FeaturedMilitary/Security TrendNews TrendPolitical Affairs

The Dangers of Introducing State Police Today, By Jibrin Ibrahim

The Federal Government alongside the governments of the 36 states are considering the creation of state police. This followed an emergency meeting between President Bola Tinubu and state governors at the Aso Rock Villa yesterday. According to reports, Thursday’s meeting follows the recent hike in food prices, economic hardship, and rising insecurity all over the country. In other words, there is fear of widespread insurrection. Addressing State House correspondents after the meeting, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, explained that the process is still in its infancy and would only take shape after more deliberations between stakeholders.

As a student of and believer in federalism, I fully support the principle that federal political systems should have police forces controlled by the federating units – States, and in the past, I have strongly campaigned for State Police. Today, I am very frightened of the idea because the evidence that it would be abused is massive. Nonetheless, widespread insecurity in the country has pushed many Nigerians into supporting the idea of a State police based on the justification that States are closer to local dynamics of insecurity and might be more effective in combatting it. The reasoning is that members of the police being local and therefore knowledgeable about the community would be more effective in fighting crime, terrorism, civil unrest and insurgency. The key idea, therefore, is that they would know or be able to easily find out the bad boys and girls and deal with them. In my view, that is where the trouble begins; who will define the bad boys and girls.

State police would be established by State Houses of Assembly and that means the enabling laws defining their mandates, structure and control would be determined by State governors because as we all know, State Houses of Assembly are essentially puppets of their governors and they do as they are instructed. For State governors, the bad boys are clear and fall into two categories. The first category comprises politicians who want to contest state power with the governors or their chosen successors, for those in their second term. The second category consists of all persons who dare to criticise the governors or question their misdeeds. Over the years, many critics, including journalists and civil society activists, have been placed in arbitrary detention for daring to speak the truth about their governors. The governors cajole law enforcement offices to “deal” with their perceived enemies, without having a police force totally under their control. I am convinced that most (not all) governors would jail all their “enemies” if they have police forces they can control totally.

When in 2018, there was a summit to consider establishment of State police, there was a counter argument by the late Abubakar Tsav, retired police commissioner that the “establishment of state police will signal the beginning of the disintegration of the country”, as governors use the institution “against their perceived political opponents.” State and Federal police commands are also likely to work at cross-purposes, he added.

My additional reasons of concern are that we have very serious ethnic and religious divides in the country at this time and many governors believe that if they have their own police, they can deal with the other. For example, the pastoralists and farmers conflicts have been intensifying in many States and some governors have clear proclivities of seeking to expel or protect pastoralists in their States opening the doors to a new dimension of identity conflicts that would deepen the crisis facing the Nigerian State today. As Commissioner Tsav argued in 2018: “Our politicians are not civilised enough and tolerant of opposing views and cannot preside over a competent and impartial police force.”
I have heard people argue that currently, the Nigerian Police Force are direct puppets of the president and they do exactly what they are told to do in dealing with the president’s enemies, so State Police could be a counter weight to presidential control of the Nigeria Police Force. I think it’s uncharitable to argue that the Nigeria Police are completely partisan in their actions. Federal institutions are, in general, much more capable of handling issues in an even-handed manner, relative to State-level institutions. The more effective separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary at the federal level, in relation to the State level means that there are more effective control measures. The National Assembly, for example, can call the Inspector General of Police to order in a way that no State House of Assembly can’t do with any institution obeying the State governor.

I know that the structure of the police is defective, as a significant slice of the police budget is consumed at the headquarters and very limited resources go to State Commands where most police operations actually take place. State Police Commands then become dependent on State governors, who give them some money and in return get the Command to do their bidding. It is however easier to address this problem compared to a fully State police force.

The problem we have is that the police are not as effective as they should be and the way forward is to improve their efficacy. One of the core problems is that about 150,000 thousand of the 350,000 of the Nation’s police force are engaged in VIP protection rather than routine policing. Every Police I-G has promised to stop renting out police officers to those who can pay for their services but failed to do so. Successive presidential directives that police personnel attached to unauthorised persons and VIPs in the country be withdrawn and deployed to confront the security challenges in the nation have been disregarded. The police are ineffective because too many of them are not available to do core police work, they spend their time in the service of a few privileged Nigerians. President Tinubu should start by addressing this challenge.