opinionBy Dan Agbese
We are still skirting around the problem and its logical solution, preferring to tinker with the system. Here is the latest official reaction to the centralised policing system imposed on the country by the generals.
The National Economic Council, NEC, met on August 17 and decided to set up a committee to advise it on the decentralisation of police operations in the country. At a glance I almost jumped to the conclusion that the advocates of state police have been given the thumbs up. Not so fast, brother.
According to the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, the council decided “that a committee would be set up with representation from each of the geopolitical zones, chaired by the inspector-general of police so that we find ways of decentralising police operations, so that there will be greater access to information.” Take a breath.
The council has invited the service chiefs and other security agencies to make presentations to the committee. Good. But I am afraid the council showed it did not mean business by appointing the inspector-general of police as chairman of the committee. The police chief is an interested party in the vertical, centralised policing system that has not served our national security needs well and led to the current agitations for state police. It seems crassly unwise to ask him to be part of what might be, on the face of it, a radical solution to this lingering problem that might affect his own exalted office. I see this as the first sign that the council prefers the comfort zone of cosmetics to pragmatic end to the centralised policing system in a federation.
It is unhelpful to take refuge in the comfort zone of acting but not acting. There are numerous panel and committee reports on how best to approach a policing system that works best in a federation. For this latest official response to the decentralisation of police operations to achieve whatever brief the council gave to the committee, the IG must not chair it. It is unfair to the IG even. We need a neutral person outside the police force to head the committee to which the police force must also make representations on its ideas of decentralising police operations in the country.
I would like to remind the council that tinkering with the centralised policing system did not begin yesterday. The problem lingers because we lack the will to free us from a system that is anathema to the letter and the spirit of federalism. Perhaps, the most comprehensive attempt so far to deal with it, could be traced to the Babangida military regime. It took two administrative steps. One, it created the zonal system in which an assistant inspector-general of police heads a number of states grouped under a zone. We have seven of such zones in the country.
The other decision was based on the report of an AFRC committee chaired by Vice-Admiral Murtala Nyako on curbing the barefaced corruption in the police force. The council decided that the inspector-general of police should post police men and women from the rank of inspector down to their states and local governments. The council acted on the assumed logic that police men and women serving in their own localities would think twice or thrice before they ask the public for family support, as in what the Yoruba call egunje. Family support is wired into the policing system. Ending it would feel like putting the genie back in the bottle.
It was not as logical as the council thought it was. Indeed, it was logically flawed. Given the pervasiveness of corruption as it was and is in the service, no police man or woman would feel ashamed to remind their own parents that their sons and daughters dey here o! Still, in so far as it was intended to address a major problem in the force, it made sense within its limited logic. I would not know how well it has been enforced or what impression it has made on the tendency of police men and women to subject motorists to the question that can only be correctly answered with Naira notes: wetin you carry?
It would appear that the zonal arrangement in our policing system was a radical response to the need to decentralise police operations. But it has not quite worked. The problem is this: it was not perfected. The police act was not amended to accommodate this fundamental restructuring in the police force. Police operations were not and are not decentralised. Police commissioners in the states grouped under a zone do not report to the AIG in that zone. Each of them reports directly to the IG. It means that the zonal arrangement is a crying redundancy in our policing system. This, I think, is what the National Economic Council should have thoroughly examined to see how it could be made to serve the country’s security needs better. I think it is a solution crying for perfection. Perfecting the zonal arrangement would lead to the decentralisation of police operations.
It seems to me that everyone not in the corridors of power tends to see the merits in a horizontal policing system consistent with the letter and the spirit of federalism. Those in the corridors of power have, inadvertently, become victims of their own fears about the possible misuse of state police in the hands of some of the scoundrels in the state government houses. But we are giving in to irrational fears. Every human institution is vulnerable to cynical and arrogant abuse or misuse. The current centralised single police force is not immune to abuse or misuse at federal and state levels for the simple reason that the African strong man is a man of immense power with the assumed right to use the instruments of state power to intimidate, suppress and oppress. I do not think this would be worse with state police.
We may have to wait for the report of the committee to see how the wind would blow in our security system. Still, I do not think it is difficult to see that whatever the committee recommends would be glaringly cosmetic. It would leave the substance alone and offer bureaucratic jargons rather than profound reasoning. It would take us nowhere near decentralised police operations that would meet our policing system and our national security. The idea that informed the setting up of the committee was not to solve the problem of how best our policing system can adequately respond to our security needs but to merely indulge in the sterility of maintaining the status quo even when it has outlived its usefulness.
The most effective way to decentralise the operations of the police force is to a) perfect the zonal system and b) have the will to give a nod to state police. Every federal system needs more than one centralised policing system. The states are as responsible for security as the federal government. Security is multi-dimensional. A sensible approach to it must also be multi-dimensional. I suppose that that is why in addition to the Nigeria Police Force, we have other security agencies such as the armed forces, DSS and NIA among others whose work complement one another in giving us less of sleepless nights.
We may continue to run away from having a state police for as long as we wish but I predict that this latest cosmetic attempts to address our security needs and policing system would re-circle back to the lingering debate, to wit, how do we best make effective use of our police force? I predict that those of us who believe that the current vertical policing system would sooner than later give way to a decentralised horizontal policing system with the most fundamental change being to allow the states to set up their state police forces to complement the central police force and other central security agencies.
Mark my prophetic words.