Of all the agenda listed for the new phase of amendment of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the designated committees of both chambers of the National Assembly, state police has been superlatively brought to the front burner of public discourse, with torrents of arguments and counter-arguments endlessly flooding the media. This is understandably so, considering the undercurrents of the security challenges that are driving the nation to the precipice.
The debate on whether the federating states in Nigeria should be permitted to recruit, train, fund and control its own State Police independent of Federal Government’s as common in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America is indeed very healthy for our so-called nascent democracy. What, however, seems very despicable to me, is the focus of the debate. For the discerning, it is clear that there has been a steady dangerous twist with ethno-religious coloration.
But one thing comes clear. Which ever side of the divide one finds himself, the ineptitude of the Nigeria Police Force is visible. Evidently, too, the rising rate of crime across the length and breadth of the country, stoutly support this point. Indeed, one does not need to hire a star guesser before coming to the understanding that the nation is currently teetering on a feral zone following the activities of some religious extremists. The situation is even more precarious when one considers the evident failure on the part of federal security agencies to respond to such security challenges as the sustained pipeline vandalisation in the Niger Delta region, kidnap, high octane murders and assassinations, among others. This lacuna may have further aggravated the call for state police as a remedial measure.
Apparently encouraged by the security hiatus in the nation, proponents believe that with a state-controlled Police, the prevailing security situation in the land would become history. Truth is, many who subscribe to this idea may not be far from the bull’s eye.
But wait a minute. Let us rehash our political journey since independence and the operating system in Nigeria, as they would put things in proper perspective. First, let us consider the issue of election into public offices, say, the office of governor, state House of Assembly, National Assembly or council chairmen. With a history of electoral violence, particularly where an office holder is criminally determined to go for a second term, whether or not he or she qualifies for such a privilege on the basis of performance during the first tenure, it can only be imagined what potential deadly tool State Police can be in the hands of incumbents.
This becomes dangerous with a political history of witch-hunting and intimidation of political opponents, and by extension, the ‘do or die’ political philosophy, which successive leaders have passed down the line. There is certainly no conjecture over the great powers, which a serving governor or council boss wields even without the State Police. And, it would best be imagined than expressed what instrument a State Police can be in the hands of such elected officer bent on a second term. Yet aside intimidation of political opponents, State Police would provide an escape for such highly placed public official, who could either influence investigations bothering on corruption, illegal acquisition of wealth, absence of productivity, evasion of taxes, or summarily kill those who dare challenge him by deploying the police.
A governor, who has all security agencies, including the police, under his control, is able to run his real and imagined enemies out of town on or before elections, so will he look away where need be, from those pilfering the economy, if, and where they belong to his political party or share his ideals, but send the police after his opponents in a bid to gain upper hand.
Clearly, the instrument of State Police would have provided, for instance, a governor, with the options of who to prosecute, when and for what offence, the record to investigate, documents and files to throw away. This latter point, instructively, is what separates us from many civilised countries of the world where standards are effective administrative tools passed on from one government after another, irrespective of party affiliations, and, are religiously followed.
While those who subscribe to State Police easily point to its success overseas, they tend to forget the fact that the situations are not the same. For instance, while a public servant in the United Kingdom, Europe or America, by law, is accountable to the people; the law being supreme, the reverse is the case in our clime. In Nigeria, today, the legal system though well crafted, lacks the ‘function authority’ and so, like a tissue paper, is often torn, squeezed and disregarded as if it were a rude letter from an estranged girl to her boyfriend. This accounts for why most public servants have since graduated from the vote-begging novice and card-carrying member of a political party to a notorious powerful above-the-law crook, beyond the control of the electorate.
Funding is another major issue that will taint any good in the State Police. In Nigeria, for instance, when the issue of minimum wage came up, it took maximum rage from the organised labour for some states to agree to pay the new wage and the reason is simple: most of the states cannot sustain itself effectively. If the alarm raised by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission that majority of the states are bankrupt is anything to go by, it is unthinkable that the states would be able to manage such a capital-intensive institution. Or will it make sense for the states to rely on the federal allocations to service their police? Blame the off shore, on shore dichotomy, which has largely impoverished some states. But this, certainly, is an issue for another day’s discussion.
In Massachusetts, United State, for instance, the Executive Office of Public Safety delivers numerous exciting funding and training opportunities to facilitate the policing job. This yearly opportunities come in form of state and federal tax dollars. This is in addition to funding provisions from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which presents a myriad of public safety opportunities in Massachusetts. The dollars, meant for public safety initiatives, are deployed into community oriented policing, stopping violence against women, fire stations, port security, and emergency shelters. Committed to the peace of society, well-heeled individuals and corporate bodies even endow funds like the Shannon Grant Programme and the Municipal Police Station Grant Programme.
These grant programmes promote safety and well-being in Massachusetts by funding innovative, promising and effective programmes designed to provide prevention, intervention, training, and accountability in support of criminal and juvenile justice personnel, service providers, victims, and offenders. Also far-reaching, are programmes designed to cater for the families of police officers, who died in service of fatherland.
This cannot be said of corporate bodies and individuals in and out of government in this country who would rather pamper themselves with the good things of life; some siphoning funds abroad while poverty and decayed social infrastructure have a crunchy hold on the people amid aplenty. All these point to warped orientation, which exalts personal or parochial interests far and above social and general good of society. How many of our states even host these corporate institutions?
The danger of State Police is that the few well-heeled persons in the society would appropriate it for personal gains. This is the reason State Police pose grave danger and, in fact, presents a potent road to breakup of the nation.
We have a choice and a good one at that. Rather than dissipating energy on an idea that potentially threatens the unity of our nation, profound efforts should be geared towards formulating policies and initiatives that would make life more comforting for Nigerians. The people need sustainable healthcare. They need affordable transportation system. They deserve stable power supply. Nigerians deserve reliable and efficient social security system. Nigerians deserve exemplary, creative and progressive leaders. The youths want to be gainfully employed. They want capacity development through well articulated policies. The youths want conducive environment for learning and twenty-first century education infrastructure. Enough of
empty rhetoric and elitist machinations; all, leading to a needless waste of administrative time.
The Nigeria police need adequate and sustainable funding model; a long time bond package that will address the several challenges besetting the force. We must invest on a long time basis in our police ~ a funding window that will provide them with adequate insurance policy, modern equipment and guarantee adequate training that will meet the current security challenges.
Perhaps, a few lessons can also be learnt from the management of State of Indiana Police. The Indiana Finance Authority, a debt-issuing entity, authorised to issue revenue bonds payable from lease rentals under lease agreements with various state agencies and to finance or refinance the cost of acquiring, building and equipping structures for state use, is reputed for its support for community policing.
In a civilised and developed society where the privilege of holding public office is not abused, State and federal police can work in harmony, but not in Nigeria with an ever-widening political and religious divisions. This, indeed, is why one feels very strongly that the prospects of State Police may be bright, but would need to wait a little longer.
Oba is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Kwara State and writes in from Ilorin.