Federalism: Another point for state police
The issues that shape and even trigger discussions on the issue of federalism have been growing luxuriantly daily like yam tendrils in the rainy season.
In fact, it is fast becoming a Frankenstein’s monster – a thing that becomes terrifying or destructive to its maker.
The governing party promised a qualified one they even called ‘true federalism.’
They prepared the blueprint in January this year and told the nation.
But execution – the discipline of getting things done – has been curiously elusive as both the president and the vice president have been speaking in tongues about the same public-interest issue called federalism.
They are conceptually divided about the crossroads they both hit on the volatile issue they can’t escape.
The gospel of federalism is here again this week, thanks to just one of its components, state police the vice president has supported but sadly a pursuit the president has denigrated as futile.
But state policing is an idea whose time has indeed come.
Reason: The current level of violence and insecurity in the country, calls for new thinking about our security policy and architecture.
Kidnapping, marauding killer-herdsmen in the Middle Belt and perennial acts of brigandage in other parts of the country have made it imperative for us to go back to the drawing board and do things in a different and better way.
While the powers-that-be are opposed to a change of strategy remains an enigma.
As a federation, at least as proclaimed the 1999 Constitution, we ought to begin the process of creating different levels of policing in the country in consonance with the spirit of federalism.
By definition the police are expected to perform investigations, detection of crimes and protection of the citizenry as routine duties.
This onerous assignment makes them first line in the security apparatus of the country.
They are legally in charge of internal security. And so, they are usually expected to be close to the environment where they work.
They also need credibility, respectability and acceptability in the community or town where they serve.
Sadly, the Nigeria Police as currently constituted is not near any of these ideals.
The average policeman in the country is poorly remunerated, despised by the people, seen as friends of criminals, poorly armed and very corrupt.
Often they are seen as aliens or an occupation force because they receive instructions from commanders who are politically, geographically and culturally distant from the people.
They are also seen as agents of a federal government that is virtually resented by the people in different states.
As a result, the ‘police-is-your-friend’ slogan of the Nigeria Police is treated with derision and received with disdain.
As much as possible, whether citizens are right before the law or not, they simply avoid the police as much as possible.
We are deconstructing a country’s police setting whose men and officers collect gratification from both the complainant and the accused.
The effect of these anomalies is that we have a very crude and inept police force in a flawed federation.
The Inspector-General takes instructions from the President of the country even if the orders are inimical to the overall interest of the nation.
Indeed, he is beholden to the President. For, as we know, our public officers would rather be loyal to the appointing body than the Constitution.
At the state level, although the elected governor is described as the chief security officer of the state, the police commissioner is not obliged to take orders from him.
It has come to be that state commissioners of police are often at odds with State Governors on security matters. This inanity cannot and should not be allowed to continue.
It is against this background that we once again reiterate our call on the Federal Government to tinker with the political structure of the country.
The states, particularly the ones that can afford it, standing as constituent parts of the federation should be allowed by law to have their own police force.
The elected representatives of the nation under the aegis of the National Assembly recently saw the wisdom behind this advice and opted for the creation of State Police.
This has not been translated into reality perhaps because of the upheaval and instability that plagued its sittings before they abruptly went on recess.
An APC-appointed committee also recommended to the hierarchy of the Partythe creation of State Police.
Some have expressed fears that state governors would use the police under their control to threaten and intimidate opponents.
This argument does not hold water. The rule of law and the independence will be thus tested if there are abuses of power.
Its introduction should be part of our political development. Until we give it a trial we cannot be so sure of its effectiveness or otherwise.
Currently, the country is under policed. With a population of 180 million citizens, Nigeria has 350,572 men and women, at a ratio of 205 per 100000.
A significant percentage of these men are attached as guards to holders of public office and some wealthy private citizens.
These officers are under the control of an IG that is located in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
The result is that there is palpable alienation. Policemen in the states do not see it as a constitutional duty to protect the citizenry.
They are never held accountable by the people. As long as their senior officers are satisfied they are not obliged to give true service to the people.
Elsewhere in the world, for example, the United States of America or the United Kingdom, the police command is localised.
The Sheriff is the local police chief whose tenure in office is dependent on good performance.
The U.S. has a total of 794, 300 policemen across the country at a ratio of 254 per 100,000.
New York alone has the NYPD with force strength of 40400 officers.
These police officers are not under a general command.
China with 1,600,000 police officers at a ratio of 120 to 100,000 people, has the largest police force in the world.
The ratio of officers in Nigeria to the general population is abysmal.
It is instructive that these forces do operate in the unitary and arbitrary structure that has become a serious challenge to our country.
Any nation, which practises the type of policing that we do, is not ready to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
Indeed the unitary command structure, which has been imposed on us, is one of the notorious legacies of the years of military rule in Nigeria.
But we should stop lamenting. We should address it the 21st century way.
It has been reported and confirmed that some of the state police commands do solicit and get huge financial assistance from governors.
They often complain that their commands are not properly equipped. Yes, they are not.
Even armoured carriers have been bought by some governors who also get permission to procure ammunition when necessary.
Some others routinely provide logistics for the police to do their job.
The truth is that some states are already partially funding the commands in their domain.
The Federal Government should concentrate on securing the territorial integrity of the nation while the states should handle internal security in their peculiar jurisdictions.
Once again, the point that the nation needs a dose of re-engineering needs to be emphasized. The current structure of policing has failed the people.
Too many lives have been lost to vandals and criminals because of police inefficiency and poor capacity.
That can’t be ignored at this moment because the constitution states clearly that, ‘security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’.
There are benefits of decentralisation of the police operations.
The states, which have serious security issues would gladly set up their own police force to deal with crimes and violence if community policing is legalised.
The men and officers will be locals who understand the terrain very well.
In a federation the constituent parts are not tied to the apron strings of the Federal Government.
This hinders growth and imposes a one-type-fits-all approach to security.
The future of our republic depends on how its current managers handle the clamour for restructuring, an idea whose time has come.
The National Assembly working with the Executive arm should pursue the idea of state police to its logical conclusion as one of the low-hanging fruits of the federalist principle.
That is why a recent presidential committee on decentralisation of police operations should not be disbanded because the Vice President set it up while he was acting as President.
That should be the starting point of restoration of confidence in the ruling party’s idea of ‘true federalism.’
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