In the wake of the restive agitations by Nigerians from a re-jigging of the structure of the country, one issue that is almost drawing unanimous approval is the demand for state police. No less a person than the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo recently added his voice to this demand. The ruling APC through its panel on restructuring headed by Kaduna State Governor, Nasiru El-Rufai, is also reported to have made provisions for state police in their recommendations recently submitted to the party leadership. With these weighty support, it could be assumed that the issue of state police is settled and will almost sail through in the coming amendments that have been planned to be made to the constitution to make it align with the agitations by the various sub sets that make up Nigeria.
But we have to ponder and take a second hard look on the idea of state police to ensure we don’t walk into a self-destructive booby trap in the near future. Yes, the idea of state police is appealing especially for those who neigh for exclusive fiefdoms where they will lord and maintain sovereignty over their affairs. It is even suggested that state police hold the key to solving the security problems in Nigeria as it localizes the composition and operation of the police to make it alive to the security needs of the local population. It has even been touted that by granting states the license to form their own police and run it, the advantage that comes with state police would be maximized as all crimes will fall into a local milieu that could be easily tracked and solved within given localities.
But then, one would ask if we are not ignoring the flip sides of this idea of state police. Are we not glamourizing a possible route to strife and division in seeing state police as the panacea to all our security problems? How would control and funding of state police be carried out without compromising the core principles of policing? How can we ensure that state police don’t turn to localized militia that will deepen rather than redeem the security crisis we are trying to deal with at the end of the day? Will state police still be subjected to a federal control that ensures synergy in policing nationwide? What of the dangerous political implications of running state police where a crisis of allegiance will surely come in? will the state police run alongside the federal police or will they be two separate and conflicting interests that pull against each other in executing the same task?
All these are still unanswered posers from those who market the belief that state police is the cure-all drug we need to solve our security problems and these must be satisfactorily addressed for us to experiment with the idea and hand over our security to a fragmented police that operate on different templates. Most important to the worries is that of political control. Will state police, variously in the hands of diverse political interests, not be a more ferocious danger to all in the long run? How can we ensure that the police remain neutral players in the complex mix of politics and interests and focus on ensuring the security of lives and properties? How can we keep state police immune from the erratic control of state actors who neigh hungrily for an armed force to suppress and whittle their opponents and enforce their political wiles and nuances? Have we pondered what time bomb state police can transform to in the hands of irrational state governors, desperate to execute narrow selfish and political interests? How can we ensure that state police are not turned into contending mix of armed wings of the political party and interest controlling the respective states? In the eventuality of this problem, who is expected to keep order and ensure such state police formations are brought to sanity and nonpartisanship?
The fear of funding and control of state police is justified in the present mutual suspicion and acrimony being sowed in the polity where politicians incite peoples, tribes, religious groups and interests against each other. What if these political interests control forces of enforcement, would they not deploy them to prod us into needless but costly war? Are the famed merits in having state police enough to ignore this stark reality? Has anybody imagined what firestorm state police will become in the hands of mischievous political actors desperate to cause disharmony, instill war and bloodletting and plunge the country into unmitigated crises for their political interests, as we have them in Nigeria today? Do the states, most of which are struggling to pay salaries, be able to meet the requirements for funding a well-equipped, functional and competent state police? If we have a riotous group of ragtag, ill-equipped, ill-trained, ill-motivated and incompetent police formations, will it not further worsen the present crisis we are trying to walk away from?
In all these questions, I am yet to buy into the idea of state police. My mind is open on the issue but I need more education. I need further clarifications. I need convincing. I would rather these posers be satisfactorily answered before we plunge into the idea of state police. Yes, state police will come with the benefit of having policemen drawn from their locality and equipped with more knowledge of crime within their given locality but is that all that is needed to tame crime? Let the proponents and supporters do more to answer the yet unanswered posers about the control, funding and operation of state police. If the idea is localizing policing and still allow for a uniform template and control, it is worth trying. But if it is about states to adopt different models in forming and controlling the police, it is a deliberate time bomb that will come with more pain and anguish at the end of the day.
For those who are concerned with misuse of state police, the misuse of state electoral commissions today is instructive enough. When the impression that allowing states to conduct local council elections will make for more independence and sanity, no one warned us that it will tailspin into a charade that has rather worsened the idea of free, fair and credible electoral conduct today. It even came with the disaster of subsuming the control of local governments to a central state command where the governor not only decides who becomes a ward councilor but controls the purse of the local governments in his state. But we thought that granting states electoral autonomy will deepen democracy? There is nothing that suggests state police will not turn out worse if no efforts are made to clear the webs of doubts over the issue.
Lest the reader walks away with the impression that I am against state police, I want to state that I am neither for or against the idea but I am rather seeking more conceptual clarity over some untidy components of the idea before we take a plunge that may turn out costlier than we imagined. I rather believe that the present police, as inchoate and ineffective as it is, can still be radically reformed in terms of personnel, operation, funding, principles and beliefs, to do better. Allowing the existing central command ensures a trackable template that could be improved for better results. Allowing it to fracture into riotous independent state commands without addressing the nagging posers relating to its operation, financing, control, is tickling a time bomb that will leave us with a more dangerous problem in our hands.
Peter Claver Oparah