A police state or a developmental state? By Issa Aremu

Both the proponents and antagonists of the so-called state police have been falsely pitched against each. The truth is that both of them are united in their case for a police (Nigerian) state, albeit without saying so. The current arguments for and against state police are two sides of the same bad coin; an unhelpful case for a police state, with the devil in the details; federal or state. They both operate within the narrow paradigm of a police state as distinct from a developmentalist state that combines physical security with economic, income and social security of the masses of the people. Of course what Nigeria urgently needs is certainly not a police state, (Federal or state controlled) but a developmentalist state that must be driven by all tiers of governments, local governments, the states and the Federal government above all Nigerian people.

The importance of national security cannot be overstated. Any state (including Nigeria’s failing state) exists primarily for the security of its people. The critical question is what constitutes security? Is it just the protection of lives and property or more importantly ensuring the socio economic well being of the people? Scores of state – based institutions abound in Nigeria specifically charged with the responsibility for the protection of life and property. They include the police, state security service agencies, military, civil defence agency, immigration, and prison services. When we combine the self-help arrangements like private guards guiding burglary ringed apartments, Nigeria already passes for a garrison/police state.  No thanks, to the current enormous physical security challenges which undoubtedly make the tasks of these agencies desirable. What with serial bombings, crude oil theft, kidnappings, murders, arms proliferation, political violence, robberies, “religious” crises, high profile corruption, Trans-border banditry, smuggling and general economic crimes? But as desirable as these institutions are, they are incapable of addressing the more critical dimension of security which is the worsening welfare of the Nigerian people.

It is time we looked outside the physical security box. Our current security preoccupation in Nigeria has been on the property and some lives of notable public office holders, namely retired and serving Heads of governments, governors, and legislators alike. We must broaden our perspective on national security to include job and income security, social and economic security for the greatest number of Nigerians. With 50 percent open unemployment, massive factory closures and 60 per cent gross under employment (read: Okada riders and road-side hawkers of God-knows what) I bear witness that Nigeria remains the most “peaceful” country in the world. Many thanks to Nigeria Federal police force for maintaining the peace of the grave yard. Tunisian revolution was triggered by an unemployed youth, revolution which in turn swept the ancient Mubarack regime in Egypt and Gadaffi regime in Libya. Yet the unemployment rate then in Tunisia was just 14 per cent! Economic and social security of the critical mass is as significant as the lives and property of the few. The current debate on which forms of policing is tall in quantitative shouting matches among few elite but miserable short in qualitative search light on new thinking on how to reinvent a developmentalist state long abandoned as far back as the mid eighties. Many factors tend to increase the vulnerability of people to insecurity, the notable one is unemployment. No Federal or state police can curtail the army of miserably and hopelessly disillusioned poor people as Nigerians today. The policy implication is to create necessary economic and political conditions for minimization of physical insecurity and not a silly feverish atomization of the Federal police force into some Bantustan/state policing.

The bane of the current diversionary debate over Federal or state police is lack of memory. During the three decades of military dictatorship, the Nigeria Police Force was literally abandoned, saddled with acute shortage of office and barracks accommodation with rank and file on miserable salaries. Without logistic support like transport and communication equipment, poorly motivated police was turned into attacks dogs against fundamental human rights of citizens, through open extortions and sheer brutality. It is therefore simplistic and misleading to think Policing can be as clinically divisible into state or Federal as some are putting it. We must first reform, reposition and transform the existing Federal police before any new innovations of state police can be taken seriously. State governors who shamelessly politicize everything under their heels, resist payment of minimum wages cannot be trusted with any civil servants not to talk of armed police men and women. The prospect of a police force in a state going on incessant strikes on account of lower pay than the existing Federal pay is better imagined than contemplated. If we do not reform the existing Federal police first for the better, we might be decentralizing a mess dignified as state police. The history of the Police in Nigeria indicates that the state police under colonial rule engendered repression, incivility and brutality. We cannot take another leap to dark ages. Duties of the Police are provided for in the Constitution; the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property, due enforcement of all laws and regulations among others. Let’s support M. B. Abubakar, the new Inspector General (I G). For once he commendably abolished the notorious “check points”. He rightly named and shamed them for what they were; extortionist centres. Today we have an improved movement of people and goods. Policing in a democratic society should be part of the developmentalist state that minimizes physical insecurity through creative engagement of its citizens particularly in value adding activities like industry and agriculture and not crime. Nigeria needs not a police state (or is it state police?) but a developmentalist state that guarantees both physical and economic security for all.

Issa Aremu ([email protected])


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