Under severe pressure to curb the widespread insecurity in the country, the National Economic Council, which comprises the Vice-President and the governors, has proposed the decentralisation of police operations in Nigeria. At its last meeting, which was also attended by the heads of the security agencies, NEC resolved to “establish a committee with representation from each of the (six) geopolitical zones” to enhance security nationwide. However, the idea of setting up a committee to provide “greater access to information” is wide of the mark. This stopgap cannot rein in our hydra-headed security challenges.
It is laughable that, at a time of growing security breaches, NEC has voted to keep the obsolete system of decentralisation. The idea is nebulous; it is similar to the current structure, which provides for Assistant Inspectors-General of Police at the zones. It is therefore fraught with inherent dangers. NEC is drawing the country back.
To show that this form of decentralisation is not enough or is most probably political, most of the stakeholders in the security system, have, for long, realised that the solution to insecurity in Nigeria lies in the state policing system. Anything short of this is to beat about the bush.
Among the stakeholders that have advocated the devolution of police powers are the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and the National Assembly. At the February 2018 National Security Summit, which was organised by the Senate, Osinbajo endorsed devolution. “The nature of our security challenges is complex and known,” Osinbajo stated. “We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go.” Why is NEC, which he chairs, going round in circles again?
Likewise, the NGF had settled for state police – to tame insecurity. The NGF chairman, Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, said, “…we have reiterated the position of the Vice-President and the position of the security summit that there is the need for state police and we say it is the only answer.”
In fact, Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, believe that state and community policing are practical at this point. During a recent meeting between the two, Saraki stated, “There is no doubt that the security architecture of this country presently cannot meet the demands and challenges before it. One of the decisions we took (today) is to address the issue of state and community policing. In doing that, we gave our Constitution Amendment Committee two weeks to bring to the floor a bill on state and community policing. The House of Representatives is also working along similar lines.”
NEC’s obligation should be to work round the filibustering on the amendment of Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution, which allows only a single, federally-controlled police force. For, this is the crux of Nigeria’s security debacle. To improve on the dynamism of its security challenges, the United Kingdom, which is a unitary polity, has devolved policing. It currently has 45 police forces. It is an anomaly, therefore, for a federal system, with about 250 ethnic nationalities, to be operating a single, cumbersome police force.
Farcically, NEC saddled the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, with the task of leading the committee on police decentralisation, according to Babagana Monguno, the National Security Adviser. This is not pragmatic; it is bereft of sincerity of purpose. Going by his pronouncements, the IG has other things on his mind. Idris is more occupied with his pet project, the Police Trust Fund, whose bill is before the National Assembly, as it came out during a meeting between him and the governors in July.
It is in line with the belief of his predecessors. In spite of rising insecurity, in August 2012, a group of former IGs told the then President Goodluck Jonathan not to create state police. Their major argument was that state police would be a tool in the hands of political leaders at the state level.
In a similar vein, President Muhammadu Buhari, on whose watch criminality has spiked phenomenally, seems not to be swayed by the clamour for state police. The President strongly dismissed the call for it during his visit to the United States last May. He argued that the states, which the Federal Government is giving bailouts, could not fund state police
The reality of state police cannot be wished away anymore. It is an idea whose time has matured. Most Nigerian communities are currently lacking security presence, given the fact that a country of 193.3 million is being guarded by only about 300,000 officers, a third of which are on duties guarding the VIPs.
In other federal jurisdictions, the devolution of policing is the norm. A report by the New Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, states that each state and union territory of India has its own separate police force. “Article 246 of the Constitution of India designates the police as a state subject, which means that the state governments frame the rules and regulations that govern each police force,” it adds. Other federal systems, including Australia, Canada and the United States, operate their police structures on this model.
Nigeria will not gain anything from the proposed decentralisation. Instead, it should join forces with the parliament for the full devolution of policing in Nigeria. Further delay of this is dangerous.
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