PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari recently had cause to once gain comment on the issue of state police. Speaking in a special interview session with the Voice of America’s (VOA) Hausa Service in Washington DC, United States, the president expressed reservations on the call for the establishment of state police as being canvassed by “some governors,” saying that Nigerians must abide by constitutional provisions regarding the matter. Buhari spoke against the backdrop of the statement made by the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, that the creation of state police would help in addressing the spate of insecurity in the country.
Buhari said: “We must carefully look at the position of the nation’s constitution on the issue of state police before we take a final decision on the matter. If the constitution allows state police, so be it. But don’t forget that many times, the Federal Government gave out what we referred to as bailouts to state governments for payment of workers’ salaries. How many states can pay salaries promptly? And you want to add more financial burden to the states. It is not proper to employ a person, train him on how to handle weapons and then refuse to pay him. You can imagine what would happen in such a situation.’’
To be sure, Buhari has never hidden his opposition to the call for the restructuring of the country, a vital part of which is state police. By his latest statement, he has once again confirmed his preference for the present iniquitous and manifestly unjust structure that has stifled creativity and reduced the states to mere appendages of the centre. Yet, if anyone suggested that Nigeria be renamed, say, “The Unitary Republic of Nigeria,” Buhari would most certainly be up in arms against such a person. If he still needed any persuading as to the justness of the call for state police, all he needed to do was to reflect on his own statements. If the Federal Government had indeed been bailing the states out financially, and the regions in the First Republic did not need any federal bailout, is that not enough indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with the current system? In the First Republic, let us remind him, the Western Region once gave the centre a loan.
By any standards, the president’s prognosis on state police is hollow. It is based on the false assumption that the Federal Government, in a restructured Nigeria, would still have access to the same volume of resources that it has now. That can never be the case. State police, if the point needs any repeating, is part of an overall restructuring framework whereby the functions of and the resources accruing to the centre and the component units making up the federation would be radically altered from what they are now. If you restructure, you also change the revenue formula. As the Federal Government sheds the responsibilities that it attached to itself during the era of misadventure called military rule, so would it lose custody of the resources that it cornered for itself to create the behemoth that it currently is. That being the case, the argument regarding state governments not being able to fund state police collapses completely. Besides, even now, if you divide what is spent on the police by the number of states, won’t they successfully run state police? And are the states not additionally equipping the police from their own resources?
Besides, the conflicting signals being given by the Buhari administration make a mockery of the democratic process and put the country to ridicule. Only recently, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo gave the nod to state police. He said: “State police and other policing methods are clearly the way to go. We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja.” Why is the president saying one thing and his deputy quite another? In any case, the governors elected on the APC platform expressed the position that the country must have state police. Even more fundamentally, state police is part of the manifesto of the APC, which recently set up a committee to articulate its position on the matter. The APC report on restructuring endorsed state police. Why would the president be against what he and his party promised Nigerians?
Happily, though, the question of restructuring and state police is not down to President Buhari’s decision; it is sine qua non to Nigeria’s continued existence as a sovereign entity. It is bigger than the president seems to think it is. The “constitutional provisions” that the president asked Nigerians to abide by on the issue of state police had no inputs from the Nigerian people, who in their wisdom decided on a federal constitution at independence. It was the military that crafted those obnoxious provisions that have plunged the nation into misery ever since. We affirm that the right of Nigerians to live in a federal state cannot continue to be impeded by any qualms that a tiny group of naysayers actively profiting from the misery of the Nigerian populace may have.