Beware of State Police, by Nsikak Ekanem

State police system remains one of the prominent features of devolution of power among national and subnational governments that true federalism agitators have been ceaselessly pushing to be enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution since the return to democracy in 1999.

The Bola Tinubu presidency, which commenced on May 29, 2023, is the first time the clamour is not only gaining increasing momentum but igniting renewed hope of realisation. That is why signs welcoming state police can now be spotted in certain quarters.

Tinubu, in his true character of consistency in pursuing any course dear to his heart, has remained unwavering and dogged in maintaining his frontline position among canvassers for state police. Although Nigeria’s presidency, notwithstanding the tremendous power it wields, does not have absolutism in bringing the concept of state police to materialization, the fact that Tinubu is now stationed in Aso Rock, the very quarter that had never yielded to the idea, has greatly raised the height of hope.

Additionally, many naysayers in the past have been converted. Both the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP turned a new leaf from singing in discordant tune to singing in unison. The governors’ forum collectively chorused along. Voices of many leaders in the northern axis of the country indicate that the south and the north are marching on the same queue now on the matter of state policing.

With rising insecurity everywhere in the country and its seeming intractability, many hold the view that changing from centralisation to decentralisation of policing would make the menace of crime more tractable, if not solvable. Expectedly, the more the demand for state police is increasing the more impetus have been added to Nigerian media’s acerbic criticism of monopolisation of police force by the federal government.

Predominantly anchored on federalism, it is curious that state police agitators are not making any case for local authorities to own police in alignment with the three-tier government operated in Nigeria. The vociferous agitation tends to suggest that once Nigeria sign up for state police, the alarming rate of insecurity, ravaging every part of Nigeria, would be instantly quelled.

An intelligent secondary school student, well drilled in debating club, would defeat any proponent of state police, irrespective of the scholastic pedigree of those on the opposing side. Not much because of brilliancy, but more on the strength that everyday occurrences are enough for discerning and sincere minds to use in buttressing argument against state police!

Clues on how state police would work in Nigeria have been practically demonstrated by successive governors in virtually all the 36 states through their actions in other spheres that state governments have exclusive responsibilities.

Think of States’ Independent Electoral Commissions – the non-conduct of local government elections as at when due and selection of local council chairmen and councilors by the ruling party in their respective states whenever it pleases a governor to conduct elections! Think of the states/local government joint account – the blockage of full accruement of federation allocations to local government councils and non-sharing of states internally generated revenue to the local councils!

Dysfunctionality of governance in Nigeria is more at the second and third tier of government than the central government that many Nigerians focus more attention on. Since 1999, Nigerian governors have become more powerful and dreaded than their predecessors, even in the military era. With exacerbating economic downturns, the people’s power has been made powerless, just as the rule of law has been incessantly abused by many governors, who exploited abundant resources and instrument in their offices as well as the poverty in the land.

Over time, many Nigerian governors in their respective domains have been replicating absolutism of King Louis XIV in France’s 17th century. The state legislatures, which ought to provide check and balances, through lawmaking and oversight functions, make no pretense of being at the governors’ beck and call. The organised civil society, including many rights-based organisations and the press, are frenziedly struggling to fraternise with the government of the day, thus weakening inherent power of pressure groups to a point that they can now be called pliable groups.

The public is characterised by over-compliance, sycophancy, complacency and praise-singing. Dissenting voices are endangered species. To worsen matters, the judiciary, which ought to be the hope of the common people, has not been immune from the grip of the totalitarianism.

The assertion that the governors have no sizable control of police and other security apparatus in their state is farther from the truth. How come the governors’ enclaves, both public and private-owned, are surrounded by combat-ready public security personnel? How come that the governors’ wives, concubines, wards and extended family members are attached with policemen and women everywhere they go.

From the look of things, state police would only become a unit in the governors’ offices and the likelihood that it would be unilaterally controlled by governors is so glaring. Apart from former Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom and Tinubu, it is hard to readily recall former governors calling for state police after leaving offices.

The notion that Nigeria being an heterogenous society has been advanced to imply that homogenous measure of policing amounts to putting round peg in square hole. Granted that this argument is worth working on, how would the supposed advantage of this view-point has bearing in a state populated by multi-ethnic groups and diverse cultures of people. Would the different geo-cultural segments of people in the state have different police formations in order to square up with heterogeneity nature of the state?

In many Nigerian localities, indigenous security personnel have sacrificed security integrity on the altar of allegiance to their tribes or place of origin. Such unwholesome practices sometimes compel deployment or selection of security men and women to go outside their nativity in order for unbiased and adequate security to be obtained. Along this fact, how would the marrying of heterogeneity to heterogeneity give birth to effective and handsome security?

How would the allegation that some crimes have political inducement under the superintendence of a governor be handled? Since there is no geographical boundary of where the federal government starts and ends within the country, how would the jurisdiction of federal and state police be delineated without frequent clashes?

The proposition that the people could march in the street with placards if the state governments tend to abuse police under its establishment amounts to a person taking poisonous substance with the hope that there are medications for remedying life-threatening resultant effects in the body. That is suicidal.

Evidence abound everywhere that democratic governance has been grossly debased, if not outrightly killed at the local level. Why are the people not marching against state governments for bastardising and pauperising local government councils? It is ironic, just as it begs the question, that at a time there is growing concerns on how to strip off local government elections and council funds from state governments, the thinking of adding another sensitive matter to them is gaining popularity.

Proponents of state police are overwhelmed by its text book advantages and bother less on practicality and peculiarities of the Nigerian socio-political milieu, in which anomaly is normalcy.

With bedevilment of malfunctional society that the Nigerian nation is still grappling with owing to weak institutions, state police is a good idea, whose time has not yet arrived, and should be best kept at bay till optimal functionality is restored to the system of things in the country.

For now, instead of welcoming state police, the guiding inscription at all homes and offices in Nigeria should be: beware of state police!

Ekanem wrote via:

First published by The Guardian.

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