Presidency, National Assembly and burden of insecurity

As you read this, there might be an attack by unknown assailants on people in some part of the country and dozens of innocent lives cut short. Afterward, there would be an outpour of condemnations of the act and condolences for the bereaved from the president, the state governor, political and religious leaders, eminent personalities, leaders of thought and other well-meaning individuals.

While this is on, visits may be made by some persons in positions of trust or even some non-profit groups to family members of the bereaved to commiserate or, perhaps, give handouts. Some religious leaders would reel off homilies, urging the bereaved and their loved ones to take the incident as an ‘act of God.’ Some activists may demand that government moves to arrest the assailants and ensure justice is served. And the police may ‘promise’ to ‘track down’ the assailants with a view to ‘bringing them to book,’ a book that never gets filled up until the killers strike again. This is usually the refrain. But that is as far as it gets.

While the society is smarting from the woes of the attack, some ‘suspected herdsmen’ may strike on a major highway and kidnap a relative of a very important personality (VIP) in the country. The condemnation bells would set off from all quarters. As the VIP dithers with the ransom, the marauders may, in anger, pull the trigger on the captive. The news would filter through. Condemnations, condolences, commiserations, calls for justice and promises of action would follow. Yet again, that would almost always be the end. No decisive action or step is taken to stop the recurrence. Everyone moves on to the next business of the day.

For some time now, especially since the country returned to democratic rule, the security situation has been in a state of flux. Insecurity has progressively risen to an alarming level almost never experienced, holding the country by the jugular. Rampant killings, banditry, kidnapping for ransom, farmers/herdsmen clashes and cattle rustling, are some manifestations of the grim security situation across the country that has defied countless security summits which have become the norm.

Speaking against the backdrop of the worsening security situation recently and the rift generated by the establishment of a regional security initiative, Amotekun, by the governors of the Southwest states to tackle crime in the region, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, admitted that the country’s security system was inefficient and ineffective. He called for collaboration between the executive and the legislature to rejig the country’s security architecture in order to make it more responsive to the needs of Nigerians whose lives and property had become increasingly endangered.

By his admission, the Senate President said nothing new. This is an age-long truth that successive governments haven’t shown the will to accept and address headlong. To start with, it has been widely reported that the country is grossly under-policed. With a Police Force with less than 400,000 members, statistics show that Nigeria’s one police officer to 600 person ratio falls far below the United Nations prescribed policing ratio of one to 400 persons.

A former Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, while speaking at the graduation of constables at the Police College, Kaduna, sometime in 2018, had urged the Federal Government to recruit additional 31,000 police officers annually over the next five years, to ensure effective policing across the country. At the time, Idris had said that by providing additional 155,000 police officers over the next five years, Nigeria would meet the UN policing ratio of 1:400 persons.

Undoubtedly, the protection of lives and property of the people, and enforcement of laws and regulations and prevention of crime is the police’s primary responsibility. With security concerns at fever pitch, a public poll conducted recently had seven in 10 Nigerians say that the country was not secure. It, therefore, goes without saying that it has become important that the presidency responds swiftly to the issue of under-policing through massive recruitment just as the National Assembly acts on long drawn legislative reforms of the force to retool it for efficiency.

The need to have the National Assembly revisit the Police Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2018 for further legislative action is now more pressing than ever. The Bill for an Act to establish and regulate the Nigeria Police 2018 as introduced by Senator Ibn Na’ Allah sought to repeal the Police Act CAP P19 LFN 2004 and establish modern, service-oriented police that will meet globally acceptable policing standards in a democratic setting. It sets out basic guiding principles of the Police Force similar to a mission statement that conceptualises the police as an institution that is people-oriented, partners with communities in the maintenance of peace and security, and adheres to constitutional and human rights in the implementation of their duties.

To transform the Nigerian Police, experts have opined that the National Assembly should work on the Bill again to ensure its timely passage. When passed, the Bill is expected to give structure and support to a more effective Police Force driven by the principles of transparency and accountability in its operations and management of its resources as well as establish an appropriate funding framework for the force in line with what is obtainable in other Federal Government’s key institutions.

Particularly, a mandatory policing plan is required to be drawn up annually by the Police Force and tied to expenditures in the bid to ensure that all police formations nationwide are appropriately funded for effective policing. It is believed that this would enhance professionalism in the Police Force through the provision of increased training opportunities for police officers and other persons employed by the police, and also establish a sound and sustainable basis for enduring cooperation and partnership between the Police Force and host communities in maintaining peace and combating crimes nationwide.

Successive National Assemblies have tried, without success, to amend the Police Act, originally enacted in 1943. Past administrations had also set up police reform committees, whose recommendations failed to translate to revised legislation to give proper backing to any critical structural change of the police. With the grim security situation in the country at the moment, could there be a better period to look critically at this aspect of our security architecture and act decisively?

To be sure, the recent moves by several states across the federation to set up internal and home-grown security apparatus, especially the latest by the Southwest states’ governors in Amotekun, is a forced response to the Federal Government’s indecisiveness on the disturbing security situation.

With almost all regions of the country have had their share of insecurity, they have tried to devise measures to curtail the challenge. In response, not a few state governors had set up security and vigilante groups to assist the police in their operations. In fact, the vigilante system has been invaluable in the Northeast, as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) has been acknowledged to have contributed immensely to the successes recorded by the army in the fight against terrorism in that region.

It is on record that the Civilian JTF currently operates in Yobe and Borno States just as the governments of Kano and Zamfara States have the Hisbah Corps. In fact, it is claimed that 23 states across the country currently have similar local security outfits though not on a regional basis like the Southwest’s initiative. In Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Rivers, Osun, Benue, Katsina, Cross River, Enugu, Taraba, Adamawa, Anambra, Ondo, Ebonyi, Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, Bauchi, and Abia, there are similar groups in operation as a clear sign that the regular policing force has failed to meet the security needs of the people and that they were already resorting to self-help. This is the time for a responsive government to act in the spirit of the time and do what is needful: encourage legislative action that would expand the scope of the policing system.

With many voices already risen high on the need for state policing, the Federal Government would only be listening to the yearnings of the people if it enables legislative action on state policing by providing appropriate guidelines that would free it from abuse by local actors like state governors and other bigwigs within the states.

Recall that in July 2018, a Constitution Amendment Bill to establish State Police had been introduced in the Senate as a response to massive insecurity across the country. At the time, about 50 senators sponsored the bill. The Bill recognised that state or local policing is a major component of a federal system of government, which Nigeria operates, and would provide a better structure for effective policing and security to citizens at all levels.

Is it not high time the executive and legislative arms of government put politics aside and work together to leave an enduring legacy that would resolve the insecurity and policing puzzles threatening the fabrics of the country? Federal Government’s tepid response each time an act of terror occurs and its continuing refusal to work to entrench state policing is being allegedly viewed by many either as an act of collusion, encouragement to perpetrators of violence or outright sponsorship of such acts of terror visited on hapless Nigerians. Perhaps, this is the time the Federal Government needs to come to clean what its role is in the entire insecurity saga. The time to play ostrich is over.

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