The imperatives of state police

1 month ago
6 mins read
Nigerian police. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Undoubtedly, one major glaring absurdity of Nigeria’s convoluting federal architecture is that of over-centralisation in all ramifications. Globally, there is no other federal state with power so concentrated at the centre as Nigeria. This has led to what students of federalism would regard as ‘federal immobilism’ with the concomitant effect of stress that has given birth to strident calls for both fiscal and political restructuring of the federation.

It is ludicrous that the octopus Federal Government was contemplating chewing what it cannot swallow by nursing the idea of community policing in the face of palpable failure of the over-centralised Nigeria Police. Now that the security reality on the ground has called for the establishment of state police, one is shocked to the marrow that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who is supposed to be the arrow-head of the initiative prefers the extant system of an octopus police structure under the command of one person called Inspector-General.

A country of 120 million population by conservative estimates and land mass that can swallow many countries in Africa coupled with the gargantuan problem of hyper-ethnic instability syndrome amid hundreds of ethnic nationalities where justice does not reign; the idea of state police becomes imperative which no doubt will promote community policing.

Despite the benefits of technology and ICT; it is humanly difficult to police 774 local government areas (aside from the numerous local council development areas (LCDAs) all over the country. It is unimaginable for the IGP to ever contemplate being abreast of happenings in Gbada Efon village where I hail from in Ona-Ara Local Government of Ibadan in Oyo State. This is practically impossible. This is why most attacks by hoodlums and bandits are carried out in rural communities to embarrass the government.

What the country needs for now in the face of overwhelming security challenges all over the country no doubt is state police; which cannot be achieved by presidential fiat as some are made to believe but rather through careful constitutional amendments. Presently, Nigeria as a federal state operates a central policing system.

Article 2 (section 2) of the 1999 constitution (as amended in 2010) affirms that “Nigeria shall be a federation consisting of states and a Federal Capital Territory”. Article 214, section 2 however stipulates that “there shall be a Police Force for Nigeria”, which shall be known as the Nigerian Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the federation or any part thereof. The combined effect of these provisions, as our legal luminaries would say is that although the Nigerian constitution recognises two tiers of power with authorities to make exclusive or concurrent laws on stipulated areas, only one police authority is recognised by law to enforce laws made by both federal and state legislatures!

It is perhaps against this background that the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice – Abubakar Malami –was critical of the Amotekun, the security initiative in the South Western states, which no doubt has been copied by other parts of the country to combat security challenges.

It is imperative to note that the provision of central policing has thrown up many challenges in our fledgling democracy, as recently noted by a two-term former governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi (of blessed memory) in a perceptive lecture he gave at the University of Ibadan, Department of Political Science that the most fundamental being the unprecedented level of violence and crime in the country.

As an international visitor may note, more so anyone visiting Nigeria for the first time, perusing our national dailies or following social media will think that the country is in a perpetual state of war with the deluge of crimes and violent cases across the country daily such as Boko Haram insurgency, armed robberies, kidnapping for ransom, mob killings and assassinations with the addition of Fulani herdsmen wreaking havocs nationwide.

At the heart of these security challenges is the structure of our policing. How is the police organised? How are its men recruited? How is the force funded? What is the indoctrination of the force? Who does the force report to? How nimble is the reporting authority? How conversant are they with the culture and language of the communities they police, how familiar are they with the terrain they superintend over? What is the relationship of the police commissioner with the state governor whom he is supposed to serve as the chief security officer of the state? And above all, what is the population size of the police?

It is often stated that the personnel in Nigeria is now barely over half a million. Whereas, the real number may be far less, the police management is unwilling or unable to give us the exact figure of its membership – so we are all guessing. The fact is that the total number of police both officers and men vis-à-vis the United Nations (UN) requirement is absurd. It is not a surprise that many Nigerians die daily with avoidable deaths!

Rather than Nigeria benefiting from the experience of its peers in the international system (federal states) such as the United States of America, Canada, India, Switzerland and the like, the policing system in Nigeria has no bearing on what it should be in a federal state. For instance, the constitution of the United States allows the federal, state, local and even special districts like universities to perform police functions.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); for instance, investigates inter-state crimes, among others, the state police enforce state laws and even supervise federal elections, city/township police enforce local laws and police authorities of special districts like schools enforce regulations of their jurisdictions. The relationships between all the police services are properly coordinated for the exchange of intelligence and the prevention of crimes.

On a comparative basis, the Federal Government of Australia maintains police forces alongside the federating units. In the Republic of Germany made up of the 16 Landers (the equivalent of states), the German constitution concedes most of the police powers to the 16 Landers even though the federal government is also allowed to legislate on the subject.

The constitution of Switzerland empowers the federating units to share policing functions with the Federal Government, same for Canada and India. Coming nearer home, Ethiopia operates a federal constitution in which article 52 sub-section 2(g) of its constitution expressly grants each federating state the power ‘to establish and administer a state police force, and to maintain public order and peace within the state.’

Be that as it is, it is evident from the foregoing that Nigeria’s refusal to reflect the required dynamism of federal architecture in its policing structure is the exception rather than the rule in comparative federal systems. Even in both pre-colonial and immediate post-colonial Nigeria police establishments were highly decentralised and localised.

Many of the units that were amalgamated into Nigeria operated diverse systems of policing. In the old Oyo Empire, public security was provided by the Eshos. In Igboland, communities enforced societal rules with the use of age groups while the Dogaris were the law-enforcement agents in most of the communities in the areas that became Northern Nigeria.

Thus, under colonialism, the colonial power established different police forces across the country until it brought all of them together in April 1930 to form the Nigeria Police Force, with headquarters in Lagos. However, the Nigeria Police Force existed along with Local Government Police in the Western Region (called Akoda), and the Native Authorities in Northern Nigeria.

For instance, the Local Government Police Law 1959 of the Western Region confirmed existing police forces in the region and authorised every local government council with the approval of the Minister of Local Government to establish a police force. Also, Section 105(7) of the 1963 Republican Constitution empowered the regions to establish police authorities at local government and regional levels.

Unfortunately, this system was abrogated when the military took over power in 1966. In his maiden broadcast as the Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi pronounced that ‘all local government forces and Native Authority Police Forces shall be placed under the overall command of the Inspector General. The police forces of native authorities and local councils were put under the operational control of the Inspector General of Police.

The reason for this abrogation was the use of the local police forces to harass, intimidate and oppress political opponents. Unfortunately, this centralisation of police functions has been sustained both in the 1979 and 1999 constitutions.

Nonetheless, with the above historical antecedents, the strident calls for the restructuring of Nigeria most especially devolution of power and call for the establishment of state police are apt now. Two reasons are responsible for this: first is the unprecedented wave of crime and violence across the country which has forced many critics to conclude that the police force is not structurally equipped to effectively secure the country. The second factor is the recurring abuse of police power by the Federal Government for oppressing political opponents of successful governments at the federal level.

Conclusively, this is a wake-up call for our parliamentarians to begin to initiate further amendments to the over-centralised 1999 constitution. A restructured federal Nigeria may function well rather than the present morbid structure.

State Police is the way to go and not community policing under the umbrella of the Inspector General of Police whose hands are presently full. The existence of the judiciary to moderate whatever abuse state police may be put to is enough to allay the fears of Mr. Inspector General.

Professor Ojo teaches Political Science at the University of Ilorin. He was Chief of Staff to the late Governor Bola Ajimobi of Oyo State.


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