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State police: A policy option for current insecurity

The main opposition to establishment of state police in Nigeria has been driven by an exaggerated, misleading and unfounded precedent focusing on the abuse of…

The main opposition to establishment of state police in Nigeria has been driven by an exaggerated, misleading and unfounded precedent focusing on the abuse of state police through political interference and manipulation. The truth is that state police has never been established in Nigeria before, so there are no unsavoury antecedents on which to hang this prejudice. Critics are deliberately swiping the state police with the stained brush of the Native Authority Police, a creation of convenience of the colonialists’ administration intent on capitalizing on the rudimentary security outfit of palace guards of the traditional rulers in the northern, western and eastern regions for its indirect rule policy. The Native Authority Police was itself an enforcement institution of the paramount ruler, mainly staffed by princes, aristocrats, allies and servants, established to implement administrative directives. The paramount ruler, whether emir, oba or obi, was, in classical autocratic fashion, already an embodiment of chief executive, chief legislator and chief judge in his domain. In furtherance of its agenda, the colonial administration provided the palace guards with a modicum of police training which enabled them to wear police-styled uniforms, among other embellishments. Little or no attempt was made by the colonialists to reform or even curtail the notoriously oppressive and abused service. It was eventually abolished in the sweeping reforms that accompanied creation of states by the military in 1966.

The Nigeria Police Force was also created by the colonial administration in 1943 as a law enforcement agency modelled after the British police formation, with legislative backing and operational guidelines. It was established to maintain a law and order regime that strengthened the colonial administration’s control of the Nigerian protectorates while collaborating with the provinces through the Native Authority Police. At independence, the Nigeria Police Force was adapted to function as a federal police with elaborate constitutional backing. There were specific provisions to accommodate the concerns of the new dispensation, especially regarding the fears of the minorities, which included the Police Council comprising representatives of the federal and regional governments and responsible for policies and command appointments. The Force was headed by an Inspector-General of Police with regional commands under Commissioners of Police who interacted with Premiers of the regions in maintenance of law and order. These arrangements also served as checks and balances in the policies and operations of the police, especially in areas where the opposition held sway. It was definitely a departure from the oppressive NA Police which acted on the whims and caprices of a local emir or chief.

This was the scenario until the eventful military intervention in the political administration of Nigeria with disruptive impact on several national institutions, including the Nigeria Police. The military embarked on systematic imposition of its unitary command structure in entrenching itself having abrogated crucial constitutional encumbrances. This signaled the creeping unitarism that altered the status and role of the Nigeria Police and brought the Force, in effect, under the domineering control of the central military government. All decisions on operations and appointments were made by the military Head of State with the ulterior interest of maintaining the paramount position of the military and also reducing the capacity of the Police to pose real threat to the military government. The provision for a Police Council in the constitution was subverted by the reality, under military rule, of the Council being composed of subordinate officers. The IG therefore became solely and absolutely answerable to the Commander-in-Chief, not even the apex Military Council, necessitating his virtual relocation from Force Headquarters to the Presidential Villa so as to be at the beck and call of the C-in-C, and a mere appendage of the Presidency. It was observed that since the Second Republic, most IG’s spent a substantial part of their working hours interacting with the Presidency, rather than with the command and main body of the Force! At one time the Chief of Staff (Supreme Headquarters)   was the chairman of the Police Service Commission.

Even worse, the Force was later to further be relegated to the supervision of a ministry in the federal system with a substantive Minister of Police Affairs, who gradually assumed responsibility for budgetary spending and procurement, not to mention, as we saw recently, dabbling in “supervision” of operations. The continued retention and reliance on a federally-controlled Nigeria Police Force has not been significantly curtailed despite the unabated political interference and manipulation by the central government. One regretful result of such undue influence is the exploitation of lapses in the recruitment and appointment process that has effectively today negated the federal character in the Force. Other snags giving police a bad name such as corruption, brutality and indiscipline are essentially traceable to the human factor which can be remedied by institutional measures.

As for the deep-rooted apprehension against abuse, it is relief that today’s judiciary has developed the required sensitivity to the protection of civil rights of citizens and the citizenry is ever more aware and capable of pursuing such rights. In the final analysis, the lee-way for impunity and rampant abuses in police operations has been considerably curbed. Even better is the much-talked about establishment of a constitutional court with enhanced enforcement of civil rights and monitoring of law enforcement agents at all levels.

However, the prevailing challenging circumstances in maintenance of law and order and the rampant outbreaks of new forms of criminality such as terrorism and insurgency requiring urgent innovative responses demand new strategies and changes in operational structure of the Force. Today, more than ever before, the potency of intelligence gathering and dynamic pro-active engagement in combating crime is assuming greater consequence over the previous emphasis on numerical strength and fire power. This changing scenario necessitates a corresponding structural transformation and devolution of command and operational capacity to the state level, being closer to the towns and cities that are the theatres of criminality. The need for such strategic restructuring has also been identified in dealing with public apathy to providing vital information to police thereby giving tacit cover to criminals and their nefarious activities. Concerns over the time-honoured nexus between police work and local knowledge informed calls on government to adopt a policy of posting policemen to their areas of origin in the light of weaknesses in law enforcement functions at community levels. This did not meet with success owing to overwhelming social pressures and inherent limitations in deployment capacity. But there is no denying that the trust which has to be engendered between police and citizens can be better secured under a police system that gives due priority to posting personnel to their areas of origin which also acts to check excesses, especially corrupt tendencies of policemen by removing the anonymity enjoyed in postings to non-indigenous areas.

The unavoidable partisan competition involving a diversity of political beliefs typical of democratic dispensations often translates into power struggle and mutual distrust between rival political leaders. This underlying animosity has in fact tainted the process of building a rightful consensus on the desirability of state police in Nigeria to the extent that the applicability of federalism itself is dismembered discriminately between governing party and the opposition. Thus, the political leadership at the centre will not even contemplate transferring executive powers over security to state governors lest the opposition secure a means of check-mating their own manipulations of the police command, particularly for political purposes. Political self-preservation overriding considerations for effective state security can only worsen the security situation in the country as is now unfolding.

We are now face-to-face with the deadly menace of guerrilla-style insurgency and associated modern crimes that can only be better and more effectively tackled within a state-based police structure and operation, accessing all the strategic and logistic advantages of community cooperation and deploying them more efficiently and effectively for law enforcement and counter-insurgency objectives. Recourse to zonal commands, joint task forces and state government sponsored operational contingents among other adhoc arrangements are mere half-measures with doubtful impact and insecure status. Recent revelations also indicate fiscal problems at the federal level whose implications further underscore the necessity for downloading some responsibility for police work from federal to state governments. We have authoritative admission of huge gaps between budget allocations to the police and actual disbursements, with disbursements as low as 29% in 2010 plummeting to an abysmal 8% in 2011 ! This worrisome trend has already compelled states such as Lagos with serious security challenges to expend as much as N10 billion on various logistic needs of the police command in their states without reference to the federal authorities. The truth is that the Federal Government itself is no longer able to settle the bills for the Nigeria Police Force.

The emerging state police would be organically and structurally connected to the communities that comprise the state in terms of recruitment and deployment and derive optimum advantage for intelligence and operations alike. Lingering constitutional factors which hamper the timely and effective direction and deployment of security measures and operational synergy in relation with the civilian political leadership at state level need to be realistically resolved once and for all in the interest of national security, peaceful coexistence and routine law enforcement functions.

The state governors should thereby take charge of the affairs of their states in practical terms that leave nothing of strategic or administrative importance beyond their control.  The level and impact of accountability and transparency in law enforcement and investigations arising from the mutual familiarity between police and community would be substantial and evident. Recognition of realities of today’s law and order situation where states take more than a fair share of responsibility for police operational logistics without corresponding authority over the Force is an aberration that should be remedied. It creates loopholes for illicit connivance between the CP and the governor for local arrangements that are detrimental to maintenance of law and order. They also leave governors absurdly vulnerable to such explosive political intrigues that once saw an AIG arresting a governor in Anambra State on orders, through a local political lackey, from above! Previously, there were other shameful cases of the police, at the instance of political forces at the centre, making state governance extremely difficult. Instructively, the adoption of state police conforms to our federalist political nomenclature in a more meaningful manner and is therefore a better option to the current scenario of aberrations, role conflicts and distrust that is demonstrably counter-productive in the quest for effective and efficient police operations in Nigeria. The establishment of state-police does not in any way preclude the involvement of the federal police in any part of the country because of the envisaged and inevitable requirements for complementary and collaborative interaction of the two formations in order to maximize the impact on national security.

This symbiotic cooperation will be facilitated by the re-allocation of investigative and operational responsibilities to reflect the particulars of focus in law enforcement functions of the two formations such that petty crimes and violations of state laws without bearing on national security or economic adversity can be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the federal police. This should result in greater efficiency as the two formations are assigned functions commensurate with their jurisdictions and capacity. The present Force Criminal Investigations Department and its ramshackle forensic outfits which must be modernized should be retained. The Police Mobile Force should also be retained. The office of the IG should be retained but re-organized to perform purely inspectorate, standardization and coordinating roles of the sovereign state police command.

In addition to the foregoing, contemporary arguments and conventions world-wide encourage localization of the police service, especially prevention of crime and maintenance of law and order. This practice has very well stood the test of time in most modern democracies. Modern doctrines of internal security management emphasize small, well-equipped, motivated and extremely mobile enforcement mechanisms in civil settings. These earn prompt and lasting respect from the civil order and therefore much needed cooperation.

In our peculiar circumstances today, we are confronted by the frequent recourse to the use of the military in internal security duties, quite often not in conformity with the law stipulating such intervention and deployment. The damage to the profession of the military itself has ominous consequences. We are today witnesses to how untoward socio-political behaviour has robbed the police of some of its hard earned reputation and this is also beginning to afflict the military equally adversely. Deployment of armed soldiers for civil duties has its other hazards. The average soldier is a thin-skinned, short-fused trained combatant who can spark on the slightest provocation and sometimes take on even his superiors, not to talk of “bloody civilians”. Even for this reason alone frequent and unnecessary deployment of troops for civil duty should be avoided. Again, frequent deployment of troops for civil duty embraces the additional risk of exposing the failure of the political order thereby tempting subversion with all its repercussions on the constitution as well as democracy.

Concerns about corruption and political victimization in police operations will not necessarily be simultaneously assuaged by the restructuring process however. The stubborn prevalence of these ills are the result of systemic lapses in recruitment, training, orientation, discipline, conditions of service, funding and leadership calibre which have to be addressed professionally and sincerely on a continuous basis. This is perhaps where the burden of responsibility lies heavily on the federal and state political leadership to ensure that national/public interest supersedes partisanship and clannishness in dealing with police affairs at all levels. Matters of national security in general and the police in particular are integral to the fabric of governance that is permanent and should be insulated from the vagaries of partisan politics. The level of maturity and ethical conduct of our political leaders is therefore just as critical as enhancement of the structure of government and its institutions.

Shinkafi (CON) NPM is the Marafan Sokoto and former boss of the Nigerian Security Organisation

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