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Chukwuma: Except we decentralise policing, we can’t get it right

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Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police and Director General of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency, Dr. Uche Mike Chukwuma, is a proponent of State policing. He told KELVIN EBIRI, that lack of understanding of security issues by the political elite remains the bane of police reforms in the country. He also insists that any arrangement from the federal level to control policing at the state level is a sham, and a failure from the word go.

What purpose does the Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency (NWSA) in Rivers State serve?
IT is to bring security closer to people at the community level. As you may be aware, similar outfits exist in other states. You see, community policing means that the community is the police, and the police are the community. That is the concept of community policing and that is the concept of the Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency as formed by the state.

What could Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency have done to enhance security in Rivers State if it were fully operational?
As the head of NWSA, I know where the shoe pinches, and I have also been in the police, where I started as a recruit constable. I worked at the federal level and I have got the needed experience.

I am also an advocate of state police even before the NWSA came up. I know very well that if we had completed our training, even the federal police would have had less problem detecting crimes because our focus would have been preventing insecurity, getting information on time (because of the trust we enjoy among the locals) and sharing it with the federal police, the Department of State Services (DSS), and other security agencies, and nip it in the bud.

Indeed, the level of crime would have been highly reduced by now if we had completed the training. We want to enjoy peace in our communities and we know what it takes to enjoy peace in our communities. The man that is coming from Kafanchan, Sokoto, Nasarawa may come here and be indifferent as long as his salary is being paid. In fact, 10 persons may be killed and they may not be his classmates, schoolmates, friends, neighbours, or in-laws. But for me, every community I have elementary schoolmates, secondary schoolmates, university mates, my children also have. I have in-laws. My friends have extended families. So, if we have any problem in any part of Rivers State, I will be directly, or indirectly affected. So, I will make sure it does not happen because I have nowhere to run to. This is where I was born; this is where children and I grew up. In other words, I am a natural stakeholder and that is a big difference.

I think NWSA would be a model once we go operational because of my vast experience. As a writer who wrote out of experiences, I am going to convert those ideas into practice.

Is politics to blame for the disruption of the agency’s recruits’ training by the Nigerian Army?
I thank God that the Nigerian Army has realised that they made a mistake. Even if they will not come and apologise publicly, the courts have said it and they are now working in consonance with the state government to move the security of the state forward. It was the negative message they (politicians) sold to them that they believed without investigating or channelling it to the proper body, the Police and the DSS that would have investigated it. The Police and the DSS incidentally are members of the board of the agency, and who has the primary responsibility of internal security first and foremost.

What is your view of the concerns expressed by those who think state governors will use state police against opponents?
Is the Federal Government using the police against those in the opposition? Is that what they fear? If you say that, it means the Federal Government is using the state police against those, who belong to different political parties. Accepted, we will make our mistakes, fall along the way and correct ourselves. When the United States of America started with its democracy it was not this well, but today they are the reference point of democracy. I am not a politician but I am a political analyst. So let people not be parochial in their criticism. Partisanship should not be brought into security issues.

What are the major causes of insecurity in the Niger Delta?
The Niger Delta that everybody knows is marginalised, but we have the resources that are channelled from here to wherever. The issue of lack of infrastructure, human capital development, lack of employment of our youths, wrong propaganda giving investors the wrong impression that this place is not safe and moving them to other regions of this country is the biggest problem that we have. Unfortunately, some of our people are responsible for this. Once, we are properly treated, and investors invest here, and our youths are employed, a lot of them will never think of getting involved in crime because a hungry man is angry. Until, we address the issue of Niger Delta properly, attract investments into the area and get our youths gainfully employed, insecurity will be an issue.

What is the difference between community policing and state police?
In our clime, Nigeria, we don’t have constitutional provisions for state police. Now, if we have state police, it would be community-based where natives of the state form the policing structure, and they can be posted anywhere within the state, not minding where they come from within the state. But, pure community-based policing or neighbourhood watch is when you get the people from the local government area, train them and send them back to their local government area, where they know themselves to police these areas. But I am sure that when we have state police, it will consume community policing. However, they are all state-based. The slight differences there are will be direct community people keying into the policing structure, being trained and sent back to their local government areas to work where they know the people and the people know them.

If over-centralisation is the bane of the police, why have reforms to bring about decentralisation been so difficult to implement?
Let me tell you the truth, a lot of the people at the National Assembly, who are not vast in security issues look at security from the parochial point of partisan politics, and are fighting against decentralised policing because they feel that they are in a particular party that controls the centre. So, governors should not have any say in security because the argument by some and antagonists of the idea is that governors will use the state police to victimise their opponents.

In reality, there is nothing like opponents in security, but these politicians are looking at things from their parochial, partisan point of view. Once they desist from this and see security as an important issue that touches everybody, then they will understand what we are talking about.

Until we decentralise policing, we cannot get it right, and nobody should deceive you.

Is the current structure of the Nigerian Police sustainable?
As a retired police officer, I want to tell you that any arrangement from the federal level to control policing at the state level is a sham; it is a failure from the word go because the major problem that the Nigeria Police has today is that central control. I call it over-centralisation.

If you read my book: Professionalism, Reforms in the Nigerian Police Force, I studied the three reforms by President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Umaru Yar’Adua, and President Goodluck Jonathan. The major problem that is affecting policing in the country today is the centralised nature of the Nigerian Police Force. Whatever experiment you put on the ground, the police can never deliver as expected because of that central nature of posting, particularly, controlling and directing. The long stretch of authority, from up coming down will affect certain decisions that can easily be taken on the spot. I am an experienced person in this regard and I have direct examples to give.

Was centralised policing foisted on Nigeria by Britain?
We have had central police that has been in existence since the colonial era when C. W. Duncan was inspector general from 1930 to 35 till when Mr. J. E. Hodge was also in office from 1962 to 1964, up to when we had our first indigenous Inspector General of Police, Louis Orok Edet. So, I can authoritatively say that the policing system that was on the ground was not for our interest; not for our security, but the economic interest of the British imperial government.

Does this scenario does not show that the Nigeria Police is still operating as colonial police?
There is a big difference in all ramifications. However, we don’t need to operate like colonial police; we need to operate to suit our people, our culture, and our religions. You know Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country with multiple religions, even though principally dominated by Christian and Islamic religions. Now, we are run by two authorities. The police are rn by Penal Code in the North and criminal code in the South. Most of the security officers operating in the Niger Delta today are from the North, and they were born and brought up in the North. They are trained with the penal code and they are here in the South, where we are practising criminal code and we are mainly Christians. Some of our people are also in the North. So, how can you marry these two and get effective results? The difference here is that the penal code suits the northerners with their Islamic religion, and the criminal code suits the southerners (who practice Christianity majorly), our way of life, our norms and all the rest.


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