Politics

BREAKING: State Police, To Be Or Not To Be? BY RICHARD ODU

Mohammed has joined the class that believes a state police system is the best answer to the nonsense called insecurity in this country. Any Nigerian who has not felt genuinely moved by the spate of terror, kidnapping, robbery and banditry that is the nation’s albatross today should immediately see a psychiatrist. Very much annoying is that foreigners have been variously fingered as perpetrators of the heinous crimes. The Benue case, under Samuel Otorm, was pathetic, such that the poor governor was turned into a weeping boy among the governors. Worst of all, he could not rescue his people because an unpopular constitution had tied his hands. The nation, not only the weeping states, needs solutions.

While the state governors have vehemently advocated the creation of state police to decentralize security operations and make them more manageable in a vast country such as Nigeria, those in opposition fear that the outfit could turn to a tool of repression against perceived political enemies of the state governors.

We can, however, come away from the cacophony of the debate, holding the fact that, because a discussion of this kind is actually going on, all is not well with the present policing system which vested all powers in the federal government to control the police and determine its fate. Indeed, had a central police system been living up to expectation, no one would have raised a voice to call for another system that could deliver the desired services.

A police force, in essence, maintains public order within a community, prevents and detects crime, and enforces rules of conduct and laws. It is an agency controlled by a government which is an authority to which the common people in the community have submitted their allegiance.

When crime rate is high, it is interpreted by deductive reasoning, that the police have not been working hard enough to “prevent and detect” crime. Several reasons could lead to police inefficiency, one of which could be overload.

It is arguable though that the numerous banditry, kidnap and armed robbery cases occurring in our communities appear to have overwhelmed the present police force which takes others from far away Abuja. That explains the creation of extra-constitutional outfits in the past, such as the Bakassi Boys that transformed into vigilante groups and sought to be recognized as the Vigilanté Group of Nigeria (VGN). If the police, as it is constituted today, had been doing its job satisfactorily, there would not have been a desperate yearning for the vigilanté outfits to guard the communities against the menace of day and night marauders. Besides the defunct Bakassi Boys, there have been the Hisbah in the north, the Amotekun in the West, as well as Ebube Agu in the East.

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The fears of opponents of a state police hinge mainly on the past experiences of those who were unduly mistreated in the hands of these quasi-police agencies on the orders of the politicians that created them. References can be made to the recent accusations that Ebube Agu had turned to a group of hatchet men for politicians in the East, as well as incidences in the past of murders in Abia State which were allegedly traceable to the Bakassi Boys. In the West, the harassment of people of other states living in Lagos by the Odua People’s Congress (OPC), Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) and the like had also been reported.

It was so because the quasi-police personnel, in the first instance, were not formally recruited and therefore did not pass through security training. Such a situation would change when the state policeman sees himself as an employee of government who is fully protected should he refuse to carry out orders that counteract the overall legal and moral regulations of the land.

Former police inspectors-general and other top officers of the force in the past have been vociferous in condemning the idea of state police, believing that the nation was not ripe for it. It is not contestable that they are an interested party out to protect their constituency. In this case, they acted the father figure shielding its progeny from public glare and refusing to share territory with any other outfit.

Some again fear that there could be a clash of functions between the federal and state police. A clear delineation of functions and operational territories can take care of that, just as it is in the countries that run a three-tier police system in the federal, state and local government.

However, too much energy has been dissipated in arguments for and against state police without a look into various other components involved in effective policing. One of the neglected areas is the porous borders of the country and poor

immigration management that gave free entry to rats and cockroaches, such that other nationals now have the audacity to use weapons against Nigerian citizens unchallenged. In recent reports, people suspected to be nomadic herdsmen changed into professional kidnappers dwelling in forests in the Southern regions of the country.
In deed, it would benefit the nation more to think of other lasting ways to combat crime than to be overdependent on the police. Perhaps, the excessive focus on the police as custodians of our peace and order might have, paradoxically, contributed to the rise in crime rate.

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The inglorious Anini days in old Bendel State had since revealed to us that those to whom we surrender our lives for protection could be comfortable allies of the enemy. In his celebrated trial, the notorious robber who was finally executed implicated some police chiefs he had placed on his payroll in exchange for cover and supply of weapons for his nefarious activities.

Again, the base nature of man is to seek relevance in the society. By this knowledge, it would be difficult to deny that the police tacitly relish a high crime situation which gives them a sense of worth, a raison d’être. If it is the more we have crime the more we need the police, it stands to reason that the less crime there is, the less need we have of police. This no-crime-no-police situation is the last an average policeman would wish. And so the high crimewave unwittingly becomes the policeman’s goldmine. It would be naïve to think that the police do not enjoy the funds, vehicles and materials that the state governments shower on them which they have been accused of sometimes converting to personal use. With the creation of state police, all that would be directed to the respective state police services that are likely to emerge.

Clearly, the high crime rate in the country is indicative of the venom in the youth at the continued marginalization of members of their constituency by a few individuals who merely organize the looting of commonwealth in the guise of political leaders. The youth do not see for themselves a future in this country as no plans are made to create jobs. The so-called leaders pay lip service to proposals to fix our ailing power sector, which is unarguably the pivot of massive job creation and economic boom. The once bubbling industries in the country have packed up, while some among them have relocated to neighbouring countries because there is inadequate electricity, resulting in massive job losses. Those who work, especially for the government, are not sure of their pay at the end of the month, and those who work in the private sector are exploited. It is no better for the rural farmers who do not have good roads to convey their produce nor storage facilities to preserve them. And, lately, the bandits have added to the many threats the farmers face, even to the point of being unsure of their lives.

What the youth witness is a systematic stifling of merit as those perceived to be connected walk on paved paths of life while the majority is left to wallow miserably in a land blessed with oil. The daring ones among them who can not take it anymore are on a suicide mission of make or break. They can’t watch those they are better than, or even miscreants of their ilk, build mansions and ride flashy cars simply because they are allies to some political bigwigs. They throw morality overboard and feast on the lucrative business of kidnapping, internet fraud, and so on. We may sermonize till the end of time and condemn the criminals for taking to crime because they have no jobs, but it is better not to give them room for excuses as this has always been the reason they advance to their victims.

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State police is highly desirable for obvious reasons that the country is vast and the terrains require those familiar with them. It facilitates intelligence gathering when the police understand the language spoken where he resides and is able to blend as a spy without standing out as a stranger.

While the state police system is being considered, the nation should also focus on bringing the economy once again on a good footing to be able to engage the youth meaningfully and turn them away from crime. It is unfortunate that efforts in the past to create jobs through the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) and others hit the rocks as the Nigerian factor loomed large against them. We must learn, however, that nothing creates jobs more than infrastructure, especially electricity. There is definitely no need for the oversea trips our governors embark upon and tell us they were there to attract foreign investments while they had gone for their personal business transactions, for, no sane businessman would invest in a land bereft of necessary facilities.

The best police, after all, is not the one armed and in uniform, running around in siren-blaring armoured personnel carriers. It is a system that holds merit over and above other qualities, a system that respects the law and not the person, a system where one sows a seed and reaps later, not the monkey-de-work-baboon-de-chop system. It is not profligacy but prudence that leads to a stable economy where everyone gets to know what to put in and what to get out of the society.

However, state policing is an immediate answer to an overwhelming insecurity that has infested the country. If this call is not taken seriously this time, then we can conclude that our mumu is inexhaustible.

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