THE rising wave of crime and criminality in the country has once again brought to the fore the issue of state policing. Kidnapping has become a regular occurrence all over the country. While the country had yet to get over the abduction of some teachers and students of the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges in Ogun State, there was yet another heart-rending abduction of the Secretary of Landlords and Residents Association of Isheri Estate, OPIC area of Lagos State, last Wednesday. Besides kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, herdsmen attacks, ritual killing and gang wars have all become a common feature in nearly every nook and cranny of the country. Although those in power are averse to this, I am of the persuasion that instituting state policing is the way to go in ensuring that the security situation in the country does not get out of hand.
During the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, a group of former inspectors general of the Nigeria Police met with him and expressed their opposition to the establishment of state police, saying it would constitute a threat to the continued existence of the country. Their premise was that the misuse of local police during the First Republic precipitated a series of crises that threatened the corporate existence of the country. So, the ex-police chiefs said introducing state policing would be a replay of the country’s inglorious past of abuse of the police by the political class.
According to them, “We are of the opinion that the clamour (for state police) is not in the best interest of this nascent democracy and would be a recipe for a state of anomie…The establishment of state police will bring us back to the days of ethnic militias where the OPC, MASSOB, Egbesu, ECOMOG and Yankalare held sway.”
The former police chiefs added, “Putting into consideration the political climate operating in our country, a state police would only be a tool in the hands of political leaders at the state level.”
Since then, a number of commentators have also submitted that given the mismanagement of the state independent electoral commissions by governors, allowing states to run their own police would be synonymous to ceding to state governors the powers of life and death. Their argument is that governors have pocketed their state electoral bodies such that only the ruling party in the state ever wins any election conducted by the state electoral commissions. These commentators aver that if allowed to control the police, state governors would, rather than use the police to protect the people, turn same to a terror machine for the liquidation of political adversaries.
Others have come up with different arguments against the establishment of state police. The fears about the abuse of state police are real and the concerns genuine. Our politicians have repeatedly demonstrated their incapacity to manage human and material resources. They have given us cause to conclude that they cannot be trusted with power of any sort. Many of them have failed to rise above mundane considerations in the discharge of their duties. They have proven that their major reason for seeking power is empire building and personal aggrandisement, not for public good. Political leaders have raped the country and betrayed the people.
However, does it make sense for us to attempt to correct a wrong by emplacing another wrong? If politicians have mastered the art of manipulating the system for their own benefit, should we as a result act contrary to the dictate of our constitution? Nigeria operates a federal system of government, but is a centralised policing system in tandem with the spirit of federalism?
The point raised by those opposed to the establishment of state police that politicians would abuse it is malodorous. The reason is that a system cannot improve until it is allowed to run. Let us have state police and keep interrogating the system. That is the way forward.
The most pessimistic among us will be quick to admit that there has been an improvement between 1999, when the current democratic experimentation commenced, and now. Then, the level of impunity among political leaders was so high that they conducted themselves in a manner suggesting that they were doing the people a favour by looting the treasury. Back then, they easily rode roughshod over us. But that has since changed. Events have taught the political leaders that they cannot continue to take the people for a ride.
Again, between 1999 and 2007, results of elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not, in many cases, reflect the people’s wish as the electoral body had a reputation for manipulating figures in favour of the ruling party. Did we because of that stop the electoral process? No, we kept at it and as we continuously interrogated the process, it kept improving. INEC has been improving with every election.
If impunity of politicians has reduced, if electoral fraud is declining, how are we sure that despite our fears, having state police will not turn out for the good of the country if we keep taking the leadership of the institution and politicians to task? Only those who dare have a chance to win. If we dare to have state police we cannot but win.