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The Presidency, governors and security

By Editorial Board
27 June 2021   |   3:09 am
President Muhammadu Buhari cannot afford to be bland about who, between him and state governors, have responsibility for security of lives and property in the country

Buhari. Photo/ facebook/ekitistategov

President Muhammadu Buhari cannot afford to be bland about who, between him and state governors, have responsibility for the security of lives and property in the country. Attempts that he made recently to push the buck to the governors are unlikely to help the country’s security paraphernalia and consequently, the ordinary Nigerian who is embattled on all fronts with insecurity. The president must accept the incongruity present in the current arrangement, and seek, through restructuring of the state, to correct the imbalance by empowering willing states to establish and control their own police, while retaining the federal police for specialised and complementary purposes.

That will remove the lopsidedness in designating state governors as chief security of their states while the police posted to the states effectively report and are accountable to the Inspector General in Abuja, who himself is ultimately accountable to the president. Besides, state police will provide much-needed relief to the current unwieldy police force that is clearly overwhelmed by security challenges and have shown fatigue in tackling them.

As the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Buhari stirred the hornet’s nest in his interview with Arise Television by pushing the responsibility for the security of the nation to the state governors. He said he told two governors who came to meet him in Abuja to return to their states and tackle the security challenges their people were facing. In a riposte, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said President Buhari cannot shift the responsibility of securing Nigerians to the governors when he is the Commander-in-Chief.

Wike further said: “You appoint the Inspector General of Police (IG); you appoint the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, the Commissioner of Police (CP), Director of the Department of State (DSS) and other heads of security. Which one do we appoint? How can people appointed by Mr President be under me?”

The argument about who is in charge of the security at state levels has been raging since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in May 1999. The state governors are designated as the chief security officers of their respective states but have no control over the security personnel posted to them from the seat of power in Abuja. On the other hand, however, Governors have security votes that could be deployed to shore up security in their states.

Constitutionally and in reality, the overall security of the nation is vested in the Federal Government of Nigeria and the President and Commander-in-Chief must take responsibility, ultimately, for that. The buck stops on the President’s desk. However, the state governours also have a big role to play within even the present structure. Around the same period that the president made his television remark, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu donated some security hardware to security agencies in the state to help fight criminal activities. The equipment was inaugurated by President Buhari before it was handed over to the police in Lagos.

Governor Sanwo-Olu said the donation would help to restock the police especially after the devastating effects of last year’s #EndSARS protests. Other state governors are also known to have extended similar gesture to the federal security agencies in their states.

The argument about the control of security at state levels has led to a strident call for state police. The argument is hinged on the notion that local police would be better informed on the peculiarities of its local area and therefore better prepared to tackle same. Imbued with local intelligence, geography, culture and other nuances, local police would be in better stead to proffer solutions to their environment. Those who are against the idea of local police point to the possible misuse by state governments and local politicians but that is not a sufficient argument as even the present arrangement is also subject to abuse from the centre.

The challenge is to evolve a system of checks and balances to mitigate abuse. More importantly, examples of best practices from where Nigeria copied her present form of democracy point to the need for local police.

Nevertheless, state governors cannot continue to wring their hands in despair while their people bear the brunt of insecurity. They are closer to the people and the people look unto them for immediate succour. State Governors must do all within their means to provide succour to the people who elected them. Good governance at local levels will go a long way in curbing criminal activities. Employment generation for the youth will put the majority of them away from the path of criminality and deplete the pool from which criminal hirelings can be recruited.

The resuscitation of skill acquisition centres at local levels and serious attention to public educational institutions are some of the ways to ensure security. Security is a package that goes beyond the acquisition and deployment of hardware but the provision of an enabling environment for the citizenry to bloom in their chosen vocations.

It is important that all stakeholders use the ongoing constitutional review by the federal legislative houses to push for devolution of powers to the states and this should include state police. The present stifling concentration of powers at the centre is no longer sustainable if the country wants a virile and stable polity. A system of true federalism is a solution worth pursuing to correct anomalies inherent in the present structure, as The Guardian has consistently advocated.