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State police: Challenges and reality

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WITH less than two years to the diamond anniversary independence, Nigeria is still grappling with some challenges which put some question marks on the integrity of her independence. As a nation, the country is in search of some realities borne not out of a strong desire for nation building, but rather out of the will to play to the gallery, especially when it comes to some burning national issues. Nigeria has, for long, deliberately got so many things wrong with independence. One of such crucial things is the floundering nature of unitary police bequeathed to the country which has hindered the nation’s federalism. Prior to April 1931, there were two police forces in pre-independence Nigeria (Hausa Constabulary and Lagos Police). This was what the country practised till a period in the first republic when the idea of native police was muted. This was also short-lived due to interferences of the political class. In recent times, the clamour for the creation of state police has not only come to the burner, but it has also enjoyed the attention of the presidency and the Senate of the Federal Republic, among other stakeholders.

Beyond this clamour, and as promoted by the political class, the need for the desirability or otherwise of the state police should be guided basically on some fundamental principles guiding modern policing as promoted by Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing. Among other principles, Robert Peel’s assertion on modern police, enthuses the need to bring policing practice to the door steps of the citizens. This policing mission overrides any other missions as may be advanced in the security of lives and property. Arguably, the mission of Robert Peel is to ensure security for all, in a seamless manner; the presence of which the police would facilitate societal affairs without necessarily through the use of force. I align myself with this position because in civilized climes, this is practically obtained through neighbourhood policing which the creation of state police would engender.

For a long time, the national police as presently practiced in Nigeria fractured in many ways primary security and also render same ineffective given visibility limitations and culture of incompetence, among other things. The federal police, as presently constituted, is also limited in many ways and not in tandem with the present security challenges and realities of the country. One of the failures of the federal police in Nigeria is its inability to contend with the gale of terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping in the country. This has resulted in the infiltration of other security agencies into what ordinarily should be the primary responsibility of the police. And if for any reason other agencies would be invited, they should merely complement the effort of the police who are primarily in charge of the protection of lives and properties in the country. The Nigerian military, for example, has,in the last eight years, been routinely involved in police functions in some states of the federation. In countries where security architecture is properly articulated and segmented, especially in police agency, such security anomaly would not be experienced.

For a long time, Nigeria ought to have embraced the civility which goes with the creation of state police in countries that practiced federalism. It is of a misnomer of great magnitude and primary security compromise for the country to have jettisoned territorial or subnational policing from independence till date. The major consequence of this dastardly actis, among other things, undermining the quality of living due to lack of security coordination which the practice of state policing would have brought about. The country’s recent experiences on security compromises as occasioned by herders’ mayhems in some parts of the country and the most recent embarrassing abduction of 110 Dapchi school girls coming about four years after a similar occurrence in Chibok tell a lot on the need to interrogate the primary security architecture which is the duty of the federal police. As a matter of emphasis, the present primary security as provided by the current police structure is woeful and unrealistic, given the international standard of one police officer to four hundred citizens. The contention here, and as always canvassed, is that the present police structure and population are greatly ineffective. The test for police inefficiency as presently obtained is the continuous perpetration of crimes and disorderliness in many parts of the country. The establishment of state police would not only stem the increasing tide of insecurity; it would also bring policing to the neighbourhood. Examples of countries with state police abound in the United States of America, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Belgium, France, Algeria, and South Africa. The expediency of the establishment of state police is also hinged on the fact that our country is grossly under policed, given about 190 million people in a country of less than 400,000 police personnel. This number translates to ratio 1 police man to about 494 Nigerians. And when we approximate this to the nearest hundred, it is ratio 1:500. In the real sense of it, it is even more than this figure, given the fact that one-third of the Nigerian police personnel are providing security, and or carrying the briefcases or bags of top Nigerians, including their legitimate spouses or concubines. This grossly falls short of the United Nation’s recommendation of ratio 1 police 400 citizens.

In every country that practices state policing, the philosophy of community policing comes in handy. And the truth is that community/neighbourhood policing is seamless with state policing and not with unitary policing as practiced in Nigeria. Whatever is said to be community policing in Nigeria is merely theoretical and another way of foisting policing philosophy on the nation when the police architecture doesn’t support it. Police personnel, where the philosophy of state policing is entrenched, are not the sole guardians of laws and orders. Members of the public naturally and freely support policing work and make same easy for the police personnel.

As found in different submissions, some stakeholders have always argued that the country cannot practice subnational policing. Their arguments have always been premised on lack of funds, given the poor handling of workers’ welfare in many states and its hijack by the politicians for deliberate selfish political oppression and perpetuation. While these positions are valid and of course, seriously in order, they cannot invalidate the appropriateness, propriety and efficacy of establishing state police given the reality of the present insecurity in the country. Many countries (especially those in Asia) practicing subnational policing system have faced similar challenges which are normal and developmental; and overcome same or better put, still coping with same. What should rather be of interest and concern to stakeholders and those saddled with the polity is the primary security which the establishment of state police would bring about. More fundamentally, state policing would promote community policing as earlier indicated.

Where community policing is practiced, it becomes a sine qua non of state policing, given the unhealthy gap between the police and the policed. It goes without saying therefore, that the arguments against the establishment of state police would not naturally hold, given the security realities on ground in Nigeria. More importantly, if the current restructuring debate in the country would affirm the true spirit of federalism, the creation of state police should also suffice. Whether the country is ripe for it or not should not be the question. Rather, our concerns should, among others, be: how do we make it operational at the state level; and perhaps, at other levels like local governments and institutions in the spirit of multi-level policing? Of a truth, there will be emerging structural and operational challenges which are themselves expected and normal. These, rather than weaken the entire policing system, should rather strengthen it.

  • Professor Aremu is of the University of Ibadan

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