The stark reality before the nation

The Ram

By Abdu Rafiu

The governors saw the absolute necessity for another tier of policing in the land a long time ago. They are in the saddle and even if only on paper, they are the chief security officers of their states, a role encrusted in the constitution. That is rock-clad. Yes, they hold security meetings with security chiefs in their domain, operational control is somewhere else. Thus the governors are no more than town criers. They go to the battle field with mere fists. This cannot be the intendment of the spirit of the constitution, but it is its letters we conveniently cling to. All efforts to have the letters re-written have been stone-walled by Abuja and its allies. There is this worrisome cocky brandishing of an emblem of omniscience even in the face of unassailable proofs that the single policing system foisted on the nation since 1966 is not working. In the military era, a centralised policing system was understandable, given the hierarchical mold of the military and training from which flows the command-and-obey mindset of the officers. Even then the military regimes themselves were taken on and they came to realise along the way that no power on earth can suppress and conquer the human spirit. It soon became obvious that because of the irrepressible urge and drive for freedom and liberty inherent in the human spirit, there is no alternative to a consensual arrangement of government, especially in plural society and the concomitant diversity of people with their languages, cultures, values and world view. This recognition was to trigger the long journey away from a command and autocratic military government to a democratic order which was achieved first in 1979. Although it was short lived, it was finally restored in 1999.   

There has been no standstill in the country since 1966. The awareness of rights and duties has increased immeasurably and the resolve to defend same has taken root and is unshakable as a result of enlightenment derived from education and exposure. Human rights organisations and NGOs sprouted to hoist different flags of liberty and freedom. As irrepressible Tai Solarin of blessed memory was never tired of saying: “An educated citizenry is easy to govern, but difficult to ride.” Criminals themselves have grown in sophistication in the age of technological wonders.

As I did state last week, the inadequacy of centralised policing has long been realised by the governors and they have been pressing for the establishment of state police. The centralised police command is antithetical to the spirit of federalism which the constitution espouses. The document recognises states and their Houses of Assembly which make laws. The absurdity of it is that they do not have the machinery, the powers of coercion to enforce their own laws. They ought not depend on the Federal Agencies to help them enforce their laws.

Governor Audu Bako of Kano State looked into the seed of time and spoke of the unwisdom of scrapping the regional police and collapsing of prisons into the federal jail houses which were the recommendations of the Yusuf Gobir committee set up in 1966 to consider the desirability or otherwise of abolishing regional police. The implementation which began in 1968 was concluded in March 1969. The report was submitted to Gowon in August 1967 by which time Audu Bako had become governor of the newly created Kano State in May of that year. He expressed strong reservations on it. This, as Professor Kemi Rotimi who has done an exhaustive work on the development of policing in Nigeria states in his engaging book, might not have been unconnected with coming face to face with reality on law and order in his state and to obtain the understanding and collaboration of the Emir with whom he had to share power. The Emirs were the native authorities and it was from them power was being withdrawn with the scrapping of NA police and integration into the Nigeria Police Force as recommended by the Gobir panel. Bako, himself a commissioner of police, relaxed his opposition to the integration only after he was blackmailed and threatened with removal as governor by higher authorities.

Before the integration of all police forces into only one force, the South West largely had three tiers of policing — the Federal, that is the Nigeria Police called Olopa Eko, clean, well attired, dignified, respectable and respected; Regional Police and the Native Authority Police called “Olopa”/“Akoda” (Sword Bearer). Although in the 1920s depending on the attitude of the District Officer (DO), the”Akoda” were used as police in some places and at some others restricted only to court duties. In the North, policing was done by the NA (“Dogari” the reform of which brought “Yan Gadi” in Kano); and the Nigeria Police. That was the tier. The first formal Local Government Police came into being in Abeokuta and was known as Egba Police established in 1905 by the order in council of the Egba United Government. Muted by the Alake in 1903, it eventually materialised in 1905, in Ibadan, 1906 and Oyo the following year.

The clamour for state police is not only by the governors who have been speaking with one voice at their Forum (Governors’ Forum), it was a subject agreed upon at the National Conference of 2014 convened by the then President Goodluck Jonathan. It features prominently in the Conference Report banged out by a rainbow of prominent Nigerians and leaders of thought from across the length of the country. The imperative of state police is also conveyed in the Nasir el-Rufai Committee Report on Restructuring. The committee was set up by the ruling party, APC, incidentally. It went round the country and when it was being submitted to John Oyegun the erstwhile APC chairman, Malam El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, who led the committee, said the subject received enthusiastic support practically everywhere.

It has long been established that the one police command structure cannot meet the policing aspirations of a pluralistic society, populous, diverse and extensive as Nigeria. There can never be the executive capacity to run such in our country. The result is that governors worse hit by insecurity, mostly in Northern states take shelter in Abuja ostensibly on state duties, and while in the state as a result of helplessness look away from the activities of bandits in their domain as an act of prudence!  

Several governors, not knowing for how long they would continue to wait for the nod to establish police in their states, have resorted to thinking outside the box, devising  a clever security engineering to protect their states and people. Take Lagos as an example. As I did report in 2017, Governor Akinwumi, the immediate past helmsman, recruited 5,700 youths under the state’s Neighbourhood Safety Corps initiative. He said at the time: “The move is another step towards enhancing security at the grassroots level in the state. The corps is expected to assist the police by providing useful intelligence for crime prevention and facilitate the arrest of perpetrators of crimes.” In August of 2015, barely two months of his mounting the saddle, the state security fund (LSSSTF) garnered donations of more than N1 billion at a dinner organised by the Trust Fund and the corporate organisations. The Fund received cash donation of N199 million and N91 million worth of equipment, cars, and gadgets, from companies as well as individuals. The state government put in N1 billion from which running costs were met. Femi Okunnu impressed on the occasion of the yearly town hall meeting where the report was given, said “…the manner in which  the state government makes money available to the Fund is the proper way to spend security votes.” It was revealed that the emergency call service established by the state was receiving about 60, 000 calls daily.

In 2014 when Babatunde Fashola, then governor spoke at that year’s edition of the town hall gathering, he stated that five area commands were approved for the state by Abuja, and his administration had to provide buildings and equipment. The support the police received from the Fund, according to Yakubu Alkali, police commissioner who took over the narrative, included two helicopters from the state government, 330 patrol vehicles among which he described as Mobile Workshop Vehicles and 60 patrol motorcycles. The command additionally received two million Naira worth of ammunition, five Fibre Boats fitted double 75HP Outboard engines, 30 Armoured Personnel Carriers ( APC) and 1000 AK-47 rifles.

Lagos State model was endorsed by the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and some states asked for guidance on how they could simulate the model. This was confirmed by the retired IG Idris Ibrahim who said when he was in Kano as commissioner “we had to travel to Lagos to understudy the Security Trust Fund. It has served as a model for other states in the Federation.” Kano State Government delivered 25 patrol vehicles to him. What this shows is that if the states had their police, there would have been competition and competition engenders creativity, efficiency, growth and development; the states would have learnt from one another. Kano for instance facilitated the recruitment of 2,000 youths into a peace corps. The plan was to have 6,000 Peace Corps. The government at the time paid N83 million for their application forms, and training of 2,000 —N3 million for forms and N80 million for training. The government provided office space and accommodation. Although the Nigeria Police ordered the immediate closure of the outfit, it cannot in any way vitiate the felt need for another police formation. In Kaduna, the said peace corps was 4, 363 strong, 1060 of them females. It was the Peace Corps NAN reported in 2017 that the Senate sought to legalise by passing its Bill, but Buhari declined assent to it. The training of the corps included parade, drills, first aid, and safety lectures. The headquarters was in Abuja.

In Kaduna State, El-Rufai established Kaduna State Vigilance Service Committee to replace several self-help groups existing in the state. Anambra was the first state in the country to give legal recognition and teeth to the establishment of vigilante outfit. What all this shows is that the governors are roaring to go. If the kidnapping of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s mother when she was a federal Minister was not enough embarrassment; if the abduction of the wife of Emefiele, governor of Central Bank was not enough wake-up call; if the kidnapping of former Minister Iyabo Anisulowo was not sufficient shame; the kidnapping of Lawyer Ezekome SAN and that of Prof. Hope Eghagha as commissioner are not ominous signals enough — and in the last two weeks abduction of Ahmadu Bello University professor, his wife and his daughter as well as students of the university, and to boot nine police officers heading for Zamfara and swathes of Nigerian lands turned into killing fields, I do not know what else can demonstrate to us how grim the insecurity situation of the country is and that the omen is very bad indeed. The jolt of the mind-shattering destruction of lives and property, public and private, and business houses; police stations in the aftermath of #EndSARS protests have shown how exposed Nigerians are to incalculable dangers — to put it mildly. The police are overwhelmed and the army is over stretched.

With all these, how can anyone say the time for the establishment of state police has not come, employing the same time worn-out shibboleth, the same old hat that state police would be misused by the governors or that the governors would not be able to pay. There can be no booming economic activities in a state of insecurity. Financial obligations cannot be met in a situation of an economic decline. These things are common sense. The opposition rings out every time with the same vehemence as the protagonists have tried to muster, largely from the Presidency and police leadership. In the process it is unwittingly sometimes made to take a political colouration with the attendant traditional divides. There is concentration of energy on the form and not on the essence. Even if the fear of misuse by the governor is founded, so is it equally founded with respect to Federal Authorities as well. For it is not all the time that a mature, even-handed leader will mount the saddle at the centre, too. And it is not all the time that a state will have an immature person with proclivity for abuse as governor. Even where there is misuse it will be for a while, but the essence for the establishment of police by the states will endure.

It bears stressing that the establishment of state police will not be tantamount to abolition of the Nigeria Police which is Federal. They will work collaboratively under guidelines on roles and responsibilities. In the words of Joseph Daodu, one time national president of the Nigeria Bar Association for example, whom I often quote, state police is for law and order. The Nigeria Police can be saddled with matters that border on politics. The appointment of police service commission can be taken away from the governors, for example, It can be worked out such that members of the commission are drawn largely from civil societies, religious organisations, ASUU, Labour, the Bar and retired justices and they appoint their own successors every 10 years staggered in a way that no incoming governor will have hand in the appointment. The commission will be responsible for recruitment, discipline and promotion. The chief constable will report to the commission on administration but operationally to the governor.

States which are not ready to establish their own police do not have to; they can wait until they are able or they can collaborate with some contiguous states. They may decide not to have at all. However the states that feel the need should not be deterred from establishing theirs. In the First Republic, there was no Local Government Police or Native Authority in the Eastern Region for example.

If I may recall, former President Babangida throwing his weight behind restructuring in 2017, said: “Added to the desire is the need to commence the process of having state police across the states of the Federation…The initial fears that the governors will misuse the officers and men of the state police have become increasingly eliminated with renewed vigour in citizens’ participation in and confidence to interrogate power. We cannot be detained by those fears and allow civilization to leave us behind. We must as a people with one destiny and common agenda take decisions for the sake of posterity in our shared commitment to launch our country on the path of development and growth. Policing has become sophisticated that we cannot continue to operate our old methods and expect different results.”

Since he spoke, the situation has evidently gotten worse. According to Amnesty International, between January and June this year, 1,126 persons were killed and 380 kidnapped. Does anyone need to add to what Babangida has said? 

The Guardian

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