EDITORIAL: State Police in Nigeria, Not Yet An Attainable Project

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo at a recent book presentation in Abuja, expressed the Federal Government’s intention to commence the implementation of community policing in Nigeria so that the impact of the police better be felt in the remote parts of the country.  He also said that the Government was working to allow the establishment of state police across the country. And on its part, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) has constituted a six-man committee of its members to examine the prospects of establishing state police and explore funding options for policing in the country.
Over the years, the need for the establishment of state police has, at different times, featured prominently in public discussions.  The on-going agitation on the contentious subject of restructuring the Nigerian polity appears to be rekindling interest in the issue. With just 370,000 police officers  to 180 million inhabitants, Nigeria falls short of the United Nations recommendation of 222 police officers to 100,000 persons. The situation has further been aggravated by the inherent abuses in the deployment of available police personnel. A substantial percentage of the inadequate law enforcement agents is deployed to protect certain categories of political and public office holders and people of means who have the necessary connection.
This has resulted in a drastic shortfall in the number of police personnel required to maintain law and order in a country in which crime wave is constantly rising. Practically all inspectors-general of police who  promised to correct the anomaly, failed to fulfil their promise.  They were all hamstrung by the system.
The regions had their own police during the first republic when Nigeria can be said to be truly federal.
One of the most notable effects of the military’s incursion into the political arena was the disbandment of the regional police.  There were, of course, complaints that the regional governments were using the police under their control to victimise their political opponents.  There have been similar complaints since the second republic that the party in power has been using not just the police but the different security agencies to persecute their political opponents.This is one major ground for the demand that states be allowed to establish their own police. The argument is that any agency or institution can be used and misused whatever the level of government.
It is not a hidden fact that the Nigeria Police has not been living up to expectation. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, recently expressed concern  about the the deployment of soldiers to perform police duties in most of the states of the federation. Apart from shortage of manpower, the police force is facing the problem of acute underfunding.  It is common knowledge that the National Assembly has a much bigger budget than the Nigeria Police.  A lot of the operational requirements of state commands of the police are being provided by state governments.  The citizens, through the Police Community Relations Committees (PCRC), in the various communities, have also been contributing to the sustenance of the Nigeria Police.
There has been the contention that the resources being committed to the enhancement of police operations by the states can be deployed to establish and fund their own police force.  The setting up and sustenance of a police force may, however, not be as easy as being assumed. What will be required to set up, train, equip and pay the salaries of a state-wide police organisation will be in multiples of what is being provided to assist the Nigeria Police.  The 36 states which Nigeria has now, cannot in any way be compared with the four regions which Nigeria had in the first republic. The four regions were in position to explore and exploit their resources.  They were not dependent on allocations from any central purse to meet their needs.
In Nigeria of today, almost all the states are economically emasculated because there is an almighty federal government that controls all the mineral resources.  The states were created by the military with the short-sighted conviction that the single product on which the country’s economy has depended for decades will be there ad infinitum, to sustain the country in flourishing circumstances.  Now there is a sharp decline in the price of oil and the quantity available for sale. Now the economy is in bad shape and state governments are defaulting in the payment of salaries and pensions.  Through streets protests and the media, the affected workers and retirees have been drawing the attention of the public to their pathetic plight.  That is all they can do.
It should not be difficult for anyone to contemplate the probable consequences of having well-kitted and fully armed men without salaries for many months.  The guns they are given to protect the people may end up being trained on the same people.
It cannot be a moot question that the Nigeria Police Force has not exhibited the level of effectiveness that is expected of it in the crucial assignment of crime prevention and detection. The Native Authority police — which successfully worked with the Nigeria Police Force till the 1970s when it was abolished and integrated with the NPF – was effective in combating crime and maintaining orderliness, although not without excesses and abuses associated with the party politics of the era.
It is obvious that almost all the current 36 states lack the required wherewithal to establish and maintain a disciplined police force in their respective jurisdictions.  There is thus the need for a via media, a ‘compromise solution’  as it were, if the status quo is not to continue.  This would fall within the context of a restructured Nigeria in which regions (or states in each geopolitical zone) can pool resources to establish one single police force.  The command structure and other operational details can then be worked out by regions or the states in each geopolitical zone. There can, of course, be other options.
The Nigerian Expression lauds government’s statement of intent to commence community policing. But the hard fact, however, is that the establishment of a state police under the present arrangement will be a risky venture.  We believe that this is a project worth embarking upon once the context is right. (TNE)
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