The imperatives of state police

ONE major glaring absurdity of Nigeria’s federal architecture is over-centralisation in all ramifications. Globally, there is no other federal state with power so concentrated at the centre as Nigeria›s. This has led to what students of federalism would regard as ‘federal immobilism’ with the concomitant effect of stress that has given birth to strident calls for restructuring.

It is ludicrous that the Federal Government is contemplating chewing what it cannot swallow again by nursing the idea of community policing. In the face of palpable failure of the octopus Nigeria Police as it is presently structured under the centralised command of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and going by the size of this country both in terms of population put at a conservative estimate of 120 million and a land mass that can swallow many states of Africa coupled with gigantic problem of hyper-ethnic instability syndrome in the midst of hundreds of ethnic nationalities where justice do not reign; the idea of community policing by the Federal Government rather than state police is indeed another absurdity. It means out of the 774 local government areas (aside from local council development areas (LCDAs)) all over the country, the IGP shall take interest or claim to know well whatever is happening in Gbada Efon village of Ona Ara Local Government where I hail from! This is practically impossible.

What the country needs for now in the face of an overwhelming security problem all over the country no doubt is state police. Presently, Nigeria as a federal state operates a central policing system. Article 2, Section 2 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2010) affirms that ‘Nigeria shall be a federation consisting of states and a Federal Capital Territory.’ Article 214, Section 2 however stipulates that ‘there shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigerian Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the federation or any part thereof.’ The combined effect of these provisions, as our lawyers would say, is that although the Nigerian constitution recognises two tiers of power with authorities to make exclusive or concurrent laws on stipulated areas, only one police authority is recognised to enforce those laws. It is perhaps against this background that the Attorney General and Ministers of Justice – Abubakar Malami – was critical of the Amotekun – the security innovation of the South Western States – which no doubt is gradually being copied by other parts of the country.

It is imperative to note that the provision of central policing has thrown up many challenges in our fledgling democracy, as recently noted by a two-term  former governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, in a perceptive lecture that the most fundamental being the unprecedented level of violence and crime in the country. As any international observer may note, more so that anyone visiting Nigeria for the first time, perusing our national dailies or follow social media will think that the country is in a perpetual state of war with the numerosity of crime and violent cases across the country on a daily basis such as: Boko Haram, armed robberies, kidnapping, mob killings, and assassinations with the latest addition of Fulani herdsmen wreaking havocs nationwide.

At the heart of this security challenge is the structure of our policing. How is the police organised? How are its men recruited? how is the force funded? what is the indoctrination of the force? who does the force report to?  how nimble is the reporting authority?  how conversant are they with the culture and language of the communities they police, how familiar are they with the terrain they superintend? What is the relationship of the police commissioner with the state governor whom he is supposed to serve as the chief security officer of the state? And above all, what is the population of the police? Your. It’s often stated that the population of police personnel in Nigeria is 400,000. Whereas the real number may be far less. The police management is unwilling or unable to give us the correct figure of its membership – so we are all guessing. A security expert (Ekhomu) came up with a guess estimate of about 300,000 police personnel in Nigeria. This ratio to some 120 million vis-à-vis UN requirement is absurd. It is not a surprise therefore that in the month of January alone, no fewer than 320 citizens died needlessly. A breakdown according to a national daily is about 10 avoidable deaths per day!

Rather than Nigeria to benefit from the experience of its peer in the international system (federal states) such as the United States of America, Canada, India, Switzerland and the likes, the policing system in Nigeria has no bearing to what it should be in a federal system. For instance, the constitution of the United States allows the federal, state, local and even special districts like universities to perform police functions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for instance, investigates inter-state crimes, among others, the state police enforce state laws and even supervise federal elections, city/township police enforce local laws while police authorities of special districts like schools enforce regulations of their jurisdictions. The relationships between all the police services are properly coordinated for the exchange of intelligence and prevention of crime.

On comparative basis, the federal government of Australia maintains police forces alongside the federating units. In Republic of Germany made up of Landers (equivalent of states), German constitution concedes most of police powers to the 16 Landers even though the Federal Government is also allowed to legislate on the subject. The constitution of Switzerland empowers the federating units to share policing functions with the Federal Government, same for Canada and India. Coming nearer home, Ethiopia operates a federal constitution in which Article 52 sub-section 2(g) of its constitution expressly grants each federating states the power ‘to establish and administer a state force, and to maintain public order and peace within the state.’

Be that as it is, it is evident from the foregoing that Nigeria’s refusal to reflect the required dynamism of federal architecture in its policing structure is the exception rather than the rule in comparative federal systems. Even in both pre-colonial and immediate post-colonial Nigeria police, establishments were highly decentralised and localised. Many of the units that were amalgamated into Nigeria operated diverse systems of policing. In the old Oyo Empire, public security was provided by the Eshos. In Igboland, communities enforced societal rules with the use of age groups while the Dongaris were the law-enforcement agents in most of the communities in the areas that became Northern Nigeria. Thus, under colonialism, the colonial power established different police forces across the country until it brought all of them together in April, 1930 to from the Nigeria Police Force, with headquarters in Lagos. However, the Nigeria Police Force existed along with Local Government Police in the Western Region (called Akoda), and the Native Authorities in Northern Nigeria. For instance, the Local Government Police Law 1959 of the Western Region confirmed existing police forces in the region and authorised every local government council with the approval of the Minister for Local Government to establish a police force. Also, Section 105(7) of the 1963 Republican Constitution empowered the regions to establish police authorities at local government and regional levels.

It is unfortunate that this system was abrogated when the military took over power in 1966. In his maiden broadcast at Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi pronounced that ‘all local government forces and Native Authority Police Forces shall be placed under the overall command of the Inspector General.’ The police forces of native authorities and local councils were put under the operational control of the Inspector-General of Police. The officers and men of the forces were subsequently integrated into the Nigeria Police. The reason for this abrogation was the use of the local police forces to harass, intimidate and oppress political opponents. It is unfortunate that this centralisation of police functions has been sustained both in the 1979 and 1999 constitutions.

Undoubtedly, with the above historical antecedents, the strident calls for the restructuring of Nigeria most especially devolution of power and call for establishment of state police are apt now. Two reasons are responsible for this: first is the unprecedented wave of crime and violence across the country which has forced many critics to conclude that the police force is not structurally equipped to effectively secure the country. The second factor is the recurring abuse of police power by the Federal Government for oppressing political opponents by successive governments at the federal level.

This is a wake-up call for our parliamentarians to being to initiate further amendment to the over-centralised 1999 constitution. A restructured federal Nigeria may function well rather than the present morbid structure. State Police is the way to go and not another community policing under the umbrella of the Inspector General of Police whose hands are presently full.

  • Ojo (Ph.D) was the Chief of Staff to the immediate past Governor of Oyo State and currently an Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Ilorin.