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Keeping soldiers away from police duties

Keeping soldiers away from police duties

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WITH the current propensity to arrogate to the military the solution to practically every security challenge facing the country, a former Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, has done well to warn about the dangers of the growing marginalisation of the police in Nigeria’s internal security matters. His warning is also a timely opportunity to revisit the issue of state police as the country’s security challenge cannot be effectively handled by a centralised police force with a single command based in Abuja.

As the soldiers continue to encroach on police duties, the latter have now been reduced to a bit part role in internal security matters. At a time when their services are needed most, the police have become more notorious for extorting money from young men and women in the name of tackling Internet fraudsters.

Beyond that, more policemen are being deployed in private security duties, leaving only a few for the security of the general public. An Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Rasheed Akintunde, said earlier in the year that only 20 per cent of policemen were discharging the duty of protecting lives and property of ordinary Nigerians. “The remaining 80 per cent are just busy providing personal security to some ‘prominent people’ on guard duty,” he said. This is certainly not the right way to deliver effective policing.

So miserable is the situation that the police have found themselves that another former IG, Mohammed Abubakar, had cause to chide his men over their ineffectiveness in the discharge of their duties. In what was more or less a self-indictment, Abubakar said, “Look at how our Criminal Investigation Bureau has died completely… It is shameful that we bring in soldiers to guard police barracks. If we can’t guard ourselves, can we guard others?” The former IG spoke in 2012, and up till now, not much has been done to reform the police or restructure the security system.

In fact, it has got to the level where the police have become sitting ducks for bandits and armed robbers, whenever they invade any community.  For instance, during the violent attacks on commercial banks in Offa in Kwara State last April, the robbers first attacked the police station, where policemen were killed and the entire station sacked, before they took their killing spree to the streets and bank premises. With no opposition from the police, many banks were looted and over 30 people killed.

Interestingly, Arase is not the only one that is concerned about the rampant military deployment. The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, a Lt.-General, also lamented last year that the frequent deployment of soldiers was affecting the effectiveness of the military in performing their statutory duties.  While the police are statutorily charged with internal security matters, it is the duty of the military to defend the country against any form of external aggression. Apparently overstretched, the military have not been as effective as expected in dealing with militants in the Niger Delta and terrorists in the North-East of the country.

Last year, the Army boss said that the military were involved in security duties in 32 of the 36 states of the nation, meaning that only four were free of military presence in security surveillance. Although he did not state the numerical strength of the military, he however hinted of the plan to recruit 12,000 additional men to be able to cope with the challenges his men were facing. This was perhaps the reason why President Muhammadu Buhari ordered that military roadblocks be dismantled nationwide.

There is no doubt that the Nigerian security situation is becoming more challenging. Beyond the usual burglary and other minor crimes that Nigerians were used to, the advent of violent crimes such as kidnapping, cross-border banditry, the growth of extremists, demand a new approach to security. But rather than rely only on the military, the time is ripe to have a rethink and adopt a system of devolution of policing duties.

There is nothing wrong with Arase’s option of community policing. In fact, it is part of what can be expected when the duty of policing is duly devolved to the states. With state policing and community policing, security duties are taken to the grass roots, where everybody knows every other person. In Germany, for instance, policing comes under its 16 states but it has not in any way disturbed the existence of the federal police.  In all cases, the duties are clearly defined and they all work effectively to keep the country secure.

As Arase suggested, efforts should be made to bring technology into policing, as is done in the other advanced countries. Besides, the government should consciously ensure that the police are well equipped, so that the soldiers can be withdrawn to face their primary duties, while the police carry out theirs.

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