Decentralizing The Nigeria Police —Tayo Ogunbiyi



The debate over decentralizing the Nigeria Police Force has been on for a long time. Before now, the most vociferous advocates of state police have been members of the opposition as well as notable civil society activists. It is, however, interesting to note that increasing agitation for the creation of state police can no longer be viewed as a partisan crusade. Neither can it be said to be the handiwork of mischief-makers or ruby -rousers. Today, serving governors and other prominent political leaders, that transcend political parties’ border, are in the forefront of a renewed call for state police.

Chibuike Amaechi, Rivers State governor who is also the chairman, Governors’ Forum, is now a leading apostle of state police. Speaking at a recent forum, Amaechi described state governors as merely glorified ‘chief security officers’ of their respective states. The Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang, is one man who will go all the way in support of Amaechi’s position. Of course, Jang should know better as he has had to contend with countless bloody crises that have seriously threatened the peace of the plateau. The picture that Jang had caught, in the midst of the numerous brutal killings that have defiled the serenity of Jos and environs, is that of a helpless ‘chief security officer’.

Similarly, Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, has lent his voice to the growing clamour for the establishment of state police. In his view, going by the traditions of Nigerians, community policing would be the best way of stamping out criminals and criminality. This, according to him, is because at the community level, all the people know themselves such that they can easily spot out a stranger or any suspicious movement and report same to the community head. On his part, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has for long been an unrepentant advocate of state police. His argument is that the centralised policing system has failed us and that it is only reasonable that we do the right thing by switching to state police. In his now popular creed, Fashola insists that there would only be one result when one continues to use same method that has resulted to failures over the years.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, is another notable politician in the ruling party that has canvassed for the legislation of state police. While speaking recently at the Sixth Annual Oputa Lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School , York University in Toronto , Canada, Ekweremadu argued that the prevalent global trend in crime-fighting and the realities of security challenges in Nigeria make the decentralisation of policing pertinent. According to him, aside making it easier for police to track and burst crimes, it will give the police the advantage of knowing the environment- geographically, culturally, socially, politically, and even economically.

Undoubtedly, there are several cogent factors in support of the state police option. Aside the well accepted philosophy that policing is essentially a local service, it is important to emphasise that every crime is local in nature. Hence, it is only rational to localize the police force. No matter its form, crime detection needs a local knowledge that state police can better provide.

Equally of note is the fact that police officers who serve in their indigenous communities are stakeholders with vested interests in such places. Considering the reality that they will always be part of their respective communities, even after retirement, it is doubtful if they will perpetrate anti- socio activities in their communities. The current practice where officers are sent to areas where they do not have any vested interest, encourages policing. Indeed, a recent Human Rights Watch survey has revealed that most of the accidental and other extra judicial killings that have taken place in the system were perpetrated by officers who were 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 personnel familiar with the area. Using police officers from Jalingo, for instance, to burst crime in Onitsha is at best irrational. The local criminals with good knowledge of the area will always outwit the ‘foreign’ police officers.

Intelligence gathering is an important and indispensable element in crime fighting that 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 trust you. The present arrangement certainly negates credible intelligence gathering mechanism. We live in a society where people treat strangers with lots of reservation. This, no doubt, is quite understandable. It is difficult to trust somebody whose language, culture and tradition you don’t really understand. Is it not going to be a rather herculean task for a non Hausa speaking Yoruba Police Commissioner, who is serving in a place like Adamawa, for instance, to make any meaningful headway in gathering intelligence relating to Boko Haram operational network? 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.

Perhaps more importantly, it is important that a State Governor who is the chief security officer of his State has the control of police stationed in the State. The current trend where the Police Commissioner in a state will have to take orders from Abuja concerning security issues in a state, is to say the least, quite laughable. Imagine the many agonies of governor Jonah Jang of Plateau state in the bloody days of rage. Imagine what Jang, as a truly chief security officer of his state could have done to stem the murderous drift in his state. Poor Jang! What a frustrating experience it must have been for him when he could not even vouch for the loyalty of men that police his state! What manner of arrangement is this that makes a state governor seemingly helpless on security related matters in his state?

Ironically , almost all the governors in the country are investing heavily in the diverse police commands in their various states. In Lagos state, for example, the government in the last thirteen years has invested billions of naira on the state police command as well as other security organs in the state. In –fact, the first Security Trust Fund to be established, by any government, in the country was initiated Lagos State Government. Similarly, the governments of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Ogun to mention but a few are typical examples of states that have invested hugely in security.

Now, will it not amount to double standard that a governor bears such a huge responsibility , which in the first place should be that of the federal government, only for the system to turn around and deny him unhindered control of same institution?

It has been argued in some quarters that state police is nothing but a recipe for anarchy. Those who hold this view believe that it could lead to abuse of power and political vendetta by the various state governors. Others are of the opinion that it could lead to political turmoil. The reality, however, is that the present centralised arrangement has, over the years, been subjected to limitless abuse by the central authority.

The truth is that Nigeria is too large and complex to be policed centrally. In an ideal federal system, the issue of state police should not be a contentious matter. If we are really serious about overcoming current security challenges in the polity, the time to embrace state police is now.

•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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