STATE POLICE FORCES: IS NIGERIA READY?
One issue that has continued to generate controversy and heated debate with regard to the practice of federalism in Nigeria is the issue of state’s having their individual police forces or departments. Since 1999 when the current democratic dispensation was ushered in, we have seen the tempo of the debate increase. It is important to point out however that as these debates raged on; there were other matters that also caught the attention of advocates of “true federalism” like the issues of resource control and census. With regard to the issue of state police forces, it was the former governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who first flew the kite during his first term as governor. He posited that the security of the state was porous thereby giving room for criminality and that there was the need for a state police force to effectively combat the ugly trend of crime in Lagos state. Also, two events recently happened in Nigeria that again renewed this call; the massacre that took place in Dogon Nahawa, a small village in Plateau State and the bombs that rocked a meeting that was going on in Warri, Delta State.
The Nigerian 1999 Constitution places the task of policing the entire country on the shoulders of the federal government. The operation, control, discipline and promotion of the police force are under the powers of the federal government of Nigeria. Section 214 of that Constitution provides that the Nigerian Police Force shall be under the full and exclusive control of the federal government. Section 215 further establishes that the police force is owned and controlled exclusively by the federal government and that the authority and powers of the force extends to the whole country. This is also contained under Item 45 of the Exclusive Legislative List in Part 1 of the second schedule of the 1999 Constitution.
These provisions mentioned above runs contrary to the thinking of those clamoring for state police forces. They have argued that policing citizens of the country should be the responsibility of the respective states and not that of the federal government. Their argument is based on the fact that in the United States of America, the federal authorities have the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), while the states and municipal authorities have police forces or departments. They also argue that in the United Kingdom, the counties have their own police establishments. Another reason given is predicated on the recent statements of the governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang. He lamented that he was just being called the Chief Security Officer of the state despite the fact that he did not control the security of the state. He further argued that this could have been responsible for the premeditated attack and massacre that was carried out on some hapless villagers in the state. One could also argue that with the wide and uncontrolled spate of kidnappings in the southern part of Nigeria, states having and controlling their own police forces might help abate this ugly trend. But the crucial question is that with these and other reasons put forth, could these justify the creation of state police forces in Nigeria?
One may be tempted to join the band wagon argument; especially if one considers that the security situation in Nigeria in recent times has seriously deteriorated. The mindless killings of innocent villagers in Jos, the uncontrolled kidnappings and the bombs that rocked the city of Warri are indications of how bad the security of the country has become. We however need to tread carefully and circumspectly before we start making calls for state police forces.
The creation of state police forces will encourage state governors to muzzle any opposition within their states. Nigeria has walked this road before - under the 1953 Constitution. Then the police were under regional governments, but they were grossly abused by politicians. Therefore, there is a clear indication that if we return to this system, this crop of politicians will also abuse it. One may be quick to argue that the role of the police under the present dispensation is being abused by the federal government, that it is used against the opposition. This argument can best be answered by looking at two agencies - the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). An amendment made to the Electoral Act created SIEC which conducts elections into local governments which had previously been handled by INEC. Since its creation, no state in Nigeria has boasted of two chairmen from opposition parties. SIEC declares the ruling party in the state as the winners of all the contested seats in local government elections. This is in contrast to what operates at the national level. Though one may allege that INEC as presently constituted is biased, yet opposition parties can still boast of winning some states and having members in the National Assembly. For instance, the recent gubernatorial election conducted in Anambra state was won by Mr. Peter Obi of the opposition All People’s Grand Alliance (APGA).
Now people who initially advocated for the creation of SIEC are now at the vanguard for its abolition; this of course does not include state governors who are benefitting from it. Therefore, it can be safely concluded that the current abuse of the federal police force may be child’s play if state governors had state police forces under their control.
Experience has shown in Nigeria that where a state has an efficient and effective Commissioner of Police, there is the possibility that the security of that state will improve. The same Lagos state where the former governor complained about insecurity and subsequently advocated for a state police force now enjoys relative security. This is as the result of having the combination of a focused governor and a very efficient and effective Commissioner of Police. Where a governor discovers that there is insecurity in his state, he can complain to the hierarchy of the Nigerian Police Force for a change in the leadership of the command. He has such right to complain against a Commissioner and demand for his replacement.
Another problem of a state police force is the likelihood of conflict of jurisdiction between states, especially where the conflicting states are run by different political parties. For instance Lagos state and Ogun state have been at each other throats since 2003 simply because the governors of the states are from different political parties. The two states have argued on petty issues especially on land related matters. Supposing the two states had their respective police forces, one can only imagine what would have become of the states. It would be possible for a person loyal to one party to commit a crime in one state and then run to another state where he knows it would be very difficult to arrest him because of the shield he is going to get from that state.
The lack of uniformity in financing may also pose a great challenge to the establishment of state police forces in Nigeria. There are states in Nigeria which can effectively finance a police force because of their financial strength, and there are states which do not have the financial wherewithal to do that. There are also states in Nigeria whose governors can be reckless by having the money and yet not financing it properly. Experience in the civil service has shown this. There are states where civil servants embark on strike actions because their state governments refuse to pay the minimum wage being paid in other states. This is the kind of challenge that we may face if there are state police forces in Nigeria.
Another problem which may subsequently flow from the likely problem stated above is that there will be a diversion of criminals and criminality from one state to another. Where it has been established that a particular state can boast of effective policing, then criminals will take to their heels and find greener pasture somewhere else.
There are people who have maintained what can be called a “balanced view”; that there should be a co-existence of both the federal police force and that of the state. The problem with this view is that there may be a conflict of interest between them and this may eventually create more problems than it seeks to solve. In Lagos State, for example where the state created an outfit called the Lagos State Traffic Maintenance Agency (LASTMA) which has been at daggers drawn with other security agencies over who controls what on the Lagos highways.
Of a truth, it is incontrovertible that federalism as we have in Nigeria has given a lot of powers to the government at the centre; this is to the detriment of constituent governments. Even General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) who was a one time a military president of the country regretted that he made mistakes while in power and that he is now a strong advocate of the devolution of powers. The issue of state police forces must be cautiously looked at before we jump into it. It is true that some western countries have state police forces, but politicians in Nigeria have demonstrated that Nigeria is not yet matured for state police forces. What we all need to advocate for is a police force which is structured with better and professional personnel rather than state police forces littered all over Nigeria. If the call for state police forces is heeded in Nigeria, we may all find ourselves on the rooftop one day clamoring for its abolition.