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STATE POLICE AND THE CHALLENGES OF INTERNAL SECURITY

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Being the text of presentation at the First Memorial Lecture in honour of late Alhaji Ahmadu Sheidu, AIG (rtd), OFR, NPM, mni, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Lagos, Thursday, June 3, 2010.

Chairman, Guests of honour, Friends and Family of late Alhaji Ahmadu Sheidu, AIG (rtd), Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is most appropriate that the subject that has been chosen for discussion at the First Memorial Lecture in honour of the late Alhaji Ahmadu Sheidu is on the operational control and the constitutional character of the Nigeria Police Force, and by extension its efficiency. This is the organization to which he devoted more than 37 years of his life, serving in different capacities, and engaged in the noble task of ensuring the enforcement of law and order for the security and stability of the Nigerian state and the safety of persons and their property. Policing is truly a noble calling but its nobility is tied to its efficiency and the extent to which it is able to mobilize the people in its support and secure their trust and partnership. I find it particularly interesting that I am returning so soon to this same subject.

Precisely on Tuesday, August 19, 2008, I had been a guest speaker at the Police Service Commission Retreat held at Miccom Golf and Hotel Resort in Ada, Osun state, attended by the top police hierarchy. My presentation on that occasion safely titled "The Role of the Media in Enhancing Police Efficiency" had ruffled not a few feathers, with some of the police officers openly accusing me of abandoning the topic to attack the Police. One issue that I commented on in parentheses in that presentation was the subject of state police. I shall in the present effort deal with the same subject at greater length, in the context of internal security and police efficiency, and more importantly, the constitutional implications of the operative structure of the Nigeria Police Force.

Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, the centralized structure of the Police has been a subject of debate among those who insist that the practice of proper federalism is key to Nigeria's democratization process and that the existence of symbols of unitarism such as the Nigeria Police Force amount to a contradiction in terms and serves as a source of tensions and stresses in the polity. Questions have been raised about the capacity of the Nigeria Police Force as presently structured and constituted to discharge its duties, such that in the last eleven years, there have been more strident calls for police reform. Successive Inspectors General of Police have each promised this reform, and in response to the charge of the Police being too centralized, zonal police commands have been created; there has also been much talk, and little action characteristically about community policing. These attempts however, half-hearted as they are, have not reduced the clamour for state police. Between 1999 and 2003, this is was at the top of the shopping list of the Southern Governors Forum.

The source of contention is Section 214 (1) of the 1999 Constitution which provides expressly that "there shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria 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 contradiction here is easy to discern. Whereas the 1999 Constitution stands on the principle that Nigeria is a Federation, it contains many provisions such as Section 214(1) which fit perfectly into the mould of unitarism. Is it not illogical that whereas state governments can have the three arms of government: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary (although state governments are not allowed to have Supreme Courts of their own), they are still tied in ensuring the protection of life and property to the apron-strings of a unitary Police Force? In relation to Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution which defines the purpose of government as "the welfare and security of the people," it follows by this provision that state governments are rendered dependent on the Federal Police for discharging the latter responsibility since "no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof."

The corollary of this has been expressed concern about the control of that single Police Force and in this regard the 1999 Constitution is unequivocal. Section 215 (1-3) vests the authority for the control of the Police Force in the President, the Police Council and the Police Service Commission. The Inspector General of Police is an appointee of the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and since State Commissioners of police also take directives from the Inspector General of Police, all orders for police function in the Federation derive from that central authority. Section 215 (4) introduces an element of mischief when it states that a State Governor may give instructions to the state commissioner of police "with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order within the state as he may consider necessary".

But what is thus given with one hand, is immediately taken away with another hand as the succeeding paragraph enters a caveat that to carry out such directions, the state Commissioner of police should request that the matter be referred to the President or any Minister with appropriate authority. The reality therefore is that although state Governors are described as the Chief Security officers of their states, they have no powers to direct the police or any security agency to act. But the more problematic aspect of the control of the Police as defined in this Constitution is to be found in the ouster clause in Section 215 (5) to wit: "the question whether any, and if so what, directions have been given under this section shall not be inquired into in any court."

The absolutism that is thus suggested is imperialist, and it is reminiscent of the totalitarianism of the ancient military regime. Although the Constitution refers repeatedly to "lawful" directions, and whereas Section 341 of the Police Act directs that "every police officer shall be personally liable for any misuse of his powers, or for any act done in excess of his authority" and whereas Section 32(2) of the Criminal Code protects a person from carrying out any order in the course of duty which is manifestly unlawful, the powers granted the President under Section 215 of the 1999 Constitution are never questioned. What has been seen is the willingness of successive Inspectors General of Police and their commissioners in the states to carry out all kinds of orders thus turning the Federal Government and the ruling party into absolute sovereigns.

There have been too many illustrations of this abuse in the Fourth Republic justifying the clamour for a decentralization of the Nigeria Police Force and an amendment of Section 214 of the Constitution to allow for the creation of state police. A situation whereby the police in a particular state has to take directives from a far-away President delays the process of operation particularly in an emergency.

This much has been demonstrated on more than two occasions in Plateau state when in 2008 and again twice in 2010, the state Governor was in no position to direct the security agencies, not even the Police to put an end to ethno-religious violence before it went out of hand. It was on all the occasions difficult getting through to Abuja and by the time Abuja got back with the required directions much havoc had been created. Thus, the centralized structure of the Nigeria Police Force ultimately defeats the objective for which it is created. The other fact that has been seen is that it allows the Federal Government, controlled by a particular political party, to use a common property of the state as an instrument of political oppression and intimidation. Some of the examples in this regard will include the case of former Governor Chris Ngige in Anambra state who as a sitting Governor was chased out of his office in July 2003 by a contingent of policemen led by an Assistant Inspector General of Police acting on orders from Abuja. In Ekiti state, former Governor Ayo Fayose had to flee when his police guards were withdrawn and lorry loads of policemen acting on Presidential orders arrived in Ado Ekiti.

In Oyo state with Rashidi Ladoja as Governor, a self-styled commander of Oyo state politics with strong connections to the Presidency in Abuja, the late Chief Lamidi Adedibu had better access to the police in the state than the Governor of the state, and in the politics of impeaching the Governor, the police had no problems pitching their tent with the President's friend in Oyo state. In every election, men of the Nigeria Police have been used by influential politicians with access to the highest levels of government to snatch ballot boxes, rig elections or intimidate political opponents. In a 2009 re-run Gubernatorial election in Ekiti state, for example, policemen were openly used in this manner. The assumption is that the creation of state police will negate this wanton imposition on the states by the Federal authorities and their agents in the states. It may well create a balance of terror, result in a dispersal of control and make state Governors effective Chief Security Officers in their states.

What is at stake in all of this is the philosophy of policing and what this should be in the Nigerian society. Should the police be a tool for securing law and order, or should it be a tool in the hands of an absolute Leviathan? In other countries, even a sitting President can be invited for questioning in the process of an investigation, as occurred in the case of former US President Bill Clinton who had to respond to queries from Independent Prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, and before him, Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. Is this possible in Nigeria? The existing system unmethodically places certain individuals above the law and turns just one man specifically into an overlord. This alone should compel a reconsideration of the structure of the Nigeria Police and the law and order system.

But the question of internal security is even more urgent. The Nigeria Police Force is one of the most unpopular institutions in Nigeria today; it is distrusted by the same people whose lives and property it is meant to protect, and this has resulted into a resort to self-help in many ways. Every year, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as local civil society organizations report on many cases of police brutality, police inefficiency and corruption. The crime rate is on the increase and the police have proven to be helpless and overwhelmed. This has been so in nearly every instance be the matter armed robbery, kidnapping, ethno-religious violence or financial fraud. It is also generally regarded as a corrupt police force, with policemen collecting bribes openly and showing tendencies of thuggery and mendicancy. It is so bad that rich persons hire the police for all kinds of unlawful purposes, or simply as bodyguards to oppress the less privileged.

Every Inspector-General of Police on assumption of office promises to "flush out the bad eggs" within the Force but there seems to be no end to these eggs. Innocent persons are afraid to volunteer information on crime to the police, those who have a case to answer dread the police station and its notorious cells from where there have been reports of extra-judicial killing and rape. It is also an established fact that Nigeria is grossly under-policed. There are less than 400, 000 policemen and women providing security for a population of over 150 million people. In addition, the Nigeria Police Force is under-funded, ill equipped and poorly motivated. In 2007, Sunday Ehindero, former Inspector General of Police, admitted in a newspaper interview that "less than five per cent of police men have walkie-talkie sets while less than five per cent of police stations have telephones. The take-home pay of a sergeant is less than N10, 000 per month. Yet the society expects the same police force to perform wonders."

Thus, an Inspector General of Police justifies police inefficiency: the evidence is writ large in the many cases of unresolved murders and the widespread reign of impunity in the land. It is often said that many Nigerian policemen are likely to take to their heels should they be confronted by criminals with superior fire power, and as is the case almost always, the criminals seem to be better armed. What Nigeria calls a police force is a diffident, under-resourced organization which often turns its anger on the populace becoming as much a security threat itself to society. Faced with such a troubled and compromised organization, many Nigerians have since resorted to self-help. There is in the market a rapidly growing market for private security entrepreneurship. Rather than seek police protection, many companies and individuals engage the services of private security firms. The reign of fear and insecurity in the land is further evident in the local architecture. Many Nigerian homes are no better than prison yards, complete with iron barricades, surveillance cameras, fierce dogs, and tall walls.

But perhaps the more dramatic illustration of the lack of confidence in the capacity of the police to provide internal security is the rise, activism and proliferation of vigilante groups beginning in the early 1990s: the Oodua People's Congress (OPC) in the South West, the Bakassi Boys in the South East, the Egbesu boys and the Meinbutsu in the South South, the APC, Yandaba, the Almajiri and the Sharia Implementation task Forces in the North, with the OPC and the Bakassi being the most visible. Many of these groups emerged originally as self-determination groups engaged in the ideological argument about the Nigerian state, but they soon mutated into local militias providing physical security and acting as alternate law enforcement agencies. In Northern Nigeria, there have been reports of a certain one-man police force who is so skilful in tracking down and arresting armed robbers that state Governors reportedly patronize him; with the unapologetic indication that the man possesses such skills and level of efficiency that are unavailable to the Nigeria Police Force.

The proliferation of ethnic militias and hyper-active private police forces brought much conflict with the police, but in reality, these groups were openly courted and patronized by the people. Bakassi Boys ran courts and cells in Anambra state; in the West, the people willingly invited the OPC to resolve disputes or help dispense justice. The Obasanjo administration had tried to clamp down on the leadership of these groups, the OPC in 1999 and the Bakassi Boys in 2002, but they have survived beyond the Obasanjo years whereas there has been no marked improvement in the fortunes of the Police Force.

These militias or alternative security apparatuses had their limitations and excesses, as has been shown in the cases of such armed groups in the North which became instruments for religious terror and human rights abuses, and in the South, for similar forms of terror, but by and large they exposed the failures of the Police Force and drew attention to the case for state police. Their relative efficiency derived from four main factors: one, the faith and support of the people, two, their understanding of local mores and peculiarities, three, their well-defined codes of engagement, and four, they raise the recurrent question: how best should society be policed in a democratic situation? In comparison, the Nigeria Police which they either complemented and almost supplanted appeared deficient: most policemen are deliberately posted to parts of the country of which they have no knowledge or understanding. But the greatest shortcoming of the militias remained their lack of legal backing, a shortcoming which the then Ngige administration tried to correct by recruiting Bakassi Boys into a state-organized Anambra Vigilance Service.

The strongest argument against the idea of state police is that the native administration, native authority and local government police forces of old were abused by local politicians in the First Republic, and that there is no guarantee that the establishment of state police forces will not result in widespread chaos. In a well-considered book, The Police in a federal state: The Nigerian Experience, Kemi Rotimi has offered a historical analysis of the Nigeria Police from its constabulary beginnings as a colonial force to the present. It would appear that the police at all times have been instruments of control and coercion regardless of the nature of government in Nigeria. It is this ideological orientation that must be changed.

In other words, the introduction of state police in contemporary Nigeria is not likely to result in unknown patterns of conduct as long as the police force, whether state or federal is used to serve external, narrow interests instead of its constitutionally assigned roles. Section 4 of the Police Act (CAP 359), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 outlines the general duties of the Police as follows: "The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property, and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them, by or under the authority of this or any other Act." That these duties of ensuring order, safety and security are important to the making of a good society is not in doubt.

Section 4 of the Police Act is particularly significant, and the extent to which this is so is to be construed in the light of Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, under the rubric of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy wherein it is stated that "the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government." Whatever detracts from this, such as the engagement of the Nigeria Police in thuggery, oppression, crime, and so on is an aberration that does not deserve elevation to a normative status.


The biggest lobby against state police comes from the police hierarchy, and this for obvious selfish reasons, and also from owners of private security outfits who may lose patronage. I find most spirited the defence of the present status that is offered by former Inspector General of Police, Mike Mbama Okiro, in his book, Policing Nigeria in a Democracy (2009) and shall proceed to quote him in extenso:

Given the nation's unsettling federal structure and the threats to peace and stability that attend it, will the establishment of completely autonomous state police not hasten the nation's slide into anarchy and disintegration? Has it been ever imagined, the problem of arms proliferation that would be unleashed on the nation, when even a country like the United States is at its wits' end over the proliferation of small arms? Indeed, while it is doubtful, the real basis for the clamour for state police, generous evidence suggest that such police outfits could be corruptly and viciously used to repress the privileged. If the nation's experience with ethnic vigilance outfits like the OPC and Bakassi Boys is anything to go by, then the Nigeria Police Force may be described as a saint. It may not be ruled out that with the nation's prevailing political temperament, allowing state police would be tantamount to vesting absolute power on the governors. And because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, state police has the potential of being used as an instrument of tyranny, perpetrating illegalities and denying the citizens of their legitimate rights.

…. it may pay all components of the Nigerian Federation better, if they pull their resources together to properly kit and motivate the Nigeria Police Force to perform efficiently. For given the difficulty the Federal Government is having in funding and running the Police today, the situation may be worse when states are individually saddled with the responsibility of funding their own police forces alone. (pp. 215- 216)."

Mr. Okiro may well have been describing the present Nigeria Police Force in his opening paragraph above; the case that he makes in the succeeding paragraph can only raise additional questions of accountability. And who says Nigeria's "unsettling federal structure" should be given? It is important to stay with the principles indicated by this inquiry. First, that the Nigeria Police Force in its present structure is structurally defective, and that whereas general police reform is required, it must include a review of structure. Second, that the police must become a people's institution and a vehicle for peace and stability; Third, that Nigeria needs a police institution that advertises best practices as obtains elsewhere; Fourth; that a distant police force that operates more as a military tool of occupation violates the "grand purpose of policing", and Fifth, that ensuring the dignity of the human person is paramount to the search for a good society.

By now, it should be clear where this commentator's bias lies, namely that I am in support of the idea of state police, and do not necessarily believe that this will result in any loss of territory or relevance for those who insist on maintaining the status quo ante. With each state having its own police, the objective of community policing will be better realized; state governors will be better motivated to deploy resources to guarantee the safety of lives and property and this can properly become a campaign issue at the grassroots level, a people's police is also likely to generate a collective stake in crime prevention. The fears of abuse can be assuaged through the strengthening of institutional safeguards and the people's oversight responsibility. It is worth noting that in some ways, a semblance of state police already exists in many states of the Federation.

At the moment certain state governments have set up traffic management units which perform the function of the traffic police: in Lagos, there is the popular example of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA); there are also other law enforcement agencies already existing alongside the Nigeria Police Force dealing with such limited responsibilities as the enforcement of environmental laws and local government rules. The relative success of these units where they have been tried points to the potential capacity of the states to exercise authority in maintaining law and order. There may be a Federal investigating unit still, but only such a Federal body that operates more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States, which intervenes where federal laws have been violated, and works hand in hand with the state and local police.

Already many states are providing funds and equipment even for the Nigeria Police Force, and it should be noted that there have been recommendations even from the police hierarchy that the police should be funded not just by the Federal Government alone but also by the states. But should there be taxation without representation? Why should a state government provide the necessary resources for police work and still lack the authority to deploy policemen to enforce law and order? The Lagos State model is worth studying. In Lagos, there exists a Rapid Response Squad, an arm of the Nigeria Police Force that is a specially assigned unit funded and maintained by the Lagos State Government and civil society sponsors. Under the umbrella of a Lagos State Security Trust Fund, the state government with the support of corporate Nigeria and civil society stakeholders –what is otherwise known as a citizens' contribution scheme, provides quality funding for not only the police but other security agencies domiciled in Lagos as well.

The Fund is managed by a Board of Trustees which provides annual audited reports. Between 2007 and 2009, there had been such marked reduction in crime rates in Lagos state that former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro recommended the Lagos state example to other states. What he thus recommends is defined hereunder viz: "The Lagos State Security Trust Fund was established in 2007 under the Lagos State Act 2007. The objectives of the Trust Fund are to raise money through voluntary subscriptions and donations from all interested Government agencies, private organizations and individuals. The money thus raised is to be used for the acquisition and deployment of security equipment and such human, material and financial resources as shall be found necessary for the effective functioning of all Federal, State and Local Government and other security agencies operating in the state and part of the fund shall be reserved for the training and retraining of the security personnel." The only missing link in his definition of mandate is the power of control.

The short of it all is that in seeking to resolve the crisis of structure and efficiency of the Nigeria Police Force, we are bound to confront afresh aspects of the Nigerian national question. The primary task will be first of all to depoliticize the Nigerian police force, restructure, reorganize and reinvent and turn it into a decentralized, professional institution that is governed not by narrow political or selfish interests but the objective of transforming the Nigerian state into an arena where human dignity can be guaranteed. Nor is it correct to wish away the unresolved question of federalism: the imposition of unitarism on a supposed federal arrangement is in part responsible for the patterns of conflict and inefficiency in the country.

Further, the crisis of national insecurity occasioned by the ineffectuality of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agents is a veritable sign of the failure of the Nigerian state. When the state can no longer guarantee the security of life and property, it finds itself at a critical point where it loses relevance in the eyes of the people and citizens are by that fact compelled to resort to both self-help and impunity, and as one pattern of impunity feeds on the other, a regime of social chaos is inadvertently legitimized. This is the anarchic point to which Nigeria appears to be heading today.

Thomas Hobbes had made an impassioned case for state organization and order when he surmised that the absence of a sense of organized security could lead to the following situation:

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where very man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time where men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all; continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

Nigeria is well on its way to this Hobbesian state; there can be no doubt that Nigerians live today in "continual fear and danger of violent death;" the reconstruction of the state must begin with the creation anew of a society where such fear of the other that drives men to desperation is banished through the establishment of a proper framework for law and order.

I thank you all for listening.

Reuben Abati

Lagos, June 2010.

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