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Insecurity: State police is the way out, by Clem Oluwole 


Insecurity: State police is the way out, by Clem Oluwole

This piece was first published on June 23, 2023, barely one month upon President Bola Ahmed Tinubu mounting the saddle. I have decided to reproduce it in view of the pervasive incidents of kidnapping overwhelming the entire country lately, especially the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

If Abuja, the eye of the nation, is unsafe, I wonder who can go to bed with both eyes closed in other parts of the country.

When President Bola Ahmed Tinubu or BAT pledged to hit the ground running during his inaugural speech on May 29, this year, at the Eagle Square, Abuja, not a few derided him. They must have flipped up their noses in mockery, saying among themselves: “How can a sick, old and feeble man in his 70s boast of hitting the ground running?” Did they think he would hit the road like a marathoner, encircling the City Centre of Abuja?

Jagaban’s demonstration of lightning speed is seen in the swift replacement of the Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police. No new presidents in recent history did that or had the courage to do that within a few days of mounting the saddle. Now, all of them are gone. And that brings me to the sermon for today: Insecurity.

The most frightening challenge facing Nigerians today, irrespective of their status, is worsening insecurity. Like I have always said, the situation has deteriorated to the level that no one can pound his or her chest like a gorilla while leaving home in the morning and declare that he or she will be back. No one!

The situation got so bad that even military officers, police officers and top guns in the society were/are preyed upon and taken into custody for ransom or killed. If law enforcement agents are not safe, I wonder who else is. The key responsibility of any government anywhere in the world is to provide maximum security for its citizens and their properties. Section 14(2b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended states that the welfare and security of the citizens shall be the primary purpose of the government.

Ever since the security situation in the country began to go from bad to worse, especially with the escalation of the Boko Haram hostilities in the North-east before spreading to other parts of the northern states, I have been in the vanguard for the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). To be precise, my advocacy began in 2012. And I have written tons of words in this space, proffering all manner of solutions, all pointing to the need to ventilate the NPF. Regular readers of this column can bear witness to that. But as it turned out, I have been singing for the deaf to dance.

Two years after I kickstarted my advocacy, the National Conference put in place by the Jonathan administration admitted that we should go beyond policing the entire nation of over 200m people with one patina of police system with a strength of less than 400,000 personnel that are poorly paid, poorly equipped, poorly motivated, mostly corrupt and generally unfriendly.

Other prominent Nigerians like former Military President Ibrahim Babangida, former Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau and immediate past Vice President Yemi Osinbajo became my converts. I think BAT too sang the same tune at a point.
It is common knowledge that the NPF lost its verve when the military supplanted democratic governance following the overthrow of the civil administration via the 1966 coup. The police lost its relevance as the nation’s first internal security laager. The system became so emasculated, denigrated and was seen as a mere appendage of the military… and they denied it adequate funding. It was like a little cat wanting to perform the role of a lion. When the lion roars, of course, the cat ought to quiver.

Constitutionally, the police are charged with the responsibility of maintaining internal security, while the military defends the country against external aggression. But because the big boys were in charge, the glorified civilians as police personnel were derisively referred to, should take the backstage. It was this mentality that has rendered the police system effeminate even long after the soldiers finally exited the political space in 1999.

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Our Constitution is patterned after that of the United States where it has different patinas of police system. Perhaps, no one foresaw the situation as it is today. Nigeria is as unsafe as the US where gunmen are killing innocent citizens because of unfettered access to guns by its citizens. Today, criminal elements have access to all manner of firearms in Nigeria and the police are few in number.

According to available statistics, the quantum of light and medium weapons in Nigeria outnumbers the citizens who have no access to guns. To be precise, there are more than 300m guns in a country of 200m citizens. And they are in the hands of non-state actors manifesting as Boko Haram/ISWAP, bandits, kidnappers and allied criminals swarming all over the place like ants on sugar and leaving the hapless citizens in a state of despair.

By the way, did I say no one can leave his home and boast of returning? Today, people are kidnapped from the comfort of their sitting rooms and ferried into the bush for ransom negotiations. In some cases, dynamites are deployed to break down barriers. I can reel out several instances here but for space constraints. It is that bad.

The activities of these criminal elements have been allowed to fester for far too long by successive administrations since the mid-2000s up to the point that the Boko Haram insurgency sprang up on us through the instrumentality of political adventurers in the Borno axis. Nigeria must be thoroughly policed, using technologies if we are to extirpate these vermin and free the citizens from the bondage of these evil doers. The world has gone past physical policing per se. Such tasks must be complemented with state-of-the-art drones and other gadgets to spot crime scenes for decisive actions.

Jagaban should set the ball rolling for the decentralisation of the police. We should have the state police, local government police and even municipal police to complement and not compete with the federal police. Besides, this country is no stranger to local government police. In the First Republic, there existed the Native Authority Police system in the North and it operated parri passu with the federal-controlled police. It is the only way to secure this massive country.

Those who argue that the federal and state police personnel would perpetually be at loggerheads should ponder over an ugly incident that occurred on a street of Port Harcourt on December 10, 2017 or thereabouts. The convoy of the immediate past Governor of Rivers state, Barr. Nyesom Wike, and that of the former Minister of Transportation, Barr. Rotimi Amaechi engaged in a supremacy contest. Barr. Wike was Barr. Amaechi’s protégé. The former was the Chief of Staff when the latter was at the helm of affairs in the state. Then, they fell apart, leading to a gulf wide enough to pass a titanic ship.

The clash was a reckless exhibition of loyalty by the security details attached to the feuding duo, with the two teams of escort details flexing muscles in their determination to defend their principals. It was a show of shame in view of the fact that they all belong(ed) to the same federal security system.

According to media reports, the drama, lasting for about 30 minutes, occurred at the popular Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout, Nkpogu, Port Harcourt, beginning at 3 pm when Amaechi’s convoy driving from the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, was intercepted by the convoy of ex-Governor Wike.

The ex-governor’s convoy was said to have descended on its counterpart, during which some policemen attached to Amaechi’s convoy, were allegedly brutalised. It would have been understandable if Wike’s security details were products of the state police. This kind of overzealousness can be addressed. You do not solve a problem by running away from it. Problems and solutions are two sides of the same coin. There should be proper briefing and/or training for our security personnel assigned to such critical duties. Instead of resolving the confrontation professionally, the two camps, belonging to the same family, decided to divide their loyalties to please their feuding masters. Even in the animal kingdom, dogs do not eat dogs.

Amotekun’s exploits in the South-west are a revelation despite the federal government’s insistence that they must not bear firearms. The security outfit has shown courage in its quest to secure the region with inferior weapons and charms. They have done their best to stop the criminal elements from overrunning the region. Before the region was amotekunised, other states bedeviled by security threats had to set up what is now known as civilian JTF or other vigilante contraptions to complement law enforcement agencies.

It is noteworthy that out of the 350,000 police personnel available to the country, more than 150,000 are deployed to secure high-profile politicians, top ranking government officials, judicial officers, prominent businessmen/foreign contractors, influential clerics and even celebrities, among others. The dearth of security presence in the country has emboldened the criminal elements (many of them are non-Nigerians) to operate with reckless abandon.

Those who have vehemently opposed the state police idea, arguing that governors would misuse the system to hound political enemies are either beneficiaries of the terrible situations we have found ourselves in or are part of the problems. So, because of the fear of abuse of the state police by a tiny clique (of governors), millions of Nigerians should be left at the mercy of these marauding criminals?

We should be interested in how the different patinas function seamlessly in the United States where we copied our constitution from. There are numerous other climes that also operate more than one layer of police system and they do not work at cross purposes. What is more, the establishment of state and local government police systems, apart from growing security presence across the nation, would free hundreds of thousands of able-bodied young men and women from the devil’s workshop run by idle hands.

Imagine, say, 5,000 policemen per local government area and about 50,000 per state. Multiply 5,000 by 774 local government areas, and 50,000 by 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Securing the citizens and their properties does not come cheap. It is the failure of this that has made lives so cheap instead. We are in a situation where criminals would capture innocent Nigerians, dismember their bodies and sell the parts for as low as N10,000. Even bush meat is more expensive than some human body parts.
Jagaban should run in this direction without any further delay and lighten the heavy burden borne by this monolithic albatross called NPF.

The system is overwhelmed, no doubt. It also needs to be overhauled and re-oriented to discharge its duties creditably and efficiently in a 21st Century Nigeria. The most challenging task he must confront, if we are to move forward as a people, is to wrench this bleeding nation from the iron grip of these criminals at all costs. They have held sway for far too long.

That free reign must have given them the fallacious impression that they too have a legitimate “stake” in this country. Mr. President must send a strong signal to them, indicating that truly there is a new Sheriff in town and that the honeymoon is over!

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