The imperatives of state police
The significance of the northern elite supporting the establishment of state police, along the position of their southern counterparts is high and should not be lost to Nigerians who believe that the present centralised structure of the police is antithetical to the security and welfare of the citizens. It is significant that the north, represented by the 19 Northern States Governors’ Forum and the Northern Traditional Rulers Council has joined the call because before now, northern governors and the northern elite had not been keen on the issue. While the uniformity of desire for state police is a definite positive for the country, it should be seen as only the beginning of a tedious, even controversial attempt to secure the country.
For the umpteenth time, the Southern Governors Forum unequivocally reaffirmed its earlier calls for the creation of State Police in the country to stem the tide of increasing insecurity across the nation. Interestingly, a few days after the Southern governors’ reaffirmation, the 19 Northern States Governors’ Forum and the Northern Traditional Rulers Council had also met and endorsed the creation of State Police in the country to tackle the worsening insecurity across the country. In the past, the northern governors and northern traditional rulers had been indecisive on the issue of state policing in the country. But today they are openly and clearly canvassing for it. This is a welcome development that the southern and northern governors are now unanimously in agreement in demanding for the creation of State Police in Nigeria.
The major task ahead is not just to convince the executive and legislative arms of government to bring the unanimity of purpose to effect, but also to proffer credible suggestions to allay the fears of possible abuse of state police when created. Proponents of creation of State Police argue that State Police would enable the federating units to effectively maintain law and order, especially during social upheavals such as inter-communal riots, youth restiveness, riots and ethnic militancy without waiting for the intervention of the Federal Police which may not come. More importantly, considering the incapacity and limitations of the present centralised police structure or Federal Police to contend with the high rate of kidnapping, banditries, violent crimes and hired killings ravaging the major cities and rural areas across the country, it is high time State Police were created to complement the work of the Federal Police in combating crimes and protecting lives and property across the country. And now that the political campaigns ushering in the 2023 general elections have commenced, it is obvious that the Federal Police needs the complementary assistance of the State Police to deal with insurmountable insecurity challenges in the various states of the Federation.
Instructively, the establishment and proliferation of para-police outfits in some geo-political zones of the country are indications to the seeming inevitability of State Police. For instance, South-West states have Amotekun, while the South-East Governors have Ebubeagu. Many states in the north and the Middle Belt have also set up local security outfits to combat crime. The South-West governors are now urging the Federal Government to allow Amotekun to bear sophisticated arms. It is noteworthy that the security outfits are functioning to-maintain peace and order and combating crimes. It is important for stakeholders to amend the Constitution to legalise the operation of these outfits and upgrade them to State Police with appropriate equipment to function effectively.
Despite the imperative or desirability of State Police, the fear of many Nigerians that such an institution can be abused deserve thorough interrogation, particularly through various measures including legislations to check such possible abuse as happened in some parts of the country in the First Republic in the 1960s. At the time, some state governors subjected State Police operating in their respective states to victimise, intimate or threaten their perceived political opponents or to even grievously harm them or kill them. The fall of the First Republic was partly attributed to the deployment of regional “police” to intimidate political opponents or to destabilise their political activities. Given the prevailing secessionist and separatist agitations across the country today, the establishment of a parallel Police Force at the state level or at local government level could constitute a big threat to the corporate existence of the nation, if not properly handled.
Nevertheless, the fruits to be reaped in the creation of State Police far outweigh these inherent dangers. The state security architecture in Nigeria has almost completely collapsed. Insecurity and fear of criminal attack are high. The police are stretched beyond their capacity and criminals operate largely with dangerous freedom; most criminals are not apprehended or sanctioned. Creating State Police will be handy to assist the Federal Police in combating insecurity. It is noteworthy that countries such as the United States, Spain, Mexico, Indonesia, India, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Argentina have structures for state or community policing. In the United States, each state has a State Police with statewide authority to conduct law enforcement activities and criminal investigations within the State. In these countries, crime is at low ebb.
The 1999 Constitution should be amended to provide for State Police in the Constitution. Since coming into force on May 29, 1999, the 1999 Constitution has undergone several amendments but no amendment to create State Police therein. It is disturbing that the subject matter Police is still retained in the Exclusive List in the Constitution despite several demands that it should be moved to the Concurrent List to allow each state of the Federation to create its own unique State Police to combat crimes in every nook and cranny of the state. Time has come for the amendment to take place because of the overwhelming capacity of local policemen to know local criminals and neutralise them accordingly.
Over-concentration of enormous powers (as could be gleaned from the long list of federal powers in the Exclusive List of the Constitution) in the hands of the Federal Government leaves the federating units at the mercy of the Federal Government or as appendages to the Federal Government.