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Still on State Police

The number of Nigerians slipping into ungoverned spaces is increasing while the cap

As security of lives and property progressively deteriorates, the clamour for creation of state police in Nigeria continues to gather momentum.

It is now harder to run schools, collect taxes, administer vaccines, collate data or even build infrastructure, especially in remote villages; and it is becoming clearer by the day that criminals are successfully contesting the coercive monopoly of the Nigerian state.

The number of Nigerians slipping into ungoverned spaces is increasing while the capacity of the security agencies to contain criminality is diminishing.

Admittedly, some Nigerians are still sceptical about the introduction of a second layer of policing, given the likelihood of abuse. As the argument goes, a state police will avail disproportionate force to the governors, who are more likely to deploy same in extra-judicial dealings with political opponents. The governors, these sceptics believe, would become autocrats. This argument is weak for many reasons though.

Firstly, the political reality is that the governors are already enjoying substantial constitutional and de facto power. Secondly, in the present arrangement, there are still credible allegations that governors deploy the police to protect their personal interest at the expense of public interest.

It is similarly ironic that advocates of a centralised police are concerned that devolving some of the enormous powers the 1999 Constitution vested in the President and Inspector-General of Police, to 36 other governors serving concurrently in different states, would be a concentration of power. Are there no concerns about abuse of power by the President or the Inspector-General of Police? Are there no checks to the powers of the governors?

Indeed, there are many constitutional, political and institutional limits to the discretions of a governor. In fact, contrary to the above argument, the decentralisation of the police will add to these limits by bringing more responsibilities to the disproportionately powerful state executives.

Whereas the present bizarre set up that excludes them from the command structure of the security agencies is both a serious constraint and a convenient excuse, creating state police will eliminate both encumbrances in one fell swoop. As chief security officers, they will be more accountable not only for the arcane “security vote” they receive, but also the actions of the state police and measures adopted in tackling local security challenges.

Furthermore, the decentralisation of policing will translate to the decentralisation of reform. In the last 15 years, three different presidents have set up three distinct Presidential Committees on Police Reform. Yet, the manifest deficiencies of the Nigeria Police Force remain. The challenge of reforming this unwieldy monolith is so enormous that some submissions to the 2012 Presidential Committee recommended a total disbanding of the force and building a new one from scratch.

However, the creation of a second police force at state level may be a more pragmatic and practical approach. Different states may address different aspects of reform in line with local priorities and context; and states that lag behind in terms of manpower and expertise would have the benefit of learning from what works in other states and even partnering with them. Not only will this process accommodate the diversity of ideas and open a new bottom-up approach to the elusive police reform, it will also provide a cogent index for assessing the performance of the all-important second tier of government in Nigeria.

Another critical contribution of state police to the security architecture will be the enablement of pre-emptive maintenance of law and order. Given the size of Nigeria’s population and the country’s geographical and cultural diversity, the federalised police are limited to reacting to security challenges. The officers find the poor police-to-citizen ratio, cultural barriers and unfamiliarity with the terrain of an ever-changing duty post too overwhelming. A localised police force on the other hand, would be more adaptive in maintaining peace and proactive in gathering intelligence. They are also more likely to be trusted by communities.

These issues do not take away from other perennial systemic challenges bedevilling the Nigeria Police Force, such as lack of specialisation, corruption, insufficient funding, inadequate checks, or political abuse. Nevertheless, the devolution of policing will bring a much needed zest and dynamism in the fight against the various existential threats facing Nigeria today. It will also realign Nigeria’s constitution and political institutions to current realities without prejudice to the federal structure of the country. The emergence of outfits such as Hisbah, Amotekun and Ebube Agu are signals that underscore this structural imbalance, and it is only prudent that this is addressed appropriately.


Mahmud Abdullahi wrote from Kaduna

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