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State Police: Is it step towards balkanization of Nigeria?

The debate over the establishment of state-controlled armed police forces in Nigeria is one that strikes at the very heart of the nation’s quest for…

The debate over the establishment of state-controlled armed police forces in Nigeria is one that strikes at the very heart of the nation’s quest for unity and security. While proponents argue that such a move would enhance the capability of states to tackle localised security challenges, a deeper analysis reveals a plethora of concerns that could, in fact, lead to the balkanisation of Nigeria, transforming it into a patchwork of quasi-states armed with instruments of violence. This perspective is not merely speculative; it is grounded in a realistic assessment of Nigeria’s socio-political landscape, marked by ethnic heterogeneity and historical tensions.

The introduction of state-controlled armed police forces raises the spectre of balkanisation, where Nigeria could find itself fragmented along ethnic, religious or regional lines. This fragmentation is not just a matter of administrative division but could lead to a deeper, more perilous divisions where each state, armed with its police force, pursues its security objectives independently of the national ethos and unity. Such a scenario is fraught with risks, as it could exacerbate existing inter-state and inter-ethnic tensions, leading to a situation where the federation becomes a mere figurehead, presiding over a deeply divided and militarized collection of states.

In today’s Nigeria, allowing state governments the autonomy to order weapons for their police forces introduces a potentially volatile element into Nigeria’s delicate social fabric. In a country where ethnic and regional loyalties often supersede national allegiance, the arming of state police forces could lead to an arms race among states, each seeking to outdo the other in terms of capability. This scenario is not conducive to national unity or security; rather, it is a recipe for conflict, as states could use their police force to assert territorial claims, protect ethnic interests, or even suppress political opposition within their borders.

The centralisation of the police force in Nigeria, despite its flaws, serves as a unifying structure that maintains a semblance of national cohesion. By dispersing this authority to the states, the federal government risks undermining its own ability to coordinate national security efforts. In situations where national interests clash with those of individual states, the presence of state-controlled armed police forces could impede federal efforts to maintain peace and security. Moreover, it could lead to a situation where the federal government is forced to intervene militarily in states, thereby eroding the principles of federalism and democracy.

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The call made by some governors concerning the establishment of state police in Nigeria has been driven by escalating insecurity linked to poverty. Unfortunately, the tendency has been to place all blame on the federal government, overlooking the roles and responsibilities of state and local governments. The Federal Ministry of Finance should disclose all financial allocations to states and local governments, enabling Nigerians to understand the distribution and ensuring accountability across all government tiers.

The reality is that Nigeria is losing control, and decisive action must be taken. The solution to Nigeria’s security challenges does not lie in the decentralisation of force but in the comprehensive reform of the existing national police structure. This reform should focus on improving the capacity, accountability and effectiveness of the police force, enhancing community policing efforts, and ensuring that the police are adequately equipped to deal with the country’s diverse security challenges.

Efforts should also be made to address the root causes of insecurity, such as poverty, unemployment, and social injustice, which fuel violence and unrest. As a Nigerian based in the United States, Professor Baba Adam, succinctly put it, ‘If we do not address the issues of poverty no amount of policing will stop crime’.

Our country, Nigeria, grapples with the complex task of ensuring security for its citizens, the path forward should be one of cautious reform and national unity, rather than the balkanization of its security apparatus. The establishment of state-controlled armed police forces, while seemingly a solution to localised security issues, carries with it the risk of fracturing the nation further, undermining the very fabric of Nigerian federalism. It is imperative, therefore, that Nigeria seeks to preserve its unity through inclusive security reforms that strengthen, rather than weaken, the bonds that hold the nation together.

For the sake of future generations, Nigeria must resist the temptation to arm its states and instead focus on building a united, secure, and prosperous nation for all.

My argument against the establishment of state police revolves around the fear of politicisation and abuse of power. In Nigeria, where political rivalry and ethnic tensions are prevalent, there is a genuine concern that state governors might use the police force as a tool for political witch-hunts against opposition figures. This apprehension is not unfounded, given the history of political violence and manipulation in the country. The potential for state police to become an arm of the governor, rather than serving the interests of justice and public safety, could exacerbate political tensions and undermine democracy.

Also, the issue of accountability and oversight is paramount. The current centralised police structure, despite its shortcomings, operates under a uniform command and control system, which, in theory, allows for a standardised approach to law enforcement across the country. Introducing state police raises questions about the mechanisms in place to ensure they operate within the bounds of the law and human rights standards. Without robust frameworks to guarantee accountability, there’s a risk that state police forces could engage in practices more than what the national police has been doing, such as extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and other forms of abuse, with little to no recourse for victims.

The capacity of state governments to fund and manage their police forces is a concern. Many states in Nigeria struggle with financial instability and rely heavily on federal allocations. The financial burden of maintaining a state police force could divert scarce resources away from other critical areas such as education, healthcare and infrastructure.

The argument for state police, while grounded in the legitimate need to address Nigeria’s security challenges, overlooks the complex socio-political dynamics that could turn state police into instruments of political repression rather than tools for public safety. The focus should instead be on reforming the existing police force, improving training, welfare and equipment, and enhancing community policing initiatives. Strengthening the judiciary and ensuring that the rule of law is upheld across the board are also critical steps in addressing the root causes of insecurity in Nigeria.

In conclusion, while the decentralization of the police force might seem like a viable solution to Nigeria’s security woes, the potential for misuse in the hands of state governors, coupled with concerns over accountability, funding, and oversight, suggests that Nigeria may not be ripe for such a transformation. A more cautious approach, focusing on reforming and strengthening existing institutions, might be the prudent path forward in tackling the nation’s security challenges.


 Adam, Ph.D., wrote from Abuja

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