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Arms for Amotekun: Time for coordinated effort on state police

Recently, the governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, declared his intention to procure arms for the local security vigilante, Amotekun, to help the state government…

Recently, the governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, declared his intention to procure arms for the local security vigilante, Amotekun, to help the state government curb insecurity.

This won’t be the first time a state governor would be making a similar call. Faced with rising insecurity across the country, governors of Benue, Katsina and Zamfara states, among other prominent Nigerians, have made similar calls in the recent past. Beyond making the appeal, the Zamfara State government, for example, tired of the federal government’s vacillation over the horrific security situation in the state in particular, where hundreds have lost their lives and thousands displaced, directed the issuance of licenses to citizens to arm and defend themselves.

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However, Governor Akerodolu in his call posted on his Twitter handle did not only reiterate his intention to arm Amotekun, but decried what he called the federal government’s “double standard” or more precisely, “one country, two systems” when referring to a video of armed vigilantes in Katsina State. The Katsina State Police Commissioner has, however, denied that vigilantes in the state have been armed with assault rifles. In response, the Presidency stated that the case of Katsina was quite different from what obtains in Ondo, and insisted, rightly in our view, that states are not authorised to issue arms under our present laws.

Daily Trust believes the altercation between the Presidency and the Ondo governor is unnecessary. Akeredolu knows that under our extant laws on licensing of fire arms, there is no provision for a governor to provide AK-47 rifles to Amotekun, an organisation whose legal position is still not clear, and which has recently been accused of ethnic profiling of non-indigenes. Moreover, the security situations in the Ondo and Katsina states are indeed radically different, what with widespread attacks on villagers and the displacement of thousands from their communities by marauding bandits in Katsina. We warn, though, that Nigeria cannot wait for Ondo and other states to become like Katsina and Zamfara before necessary constitutional changes are made.

Beyond these, we think, the entire debate about state policing has so far been conducted in three unhelpful ways, which the recent between the federal and Ondo State governments only demonstrates. First, as we stated recently on these pages, state policing is an idea whose time has come in Nigeria. It’s supported by almost all the 36 governors in the country, and by other critical stakeholders such as traditional rulers and even the general public. Moreover, broadly defined, state policing of some kind exists in virtually all Nigerian states – from Kano to Lagos, and from Cross Rivers to Sokoto.

Unfortunately, the issue continues to be cast as one of “we against them”, or as an issue that pitches the northern and southern parts of the country against each other. This is unhelpful. And to achieve clarity about the public mood on this issue, Daily Trust encourages the federal government to conduct zonal public hearings across geopolitical zones or even hold a national referendum on state policing. Such exercises can only strengthen our democracy and our federation.  

Second, the state policing debate often narrows the issue down to only a matter of guns and firearms. But the bulk of policing activities the world over do not even involve the use of any firearms beyond protective gear for police officers. Policing is a process for enforcing law and order in society, and it is important for the debate on state police in Nigeria to return to this fundamental conception of policing.

Third, the debate about state police in Nigeria, too often cast in divisive or grandstanding rhetoric, frequently ignores the important details about what a state police should look like in our own peculiar federal context. For example, firearms would be required for state police in Nigeria, given our present security challenges and the proliferation of all sorts of weapons in the hands of different criminally-minded elements in society. But which police officers should carry firearms, when and how should firearms be used are important details that we must work out, since in the south east for example, criminals and out-laws have constituted themselves into regional police.

We, therefore, call for a careful study of the situation toward a lasting solution. There is a need to find agreeable constitutional and funding frameworks for state/regional security forces. There is the need to work out issues of training, discipline and proper accountability mechanisms for any state/regional police. Above all, there is the need to harmonise and standardise general operating standards across the different states, and in relation to the federal police, to avoid situations where individual state/regions will run security outfits with different modes of operation.

Rather than continuously resisting the inevitable, and allowing dissent and disunity to ferment, we implore the FG to start planning the mechanisms for the establishment of state police and the fail-safe strategies it needs to put in place to guarantee that these forces remain neutral, professional and further the cause of national unity.