. In the United States, any university with a student population of 5000 is expected to have its own police. This column has argued that in most Western world not only are there local council police, but also city police, metropolitan police and federal police. In the First Republic, a Region such as the West had a three-tier policing system, the native authority police (Akoda), the Regional and the Federal called Olopa Eko. – neat, smartly attired and efficient, professional, respectable and respected. The equivalent of the Native Authority I in the North is known as dogarai. Egba United Government had its police as far back as 1905.
State police is not tantamount to the abolition of the federal police. They will work collaboratively under guidelines on the distribution of responsibilities and duties. That should go without saying. The guidelines will safeguard any possibility of abuse such as taking the appointment of the state police commission away from the governor. It can be done in such a way that members of the commission drawn largely from civil societies, religious organisations such as CAN, the Bar, ASUU and retired justices, will appoint their own successors endorsed by their respective organisations every 10 years. As I did say in March, there will always be ideas, for where there is a will, there must always be a way. It is strange that states in a federation make laws they do not have the police to enforce; they are at the mercy of the federal authorities. That is not acceptable. States which are not ready to establish their own police do not have to; they can wait until they can collaborate with contiguous states. They may decide not to have at all. However, states which feel the need should not be deterred from establishing theirs.
It is enheartening that the Senate has decided to pass a bill for the establishment of state police. It is reassuring that they have given their committee looking into it a timeline of two weeks. The Senate deserves every assistance and ideas the larger society may offer. The older generation who have seen the past and are witnessing the present will tell you the difference is clear!