It would come as a rude shock to quite a few of the advocates of state police in Nigeria that majority of Nigerians think the concept is novel or unique. This general ignorance is at the heart and soul of most of the institutional problems Nigeria had had to deal with. To be clear, the lack of knowledge is not restricted to the poor unlettered masses. If ignorance is a disease, majority of the people elected to lead the country nationwide suffer from this malaise too.
Though it might sound like the issue of state police is gaining more traction these days, the truth is, this is just the latest national clamor for state police. The agitation for it has been with us since time immemorial.
The latest high profile call for the establishment of a state police came from Vice President Yemi Osibanjo. As reported by Nigeria News, the issue was raised at a very public event: the National Security Summit organized by the National Assembly.
An endorsement by the Vice President in the presence of the very people who would one day have to make the enabling law for a state police is not something to be sniffed at. Maybe, for the first time, we would see concrete steps taken to establish a state police.
To add weight to Osibanjo’s advocacy, the ruling party, APC, came out boldly on the side of the restructuring of the nation to include the establishment of state police.
The imperative for a state police
Somehow, tragically, the framers of the constitution saddled the country with the problem. This is the sort of problem that is magnified by the total absence of what is needed.
It is quite unfortunate that we should be talking about something as basic as establishing the right kind of police. In the 21st century, the discourse for a modern nation or a nation aspiring towards modernity is how to make the police more effective. In other words, we are yet to get the basics right.
The establishment of a state police should appeal to common sense. For instance, the disconnect between the police hierarchy and the people can be traced to the centralization of its powers in the Inspector General of Police (IGP). Ultimately, whoever controls the IGP effectively controls hundreds of thousands of policemen around the country. That person is the President through the Minister of Interior.
This poses quite a few problems for the citizens. The people look up to their governor for security. But the Governor is not in charge of the police. In situations where there is a clash between the interest of the Governor and the President, nothing can’t be done.
Policing is a community thing. Policemen at the bottom of the ladder interact daily with the people they have sworn to protect. But policemen go rogue easily if they are not controlled. And the further they are from their bosses, the more likely they are to turn bad.
This happens daily around us. The police are a power unto themselves. And the community can’t call them to order.
Take the recent case of the killings in Benue State. Even though the Governor was aware of the clear and immediate danger to his people, he had to wait for the police to make up their minds about dealing with the situation. And the police had to wait for Abuja to give them their marching orders.
To put it mildly, the chief security officer of Benue State was completely hamstrung to help his people. Now the problem has escalated to a point where the army had to step in.
The case of Benue is just one example. We have seen this scenario repeated time and time again in other states. It is a fair bet to say it is going to happen again and it would get worse.
As eloquently stated by Osibanjo, Nigeria is too big to be effectively policed by the Nigeria Police the way it is structured. The state or the communities know their security challenges; they know how many men they would need to curb crime in their communities; and more importantly, it would be easier to curb the excesses of policemen if they are under the control of the communities.
And what about how the lower ranks are recruited? Some argue convincingly that the recruitment policy is at the heart of the criminal activities of some members of the police.
What happens is this: many potential recruits travel from different parts of the country to be screened at the zonal commands or headquarters . The people in charge of recruitment don’t know the candidates. All they check are the necessary papers like a high school certificate, a letter of recommendation and a state of origin form. All this can be forged quite easily in Nigeria.
So the potential for recruitment of criminals into the force is very high. The police don’t reform a man with a criminal mind. It just gives the criminal a platform to hide under the legitimacy of the uniform to perpetrate more crimes.
Clearly, community policing would put a stop to that. People know the disreputable characters in their midst. And surely, if they are in charge of recruitment, only a foolhardy person would volunteer to be a policeman if they are known as a criminal in the community.
A recent poll showed that over 60% of Nigerian males are in support of state police. Though the variables of the survey were not released, it points to a groundswell of opinion in favor of state police.
It is now left for the National Assembly to make it happen with the necessary laws. They heard the Vice President outlining the imperative of state police. What could possibly stop them from going all the way and treat this as a matter of national urgency?
Part two of this piece would look at the case against a state police. Are there compelling reasons not to restructure the police to give states and communities more control over the police? How difficult would it be to change the laws of the land to that effect? And much more.