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HOW DESIRABLE IS STATE POLICE?

By NBF News
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A country's constitution, like a living organism, necessarily evolves to meet the emerging challenges of the moment. Nigeria's experience as a creation of the British colonist is not an exception. Due largely to the inherent inconsistence in its federal constitution, the division of power between the centre and the constituent units has been a major national question making amendment a routine exercise.

The last in the series of constitution amendments in the country was the one carried out by the sixth National Assembly at the twilight of the last administration. Yet, the plan is again underway by the present legislature to do a review of other green areas not covered by the last amendment.

Some of the items already penciled down for consideration by the 7th National Assembly, according to the Senate President, David Mark, include: state creation, state police, joint state/local government account, among others.

Expectedly, there is a little bit of excitement in the planned amendment. Why? Because this is the first time the lawmakers will be taking the bull by the horn by addressing a fundamental national question that has always engaged the debate of the stakeholders. At the same time, some cynics have expressed doubt in the sincerity of the legislators to genuinely evolve a national consensus that would finally lay these matters to rest. And they have their reason: no civilian administration has had the political will to create state or entertain question on state police.

Accordingly, the debate as to the desirability or otherwise of the state police between the federalist, those supporting strong central government, and anti-federalist supporting strong state government is already on. Part of the challenges that stirred up the fresh wave of agitation for the creation of state police is the threatening state of insecurity in the country, especially the menace of Boko Haram. For instance, a former military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), in his recent public statement, was quick to call for creation of state police to address the emerging threat of terrorist attacks on the innocent citizens.

He had this to say, 'In view of our growing concerns about security, the need to reconsider the option of introducing state police becomes more imperative than ever before. 'Democracy and development can hardly thrive in an atmosphere of violence and insecurity. We must, therefore, leverage on the opportunity provided by the proposed fresh start to diligently address the constant threat posed on national stability by activities of restive youths in our midst who unleash terror and mayhem on innocent citizens on a daily basis without the slightest provocation.'

Some people believe that the present threat would have been nipped in the bud, if in actual practice, the constitution had recognized state governors as the Chief Security Officer of their respective states with full control of the police force. Though under the present arrangement, the constitution recognizes the state governor as the Chief Security Officer of the state, the state Commissioner of Police is directly answerable to the Inspector General of Police. Section 214 (1) and (2) of the 1999 constitution reads, '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 Nigeria Police Force shall be under the command of the Inspector-General of Police and contingents of the Nigeria Police Force stationed in a state shall, subject to the authority of the Inspector-General of Police, be under the command of the Commissioner of Police of that stat.' The implication of this arrangement is that in the event of a clash of interest between the centre and the state government, the police would naturally ally with the former.

And this readily brings to the fore the protracted ethno-religious violence in Jos, Plateau State capital, which seems to have defied all known solutions. Over the past years, both the state and federal governments have been trading blames over the incessant carnage. While the Federal Government has continued to berate the administration of Governor Jona Jang for its inability to stem the tide of violence, the latter has consistently maintained that the solution to the problem lies with the authority at the centre.

Under the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the two authorities had to set up separate panels of inquiry to probe into the crisis. While the federal government's panel was led by Abisoye, that of the state was headed by former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola. Yet, neither of the reports of these panels has seen the light of the day.

In view of the obvious fact that security challenges vary from state to state, from community to community, many advocates of state police have argued that it has become imperative for the country to make the state governors the Chief Security officers of their respective states in practice and not in name. It is believed that by so doing, it would help in nipping potential threats in the bud. There is also the argument that state police would reduce the workload on federal security agencies and enable them focus more on issues of national importance. According to the proponent of this argument, the present operational overhead of the Nigeria Police Force is too heavy and therefore, the creation of state Police will significantly cut down the cost of maintaining the force.

A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Abubakar Tsav, expressed this opinion in an interview with Sunday sun. He said, 'The burden of maintaining the present police structure is obviously too heavy for one body to carry, but we are not united as a people to create state police now. In future, we may need to decentralize the system and create state police. Nigeria is not yet ripe for it.'

This renewed agitation this is coming at a time when campaign for community policing is increasingly gaining global acceptance. And since Nigeria is a part of that campaign, there is a sense in which state police is seen as a necessary step towards achieving effective community policing. One, it will strengthen ownership of the security process and make the people an integral part of security surveillance because the police force that has its origin in the state will feel more committed to the state than otherwise. Two, it will boost intelligent gathering capacity of the police based on the synergy between the people and the police.

Indeed, if genuine security is to be guaranteed, it can only come through people who are familiar with the terrain. That way, the criminals in the neighborhood can easily be identified. One of the reasons why it has been very difficult to co-opt the local people into community policing is because of the apparent distrust between the police and the local community. Where the necessary confidence is lacking, the local people can choose to cooperate or not to cooperate with the police in providing information on suspects and those who perpetrated unlawful acts. The menace of armed robbery, kidnapping, ritual killings, political assassination and insurgency is so enormous now that it will require effective collaboration between the police and the community to achieve the desired peace.

However, the fear is rife in some quarters that the state governors might turn the state police into an instrument of oppression and political vendetta. This is more so that political maturity is still essentially lacking among the political class at all levels. For instance, the same controversy that has always trailed the conduct of election by the Independent National Independent Electoral Commission (INEC)- ballot snatching and ballot stuffing- is still the same problem bedeviling the state-controlled electoral bodies.

In all the states of the federation, it is the party in power that often constitutes the SIEC to the exclusion of other opposition parties. As such, one can easily predict ahead of the poll which party will win majority of elective positions into the local government administration. Therefore, unless the immunity clause of the governors is modified in line with the new realities, the state police will always be at the beck and call of the executive. But if state governors are constantly reminded that they can be prosecuted when they abuse power, it will put them in proper check.

Further stressing his reservation for state police, Tsav said, 'Truly speaking, state police would have been a very nice thing at this time. But we are not yet matured, exposed and civilized enough for it. Some politicians are very powerful; so, they can be tempted to use the police to suppress their political opponents. For instance, when Gen Muhammadu Buhari came to Lafia to campaign, the state government was not comfortable with him. In fact, if they had state police, they would have stopped him and even ordered for his arrest. So, those clamouring for state police are only doing so for their selfish interests and not out patriotism. All they want is power.'

But a chieftain of the Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, described the move by the National Assembly to open debate on the issue of state police as a welcome development. His words, 'We have consistently been saying that we cannot have federal constitution without the state police. State police is an integral part of federal structure. Even in England, every metropolitan has its own police force. If you go to the UK today, you will find the metropolitan police. So, if the National Assembly now decides to look into it, I think it is a right step in the right direction.'

Senator Femi Okunrounmu, also supporting the argument for state police, said, 'I have always been in favour of state police. It is a right step in the right direction. Even if they can create local government police, they should go ahead and create it. It will rather check corrupt practice of collecting N20 at every police checkpoint because the local community will know the officers.

The police in turn will know all the criminals in their neighborhoods'.

Beyond that, the question again is: How will the states cope with the financial challenge of training, equipping and maintaining an adequately remunerated police force in the facing of lean resources confronting the various administrations? Okunroun, responding to this poser, added, 'It will only require a review of the present revenue formula to cope with the increasing responsibilities. By so doing, the money being spent by the Federal Government on the police will now go to the state.'

Though opinions of stakeholders on this matter vary, the common consensus on the overall is the need for a balance of power between the federal government and the states in line with their changing responsibility and emerging challenges. And there is no better time than now for the various interest groups in the country to come together to decide the best possible way to address the threatening state of insecurity that is now stirring everybody in the face.