Who is afraid of state police, better security?
The federal legislature recently tagged along with the executive to reject a bill proposing state police in the ongoing constitution amendment. As that session was unravelling in Abuja, defenceless Nigerians were being killed in Anambra, Benue, Borno, Edo, Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna, in another bloody weekend of routine mass killings. In-between the two scenarios is a failed central police system that could have been remedied by a decentralised police structure in the absence of any other solution from the federal government. Suffice to ask, therefore, who is afraid of state police, or a more secure and stable country that is liveable for all?
The death toll is staggering, and so too is the laid-back disposition of the government whose primary validity is security of lives and well-being. On the day the National Assembly said no to the state police bill – drawn from a long list of 68 that sought to alter the 1999 Constitution – men of the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP) raided four villages and killed at least 25 Nigerians in Borno. In Benue, suspected hoodlums invaded a burial ceremony to kill about 10 mourners. A day before, the media was awash with reports of terrorists killing farmers in Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna. About 20 were also killed at another siege on a funeral procession in Anambra State. The morning after the legislative debacle, it was the turn of an armed-robbery gang in Edo to ransack banks in daylight. These and many more make a mockery of the Nigerian State and its failed security system.
Amid the widespread apprehension, the infamous response from the National Assembly is regrettable. It belies the gravity of the insecurity ravaging the country and the helplessness of the Nigerian police. Only recently, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, said 80 per cent of the Nigerian Armed Forces personnel were deployed across the 36 states of the federation, performing police duties! Such failure of internal policing is expected where the Police Force has only 371,000 men to cover 923, 000 square kilometres of over 200 million population. Worst still, they are poorly funded and ill-equipped. The central control structure in Abuja is also designed to be ineffective at the grassroots where the preponderance of crimes are planned and executed.
In their desperation for a safer country and better policing, Nigerians have been calling for a decentralised system that entrusts the regions and states with funding and control of their security agencies. And they cannot be wrong in their fundamental rights to life and demands for a pragmatic solution to insecurity. Recall that before the coming of colonialists, indigenous settlements had their security apparatus, in the form of hunters, farmers and other walks of life. Security was the business of all in the close-knit traditional communities. In the 50s and 60s, there was a more organised Native Authority, drawn from members of the community to serve the community. They were strong enough to repel threats and marauding forces. That was an architecture that worked because the natives were better placed to protect themselves and solve their problems before they escalated. The point is that our security is better handled – formed, funded, controlled and held accountable – by the people. And that is the pull of true community policing, agitation for decentralisation and creation of outfits like Amotekun in the Southwest, Ebube Agu in the East and Hisbah in a state like Kano. In some of the southern states, despite gross limitation, their successes against kidnappers and bandits have been priceless.
For clarity, this newspaper is not unaware of concerns and danger inherent in according more powers to some state governors through the state police advocacy. However, the foresight of a new problem should not foreclose a workable solution whose time has come, especially in the absence of no other. The potential fallout should motivate both the executive and legislative arms of government to think outside of the box for control mechanisms against abuses of the state police. Throwing the baby away with the bath water is none of such wisdom. It is, therefore, inconceivable that the National Assembly rejected the bill for state police, in kowtow to the stance of President Muhammadu Buhari against the proposal. Curiously, neither the executive nor legislature has offered an alternative to killings in the last seven years – apparently caring less even if all the people perish.
Nevertheless, the state governors should not be deterred by the legislative setback; rather, they should be unrelenting in their efforts at establishing indigenous security operatives and deploying innovations to keep their people safe and secured. The positive results are sufficient motivations to keep funding and supporting a home-grown security network that is above board and a marketable model to others. It is certain that once we are able to arrest insecurity from the communities, wards, local councils, state and regional levels, then our economies and attendant prosperity will boom.
A retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Dr. Bukar Usman, once said that the Nigerian Police Force is an experiment that has outlived its usefulness. It is time Nigeria offered a workable replacement that would stem mindless bloodbaths and unrests. Despite its imperfection, a decentralised security system is a fair intervention in the midst of a crisis. Its blanket disavowal without a reliable alternative is self-serving and unconscionable.