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Interrogating the Clamour for State Police

Yesterday, the purveyors of fake news visited town with the story of President Mohammed Buhari’s purported nod to the establishment of State and Local Government Police. Though the Presidency soon addressed the rumour without much ado, the news was received with mixed feelings. In the light of the divergent opinions on the issue, a critical interrogation of the matter is at this moment apposite.

It is worthy to recall that a centralized police structure was one of the concessions granted the minority groups at the 1957 London conference. The minorities had feared that a decentralized police would subject them to undue manipulations of the majority ethnic nationalities in the regions. With the deepening of Nigeria’s de facto unitary political arrangement, its professed federalism notwithstanding, the centre has continued to wield more powers and influence over the federating units, hence basic features of federalism like financial autonomy for the units, state police, etc, are lacking.

Realising the effects of the prevailing practice over the years, Nigerians, and particularly the political elite gave voice to the demand for devolution of power from the centre. In their demands for true federalism, two major components have received the most attention – resource control and state police. It is averred that with more resources in the coffers of these levels of government (state and local government), and greater control of the security architecture, Nigerians would enjoy better life and improved security. On the contrary, however, this assumption is not supported by empirical evidence.

On reading the clarification by the Presidency yesterday, I heaved a sigh of relief. Truth is, though the idea sounds thoroughly fascinating, its practice at this moment will further obfuscate Nigeria’s topsy-turvy security architecture. As incompetent as the centre has been over the years, it has shown greater effectiveness in managing issues than the states have. The ineptitude, corruption and passivity to governance found among governments across the states belly what we see in Abuja. The situation calls for a holistic review of our constitution – call it true federalism or whatever, the approach must be all inclusive. Treating any of the component features of federalism, such as state police in isolation is a recipe for future calamities.

Our electoral process has been largely described as a charade. Both at the federal and state levels, politicians in positions of authority employ state resources in advancing their personal political goals. In virtually all states of the country, local government elections are mere academic exercises. Governments in power manipulate the state electoral commissions into doctoring the processes in their favour. Of course, such processes are incomplete without the involvement of the Nigerian Police and other security apparatus. Institutionalising state police would only legalise this illegality.

The Nigerian Police is today considered one of the most corrupt public institutions in the country. Many have attributed this to the poor salaries paid to its officers. It may interest you to know that in some states of the federation, senior public servants receive as low as N35,000 (less than $100) as their monthly earnings. This is unimaginable amongst federal public servants. The question is, how many of these states can cope with the financial responsibility of keeping a state police? The inherent danger in the establishment of state police includes escalation of police harassment, extortion, and brash intimidation of the citizenry. A return to the era of “might is right”.

Though a federal institution, the Nigerian Police and other public institutions (the judiciary inclusive), are more or less instruments for the suppression of noncompliant views by most state governments. Where this proves difficult, vigilante groups come handy. The synergy between Gani Adam’s Odua People’s Congress (OPC) and Senator Bola Tinubu’s government of Lagos state readily comes to mind. The OPC became the military arm of the Lagos state government in an era when the government was embroiled in a face-off with the centre. It metamorphosed into a contraption for the suppression of the opposition and the promotion of Yoruba ethnic agenda.

Make no mistake, the need for state police as a major condiment of true federalism cannot be overemphasized. At the moment, Nigerians are thoroughly under policed, which is one of the factors for our precarious state of security. However, the institutionalization of state police at this level of our political development will only serve for the promotion of sectional interests, particularly the interests of the ruling parties in the states. Worse still, without a holistic reform agenda which places more resources in local authorities and ensures stronger public institutions, it is unsustainable. What is more, the establishment of state police without making for total autonomy for the judiciary and the legislature will amount to putting the cart before the horse.

In all, to think that Mr. President would give his approval on the issue is infantile. However they try to deny it, even the blind knows that Nigeria at the moment is under the rule of an utterly sectional regime, which would go the whole hog in promoting the Fulani agenda. As I write, the government is disarming Nigerians of guns legally acquired, including vigilante groups which have been helpful in warding off Fulani in their unceasing efforts to forcefully spread their domination, particularly in the south. Approving state police at a time like this is antithetical to this objective.

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