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Abandoned promises (1) By Dan Agbese

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This is the twilight zone of the Buhari administration. And this is the time for the president to engage in mopping up operations to see that the mess he promised to clean up in 2015 has been sufficiently cleaned up to give our country a refurbished, sparkling image; a country more secure, a country more united and a country less atomistic and in conflict with itself. 

I am sure if he checks his record, he would be confronted with the prospects of his promises abandoned. Abandoned promises by a president are worse than the abandoned projects we are only too familiar with. The accumulation of these abandoned presidential promises must be part of the reason we are given to swinging and are unable to find our feet. 

            Let us take one contemporary instance of an important decision held hostage by half implementation or outright abandonment. (Part of this piece was published in my column, Waiting for Godot, of October 15, 2021.) State police, as you know, has been a hot topic widely debated for many years in the country. The single federal policing system has proved inadequate for our national security needs. Even those who deny it know the truth. The report of the Jonathan national conference of 2014 recommended a second tier of policing by which it meant state police. A single policing system is strange in a unitary system and stranger still in a federation. 

The agitation is more or less holding fire but it faces the clear and obvious danger of becoming an abandoned administrative project passed on to the next federal administration by the Buhari administration. It is no way to resolve issues or solve problems. Buck passing has the tendency of achievement deficit.

            Buhari has shown a disinclination to do anything about the second tier of policing. Actually, he is opposed to it. He is not likely to be persuaded to dismantle the single policing system imposed by the military when the federal military government scrapped the NA police and NA prisons and brought them under one roof in a military command system. It now cries out for dismantling. 

            APC, the party on whose platform Buhari became and is the president, promised  in its  manifesto to examine the need for state police. It set up the Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai committee to advise it on what should be done. The committee gave the thumbs up to state police. But the president gave the recommendation the thumbs down. His one thumb is bigger than all the thumbs in the executive committee of the party. 

            In a VOA Hausa Service interview sometime in May 2018, he said the first step was for the national assembly to look into the constitution and see “if it says they (state police) should be allowed..” If the constitution did, it would have been a settled matter under President Obasanjo, long before Buhari became president in 2015. 

He made the point that the state governments could not fund their police. I am sure he is now unaware that the federal government depends on the state governments to largely fund the police commands in the states. Buhari also cited the fear that an unpaid policeman with the gun could deploy it to uses not envisaged by the law setting up the state police. But that objection alone does not wash because some personnel in the Nigeria Police known as bad eggs, have proved time and again that regular payment of their salaries is not an antidote to their misuse of the uniform and the gun. They too misuse the gun and soil their uniform for money.

            Buhari’s option is community policing. For this, the federal government was to create a special constabulary. Sometime in January 2020, the order went out to the then inspector-general of police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, to begin the recruitment of 50 volunteers in each of the 774 local government areas. He, in turn, directed state “commissioners of police, traditional rulers and others to form screening committees” to recruit the volunteers.

            So far, there is no evidence that there has been a consistent movement on this front. It appears to have stagnated. I find no special constables in my local government area. Part of the explanation is the argument between the federal and the state governments as to which of them would fund the special constabulary. The states wisely rejected the attempt by the centre to pass the financial burden to them. It is heading down the path as an abandoned decision that leaves our national security in the lurch with the implication that Buhari will let his successor inherit this lingering problem of a second tier of policing system. We shall remain on the swing and suffer the consequences of failing to find the will to do right by the needs of the country and the exigencies of these parlous times that tax our will to survive from day to day.

            The special constabulary is not itself such a brilliant idea but since that is what Buhari wanted, it is what we would have because, to borrow an over-used expression, half bread in the hand trumps no bread at all. While we dilly and dally in indecision, our security situation gets worse, much worse, straining both the police and the military. To be sure, the state police would not solve all our security problems. No police system anywhere does. To be sure, the fear persists, even if it is unreasonable, that the state police would be misused by the state governors to oppress and suppress political opponents and their real and imagined enemies but the history of mankind shows instances of the human tendency to bend the law in the direction of personal interests. If that fear should stop us from having a state police then we should also dissolve the Nigeria Police because it is the least trusted of all our public institutions. 

            Much rides on presidential promises made and kept. If the president abandons his option of community policing to beef up and tackle our national security it would be a negative tribute to him and his administration. He needs to burnish his scrappy record in our security architecture that meets our security needs. 

Buhari has a little over one year to the end of his two-term tenure in office. It is not such a long time but time enough for him to ensure that he too is not a victim of project abandonment and half decision implementation and contribute to our woes. This is the time he should engage himself in mopping up operations to ensure that he finishes whatever he started nearly seven years ago. If he does not, he would leave a ragged record and deepen our collective frustrations in a nation with a tall ambition to move forward but is cursed with short legs that can only make King Pago strides.

The current uncoordinated approach to security in which state governments feel compelled to set up their ineffective security outfits is evidence of our nation being at a loss as to how to police and protect itself and its citizens – under Buhari’s watch. When the constitution-makers imposed on the federal government the security of lives and property as its first duty, they did not envisage this current ragged situation in which the centre and the constituent units of the federation respond to our security challenges in different and cosmetic ways. That creates more problems than it helps to solve.

I think Buhari should begin to worry now about the country he would leave behind at the end of his tenure. A country at peace or a country in perpetual conflict? A secure country or one torn into enclaves of criminal warlords a la Somalia? 

            Whatever he chooses to make of his remaining time in power; whatever he intends as his legacy and whatever he chooses to do to or for the country, he must not forget his promise for a positive change in a country that cries loudly for such a change.  Let it be said here and now that we have had enough of abandoned physical projects as well as half implemented administrative decisions. We have had enough of hopes raised and hopes dashed. We have had enough of the squandering of opportunities to make this potentially great nation a truly great nation. We must draw the line. It would be nice, very nice, if the Buhari administration would become the dividing line between what was, what is and what is to come.            (This is an occasional column on abandoned promises)

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