Proposed State Police: A Memo To The Modality Committee

Proposed State Police: A Memo To The Modality Committee

By Law Mefor

Victor Hugo, a renowned philosopher, famously said, “No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”. An idea that has reached its prime is known as a zeitgeist or spirit of the times. The moment that yields to its utility as demanded by historical necessity is when the idea or concept—a “spirit,” if you prefer—is appropriately received. This is a momentous historical occasion for Nigeria and its people.

This famous quote is perfect for discussing the possibility of state police being established nationwide by the state governments. Because security is local, every federating unit in a federal system of government is naturally entitled to establish and manage its security.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s meeting with 36 state governors that Thursday at the State House in Abuja began the historic journey to state police in Nigeria. Other attendees included Vice-President Kashim Shettima, the National Security Advisor, Nuhu Ribadu, the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, and the Director-General of the State Security Service, Yusuf Magaji Bichi, and ministers.

Nationhood is characterised by some security exceptions that are exclusive to the central authority within a federation. Examples of these exceptions include immigration, the army, and one or two others. The federating entities in a federation reproduce everything else, except these special areas. State police in particular is one essential feature of a federation.

It is therefore instructive to note that only Nigeria, out of the 26 federations in the world, has a centralised policing system. This is abnormal in and of itself, as it has resulted in a glaring lack of capacity to address the growing insecurity and expanding ungoverned areas in Nigeria.

The Four Regions, which made up the federating units of the Nigerian federation in the First Republic, had their own police before the Nigeria-Biafra war. To handle their external affairs, they even maintained consulates overseas. However, the military was forced to uphold a unitary government in our federal environment due to the civil war, which nearly brought about the collapse of the country. One of the measures that the military enforced was the establishment of a single police force, and taking away the states’ autonomy to establish their police forces, as is the case in all federations.

To be clear, Section 214 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution states: “There shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and no other Police Force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof”.

To restore the states’ authority to establish their police forces as federating entities, that particular section of the 1999 Constitution needs to be altered.

Many Nigerians now acknowledge the need and urgency for state police in Nigeria. However, many more are worried about its viability in light of the state governors’ avarice. These Nigerians’ worry is justified, but it is not incurable. According to an Igbo proverb, people shouldn’t refuse to go to war because of death. This means that since state police are now a given, the main focus should be on how to make it work. That is the main idea behind this memo to the committee that will ultimately design the procedures for its implementation.

First, it is a well-established fact that state police are an essential component of any federation. Therefore, Nigeria would be violating federalism if it continued to function without a state police force. Nigeria’s escalating ungoverned areas and rising levels of insecurity are mostly the result of the lack of state police in the country.

State governors have attempted to close this gap by establishing Hisba police in the North and vigilante groups like Amotekun in the South West and Ebube Agu in the South East and some other security outfits. Unfortunately, there are basic reasons why these amorphous vigilante outfits cannot effectively take the place of state police. First of all, the vigilantes are ill-equipped and improperly trained. Citizens are prohibited by current laws from possessing certain grades of firearms, which make the highest caliber of weapons allowed to be Pump Action guns. Military-grade or high-caliber guns cannot be licensed for civilian use by an IGP or Police Commissioner.

Since the vigilantes are not regarded as police officers by the constitution, they are not allowed to carry guns with a caliber up to AK-47. Vigilantes are unable to carry out their roles as police in their respective regions of operation due to such legal restrictions. Those who carry such powerful firearms are aware that doing so is against the law and that they will be held accountable if something goes wrong. If a police officer uses an unlicensed rifle to kill even an armed robber, for instance, they may face charges of murder.

The fact remains: one police force cannot adequately police Nigeria’s vast and diversified territory and 230m population. Nigeria has 8,812 Wards and 176,606 polling units. The political structures of the nation are also so diverse, with 774 LGs, 36 states, and a federal capital territory. In contrast, there are only 371,000 police officers and men in Nigeria, who are under the command of a single IGP who is based in the comfort of his Abuja office.

Furthermore, of the small number of police officers and men, more than thirty percent serve as bodyguards for elected and appointed government officials, and politicians, and guarding national monuments. This leaves only roughly 250,000 police officers available for internal security and core police duties.

Given this anomaly, the question that should worry the Nigerian public now given that state police is now unavoidable, is “How will it work?” When it comes to the viability of the state police in Nigeria, four things need to be addressed immediately and decisively. Apolitical state police are necessary. This means that any member of the state police service commission that is to be established cannot be a card-carrying member of any political party, nor can they have any form of criminal record.

Members of the commission should have verifiable records for public good, and drawn from the media, CSOs, clergy, and servicemen—both active and retired. Additionally, only persons with excellent character, demonstrable integrity, and public service records should be considered.

The State Police Service Commission must have a guaranteed renewable term of five years and no more, and it must be free from direct executive influence. The nominated membership should be made public in the national newspapers so that the state assembly can review the petitions, if any, before confirming the nominees. The State House of Assembly’s 4/5th vote should be required to affirm a stringent disciplinary procedure that must be followed before a Commission member can be removed. Good pay and allowances should be provided to members. The reason: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys to work for you, as the saying goes.

The Commission should be in charge of hiring, promoting, disciplining, and training personnel of the state police. Adequate provisions for state police officer accountability and severe penalties for actions and obligations beyond legal and operational guidelines must be included in the founding laws. For instance, killing or shooting unarmed persons ought to be prosecuted as murder to hold negligent and belligerent state police officers accountable.

The establishment of an Internal Affairs Department, tasked with overseeing the actions of state police officers and men, is also recommended for the State Police Service Commission.

The men and officers of the state police should be paid, equipped, and trained appropriately. Otherwise, as is currently the case with the Nigeria police, they will prove to be liabilities in no time. They should be primarily trained in democratic policing concepts since this will enable them to serve as the people’s police and contribute to society as social assets as found in developed nations.

To minimise the rivalry between the federal and state police, the law should clearly define the areas of responsibility for each agency.

It’s also very important to note what name the state police would take. There is a name-driven psychology. Without using the term “force,” the state police should simply answer, “XYZ State Police.” The Anambra State Police, not the Anambra Police Force, is one example. The Nigeria Police’s use of the word “Force” partly accounts for the Nigeria police brutality and incivility towards citizens.

Even at the federal level, it is crucial to establish a distinct wing with distinguishing features for the VIP Police Protection Service.

Lastly, people who worry about state governors abusing their power over the state police should remember that the majority of them already run armed groups that are not answerable to anyone or the law. In contrast to what happens with many governors’ armed goons, state police would be held legally responsible and accountable, and any illegal activity by any state police personnel would be dealt with by Nigerian High Courts.

The Nigerian police force as it currently stands is egregiously deficient. NPF is understaffed, underpaid, undertrained, and unmotivated. That clarifies why they act against the people they are supposed to defend. State police, contrary to what some Nigerians fear, will be a cure, not a curse if carefully implemented.

·Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts;; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor

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