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State Police: between invading Janjaweed bandits and soulless terrorists & fear of abuse

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For a while now, there has been a heated debate in Nigeria regarding the creation of state police. The majority of Nigerians think state police is a good idea whose time has come, but they are extremely concerned that the avaricious and power-hungry state governors, who have a famous predilection for using brutal force against both real and imagined opponents, will abuse it.

Before discussing how to put safeguards in place to prevent governors from going too far, there is a much more infuriating question that has not gotten the attention it deserves: is it better to leave Nigerians defenceless while the invading, heartless bandits and terrorists from the Janjaweed massacre the citizens?

Nigerians are faced with a decision: either they embrace state police and all the abuses that are expected of them, putting them in a strong position to protect themselves, or they continue to live in despair as they face their killers and kidnappers with hands tied behind their backs by the law.

During his tenure as president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) warned Nigerians that the majority of terrorists, bandits, and killer herdsmen were not native to this country. The statement made by the then-president provided insight into the precarious situation Nigerians have found themselves in, even though his government’s lax policies and treatment of killer herdsmen as though they were acting in self-defense and bandits as economic agitators like the Niger Delta militants contributed to the growth of insecurity in Nigeria.

Yes, Boko Haram terrorists began as Islamic sectarian rebels in Borno, but they have now allied themselves with other terrorist groups such as al Qaeda in the Maghreb, ISIS in West Africa, and others who have discovered that Nigeria has a lax and ineffectual law enforcement apparatus. Because of how inadequate the country’s police force is, more than thirty states of the federation have the military handlibg internal security operations. The president of Miyetti Allah had just trained, armed, and commissioned a militia group in violation of the country’s constitution.

Section 214 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution reads: “There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof”. Again, it was the military that took action and arrested the man for prosecution. The military had to take it upon themselves to declare some terrorists wanted. Generally speaking, the military wouldn’t have to get involved in these domestic security issues in our country if the Nigerian police system is working.

According to reports, bandits were purposefully brought into the country for elections and dumped on Nigerians when the job was done or the mission was aborted. They are now fighting for land in Nigeria, and so are foreign killer herdsmen who have been sacking communities and planting themselves in their place.

The number of killer herders has increased dramatically because of stranded herdsmen who have been driven out of other nations and are exploiting ECOWAS protocols for the free movement of people and goods around West Africa with the aid of internal collaborators.

Despite all these existential security concerns, Nigerians are legally prohibited from organising for self-defence adequately. Their finest effort is to organise vigilante groups. These vigilantes cannot even function as community police since they are ill-paid, ill-trained, and ill-equipped. Barrel and pump-action guns are the highest-calibre weapons that vigilante operators are permitted by law to possess. The IGP is unlikely to authorise any police commissioner to give the vigilantes permission to carry military-grade assault rifles, even AK-47s. Yet, terrorists, bandits, and killer herders use this advanced weaponry against defenceless Nigerians who are not allowed by law to defend themselves adequately.

From north to south, the nation’s forests have been overtaken by these murderers and criminals, who use them as training grounds, bases of operations, and places of kidnapping- for- ransom to earn money for supplies, fighter salaries, and more weaponry.

Nigerian law enforcement is beset by glaring institutional issues. Out of the 26 federal states around the globe, Nigeria is the only one that uses a centralised police force, whereas state police and community police are fundamental elements of a real federal system and federalism. Nigeria should stop playing the ostrich by shying away from the obvious to escape impending cataclysmic consequences.

The fact is that the reason Nigeria is entangled and engulfed in insecurity is simply that the Nigerian police are not appropriately organised and modelled after a typical and effective federal system.

Nigeria is undoubtedly a federal environment operated as a unitary system, with over 250 ethnic nationalities distributed throughout 774 LGs, 36 states, the federal capital territory, 8,812 wards, and more. Despite this overwhelming diversity, Nigerian police officers and men are only 371,000, over 30% of whom are serving as bodyguards of big men and their wives and guarding government concerns.

Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s first military ruler, issued Unification Decree No. 34 of 1966, which marked the beginning of the country’s transition from a federal to a unitary structure. Subsequent military coups have maintained Nigeria’s increased centralization ever since, notably in the architecture of security and the police force in particular.

The deployment of state police, community police, and forest rangers is one of the steps that must be taken urgently to restore federalism to Nigeria. There is an immediate need for both state and community policing. Local content and empathy are some of the things state police will bring to the table, something the NPF does not, which is one reason why the Nigerian police force as it exists today lacks empathy and affective commitment.

It is feasible to implement state police, in particular, if the following steps are taken: Let the state police be established under the constitution, which will provide tenure for a state police service commission made up of military and police and security professionals, CBOs, CSOs, and the media, and which will be safeguarded from governors. This will prevent members from being removed arbitrarily by any governor.

Also, to prevent the governors from depriving the state police service commission of funding, the constitution has to place the commission’s budget on the first line. The public must have access to an extremely clear operational manual for the state police, which they can use to legally challenge the actions of state police officers in court.

Of course, to guarantee their impartiality, commission members and operatives must not be party card holders, only professionals.

Abuse may still occur, to be sure, but these steps can curb it substantially. Nigerians can put up with whatever abuses may still occur if these requisite legal and operational frameworks are in place to enable state police to function effectively. With all of the envisaged shortcomings, it is still preferable to have state police and community police in place than to leave Nigerians defenceless while killer herdsmen, Janjaweed bandits, and soulless terrorists who have converged on Nigeria from all around kill and kidnap the citizens.

We do have a choice, after all. Contrary to what many would have us believe, state police are not the devil’s alternative. A Nigerian proverb warns that we cannot take the chances of casualties and choose not to fight the required war.

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

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