THE rising insecurity in the country has led to the call for state police. In the face of the rising criminality, some governors are finding it difficult to ensure the security of lives and property in their states.
Although they are officially designated as Chief Security Officers of their respective states, they lack the power to deploy and control police in their states.
It was due to the constitutional lacuna. Nigeria as a federal state operates a central policing system. Many have blamed the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian Police on its apparent over-centralization.
Section 214 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) stipulates that the Nigerian Police Force shall be under the command of Inspector General of Police.
Section 215 of the same constitution posits that before a state police commissioner carries out an order issued by his governor, he may ”request that the matter be referred to the President or such minister of the government of the federation as may be authorised in that behalf by the president for his directions”.
Obviously, the operational control of the Nigerian Police Force is bestowed on the IGP who in turn reports to the president.
Because it is on the exclusive list, the Federal Government exercises absolute control over the security institution whereas the heads of other political units that make up the federation are helpless in issues pertaining to the routine maintenance of law and order in their jurisdictions.
Some state governors have lamented their frustrations in securing their states and save lives in the face of raging insecurity.
For instance, at a stage, former Zamfara State Governor, AbdulAziz Yari asked the president to declare a state of emergency in the state when his administration was overwhelmed by banditry and kidnapping. There was hardly a week that gunmen would not strike and kill innocent people in the state.
Security experts believe the federal police is incapacitated to stem the wave of armed banditry, kidnapping, political assassination and murders in the country.
They said that it is only decentralization of the force as practised in most developed countries that can rescue the nation from the precipice.
Doing so, they insist, will give the central command to focus on raising a crop of a highly professional crop of a central squad that may be deployed from time to time when the need arises.
At present, the police strength is about 500,000 as against a population of 200 million Nigerians.
Based on the United Nations standard, the number of policemen and women available in Nigeria is grossly inadequate to meet the 400 to one ratio requirement.
Besides, they argued that each state has its own peculiar security challenges which can only be better managed by the officers who are familiar with the terrain, culture and way of life of a particular people in a given locality.
They stressed that only a decentralized police structure where people who hail from an area and familiar with the terrain and the criminals in the neighbourhood are entrusted with the responsibility of policing that can effectively contain crime and criminality.
A retired police commissioner, Alhaji Hassan Musa said in developed countries, police are trained according to the peculiarities of the localities in which they operate.
He said, for instance, the trend of violence and criminality in the north are essentially on religious fundamentalism, only the police that understands the terrain and culture of the people will succeed in the fight against terrorism.
You can’t send Hausa/Fulani police officers to the Southeast and Southsouth and expect them to perform get results in the regions that are grappling with kidnapping, armed robbery and militancy.
He recalled that in the post-independence era, when the regions were in control of their affairs, each region has its own police structure independent of the federal police.
According to him, a state police structure will be a major leap in the nation’s match towards the much cherished true federalism that has eluded the nation for a long time.
Public Affairs analyst, Tayo Ogunbiyi described state police as an important component of true federalism and the emblem of the authority of governance since sovereignty is divided between the federal authority and federating components.
He said: “though the 1999 Constitution provides for single federal police, this precludes states from taking charge of the protection of lives and properties of their people as a chief security officer and denied them the emblem of authority.
If Nigeria is really a federation, this is a constitutional lacuna that must be addressed through constitution amend to pave way for State Police.
He said: “Aside from the well-accepted philosophy that policing is essentially a local matter, every crime is local in nature.
Hence, it is only rational to localise the police force. No matter its form, crime detection needs a local knowledge that the state can better provide.”
Ogunbiyi argued further that police officers who serve in their indigenous communities are stakeholders with vested interests in such places, considering that they will always be part of their respective communities, even after retirement.
He said: “It is doubtful if they will perpetrate anti-social activities in such communities.
A recent Human Right Watch survey reveals that most of the accidental and other extrajudicial killings that have taken place in the country were perpetrated by officers posted outside their states of origin.
“Also knowledge of the local environment is needed for effective policing. It is only logical that to fight crime in the same locality, you need law enforcement familiar with the terrain.
Using police officers from Jalingo, for instance, to burst crime in Onitsha could at best be counterproductive. The local criminals with good knowledge of the area will always outwit such ‘foreign’ police officers.
“Intelligence gathering is an indispensable necessity in crime-fighting. But this seems to be currently lacking in the system.
It is difficult to access high-quality intelligence unless you know the people very well, and they in turn trust you. The present arrangement certainly negates credible intelligence gathering.
We live in a society where people treat perceived strangers with lots of reservation.
“This no doubt is quite understandable. It is difficult to trust somebody whose language, culture and tradition you are unfamiliar with.
The truth is that people will always be afraid of passing on information to those they don’t trust, and this is for obvious reasons.”
However, a former Minister of Police Affairs, Gen David Jemibewon has said no to state police. Instead, he suggests the creation of Zonal Police Command as a way of forestalling abuse of power by state governors, “because we have 36 states now and if every state is to have state police, it means that there will be 37 police forces in Nigeria”. He added: “The 37th will be federal police. That may be unwieldy.”
Therefore, Jemibewon insists on Zonal Police based on six geo-political zones. He said: “In doing so, we must ensure that the police officers in each zone are people who are domiciled there.
For instance, if you have Western Police Command, it must be made up of people who are residents in the western zone of the country.
The same thing in the Eastern zone, it must be people who are residents there. What it simply means is that there will still be federal police in addition to six zonal commands.
For instance, if anything happens in the Northwest, and the situation is so bad that you have to bring some policemen from other places, they will just decide which zone should contribute to that zone to deal with the situation.”
Unlike what obtains in other federal states like the United States of America, Canada, India, the policing system in Nigeria has no semblance of what it should be in a federal system.
For instance, the Constitution of the United States allows federal, state and local governments and even special districts like universities to establish police of their own.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates inter-state crimes, among others, while the state police enforce state laws and even supervise federal elections.
On the other hand, city/township police enforce local laws while police officers of special districts like schools enforce regulations of their jurisdictions.
Their relationship is properly coordinated for the exchange of intelligence and prevention of crime.
Similarly, the Federal Government of Germany shares powers of police with the states referred to as Landers.
The German constitution concedes most of the police powers to the 16 Landers even though the Federal Government can still legislate on the subject.
In Australia, the federal government maintains police forces alongside the federating units. A similar system obtains in Canada and India that operate federal constitutions.
The decentralisation of police force in development climes is seen as a strategy to proper policing. However, you need to have people of the locality to be part of the policing system for proper and effective policing.
Lack of state police is what brought about vigilance and cultural security outfits in different nomenclature like Amotekun introduced by the Southwest state governments, to fill the gap created by the absence of state police.
The establishment of state police is based on the need to reduce crime to its barest. Crime occurs in every community and it is perpetrated by those who in most cases, come from that community or locality.
To deal with the crime, therefore, there is an urgent need to ensure that locals are absorbed and posted to their various localities to fish out the criminals.
The centralised police system in a federal setting is a contradiction. State police are in tune with the principle of true federalism and decentralisation of power in the Nigerian Police Force will enable states to effectively maintain law and order especially during emergencies.
State governors in a federating system should be able to command the monopoly of the use of force at the state level to ensure that peace and order are well maintained, as that is one of their primary duties as heads of government at the state level.
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has indicated the readiness of the federal government to accede to mounting call for state police as a way of enhancing improved security across the country.
He noted that state police and other police methods are clearly the way to go and also specifically emphasised that “government cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja.”
Osinbajo added: “Today, many state governors pay the police. That just shows you that whether we like it or not, it is the same governors that are even paying anyway.
We cannot say that a governor is the chief security officer of a state when he has no control over security in his state. So, there is a strong case to be made for the creation of state police.
That just shows you that whether we like it or not, it is the same governors that are even paying anyway.
We cannot say that a governor is the chief security officer of a state when he has no control over security in his state. So, there is a strong case to be made for the creation of state police.”
On its part the Senate has called for the decentralisation of the Nigerian Police Force and strengthening the operational strategies of community policing in order to address the problem of insecurity in the country.
It urged the Federal Government to direct the Ministry of Police Affairs and the IGP to decentralise the police command structure with operational and budgetary powers vested in the zonal commands.
The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) has reiterated that state police has become essential in view of the fact that the first primary responsibility of government anywhere in the world is to ensure that lives and properties of citizens are protected.
However, while imperative of state police is drawing unusual support amongst critical political actors across divides, opposition to the idea, however, appears not to have substantially divested from the fears and apprehensions of possible abuse by the state governors.
The need to give constitutional backing to state police as a way of addressing insecurity nationwide should be the primary concerns of all stakeholders, irrespective of political and ethnocentric consideration.