In the recent security summit organised by the Senate, the Vice President proposed that the time has come for the establishment of State Police. The reasoning is that members of the police being local and therefore knowledgeable about the community would be more effective in fighting crime, militancy and insurgency. The key idea therefore is that they would know or be able to easily find out the bad boys and girls and deal with them. In my view, that is where the trouble begins, who will define the bad boys and girls.
State police would be established by State Houses of Assembly and that means the enabling laws defining their mandates, structure and control would be determined by State Governors because as we all know, State Houses of Assembly are essentially puppets of their governors and they do as they are instructed. For State Governors, the bad boys are clear and fall into two categories. The first category is composed of politicians who want to contest state power with the governors or their chosen successors for those in their second term. The second category consists of all persons who dare to criticize the governor or question their misdeeds. Currently, many critics including journalists and civil society activists are in arbitrary detention for daring to speak the truth about governors. The governors cajole law enforcement offices to “deal” with their perceived enemies without having a police force totally under their control. I am convinced that most (not all) governors would jail all their “enemies” if they have police forces they control totally.
Today, governors are salivating at the prospects of having their own police forces for two further reasons. Before addressing them, its important to note that immediately after the Vice President’s comments, the Chairman of the Governors Forum, Governor Yari of Zamfara State, who was not at the Summit rushed in for the second day of the Summit to announce that governors support the Vice President’s proposal and the National Assembly should carry out the constitutional amendments that would make it possible. The following week, APC Governors followed the President to his hometown Daura and begged him to support their quest for State Police. In addition, they have started talking to their Senators and Members of the House of Representatives to support the move.
My additional reasons of concern are that we have very serious ethnic and religious divide at this time and many governors believe if they have their own police, they can deal with the other. In addition, the pastoralists and farmers conflicts have been intensifying in many States and some governors have clear proclivities of seeking to expel pastoralists from their States, a move that would certainly deepen the crisis facing the Nigerian State today and lead to generalised insurgency.
It is for this reason that I agree with the analysis of Abubakar Tsav, retired police commissioner that the “establishment of state police at this time will signal the beginning of disintegration of the country”; as governors use the institution “against their perceived political opponents.” State and Federal police commands are also likely to work at cross-purposes when the two levels are in political disagreement posing a real threat to national cohesion and security. I agree with Commissioner Tsav that: “Our politicians are not civilised enough and tolerant of opposing views and cannot preside over a competent and impartial police force.”
I have heard people argue that currently, the Nigerian Police Force are direct puppets of the President and does exactly what they are told to do in dealing with the President’s enemies so State Police could be a counter weight to presidential control of the Nigeria Police Force. I think it’s uncharitable to argue that the Nigeria Police are completely partisan in their actions. Federal institutions are in general much more capable of handling issues in an even-handed manner relative to State-level institutions. The more effective separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary at the Federal level relative to the State level means there are more effective control measures. The National Assembly for example can call the Inspector General of Police to order in a way that no State House of Assembly can do with any institution obeying the State Governor.
The problem we have is that the police are not as effective as it should be and the way forward is to improve their efficacy. The Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Mr Mike Okiro, recently declared that 150,000 policemen and women, over half the total number were attached to VIP’s and unauthorised persons in the country. It would be recalled that in 2015, President Buhari had directed that that police personnel attached to unauthorised persons and VIPs in the country be withdrawn and deployed to confront the security challenges in the nation. The instruction has not been complied with. The police are ineffective because over half of them are not available to do police work and spend their time at in the service of few privileged Nigerians.
The structure of the police is also defective as a significant slice of the Police budget is consumed at the headquarters and very limited resources go to State Commands where police operations actually occur. State Police Commands then become dependent of State Governors who give them some money and in return get the Command to do their bidding. This problem must be addressed if the Police are to improve its service delivery. Funding for the police should be improved but only on the basis of serious reform carried out.
As a student and believer of federalism, I fully support the principle that federal polities should have police forces controlled by the federating units and in the past, I have strongly campaigned for State Police. Today, I am very frightened of the idea because the evidence that it would be abused is massive. I therefore go on record to say that I support State Police in the future but certainly not today.