Following the escalated banditry and insecurity that nearly created in Zamfara State Emile Durkheim’s state of anomie, the Senate, on Wednesday, supported the call for the establishment of state and community policing as a means of curtailing criminality in the country.
The Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, in his response to a motion by Senators Emmanuel Bwacha and Kabir Marafa, had said “we must go back to what a lot of us had been advocating here that there is the need for us to have state or community police. It is the way forward. Otherwise, we will continue to run into these problems.”
It is heartwarming that the Senate now sees the sense in the agitation of many compatriots over the years on the need to decentralise the country’s policing system with a view to making the police more responsive to the security needs of the people.
The reality is that the closer the police authorities are to a locality, the more familiar they will be with their nuances and challenges and the better prepared they will be to quench any criminality in the area. So, the choice we have to make as a people is whether we want our police to engage in preventive security operations or post-crime mop up operations. If the police authorities are closer to the people, nipping criminality in the bud will be a lot easier.
The albatross to emplacing state or community policing in the country is the ruling class. Members of the class have been resolutely opposed to the idea because they want to strategically position themselves to be able to call the shots at all times. It is quite impressive that the ice is thawing now with the position of the Senate.
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 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? 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 centralized 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 is changing. 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. Though it is still far from being perfect, it is common knowledge that INEC is no longer what it was in 2003.
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.