The Ikeja Police College, the premier police training institution in Nigeria, is in the news. It has been since the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, paid an unscheduled visit to it last week. The visit followed a very revealing report by Channels Television, Lagos. The report which exposed the unbelievable rot in the institution is said to be a part of Channels’ corporate social responsibility initiative, with a special focus on the state of Nigeria’s security institutions. A public discourse planned by the Television House, as a follow-up town hall gathering, scheduled to be held on Tuesday, January 22, 2013, in Lagos, with top police officers attending and participating, was hurriedly cancelled. No reason given. The reason is not farfetched, however. After the visit and the reported public annoyance exhibited by the President at the audacity of the report, no right-thinking police officer, is expected to grace the Channels’ event, without the assurance of the President that he will not be on the firing line.
During the visit, the President had said that the report was purposed to damage the reputation of his administration, and wondered how the sorry footages of the decrepit police facility, shown on television, was recorded. The President knew what he was talking about. Given the extensive coverage of the report: library, toilets, kitchen, dormitory and a class in session, it is obvious that the recording could not have occurred without official “police permit” or without insider collaboration. Thus, the President could not have believed the denial of the Commandant of the College that he knew how and when the recording was made. In the circumstances, if any police officer had shown up at the Channels Forum, he would have unthinkingly put his head on the chopping slab for a descending presidential machete.
The political opposition, public commentators and media editorialists have taken on the President for demonstrating fury over the state of utter neglect in which the college lies, and for attempting to constrict freedom of the press. The President ought to be sorry, that under his watch, the college is in that state of disrepair. The President was not sorry. He was angry.
By demonstrating an unwarranted anger instead of contrition, and by not seizing the moment to promise to rehabilitate the college and others, the President missed a good public relations opportunity. The promise to rehabilitate all police colleges in Nigeria, an afterthought, made by the Minister of Police Affairs, at a press briefing in Abuja, on Tuesday, January 22, 2012, cannot control the damage that had been done by the President. The President’s visit, a detour while on his way to an ECOWAS conclave in Cote d’Voire to discuss the war in Mali, was a fitting event to demonstrate his care and love for the men and women in police uniforms that he relies upon, as Commander-in Chief, to maintain law and order and keep the peace. Men and women he sends in harm’s way everyday to fight armed robbery, kidnapping and bloodletting insurgency in the Country. The President could have said that he visited personally in order to confirm the authenticity of the report, and should have demanded that he be conducted round the premises. Thereafter, the President should have told the media that the state of the facility was unacceptable and that his administration was poised to rehabilitate the college. The President should then have patted the media on the back for a job well done, stressing that the media was playing a critical but constructive role in the development of our democratic institutions. It was Abraham Lincoln; the 16th President of the United States who said “extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public”. If this were true of a lawyer, it is truer of a politician and a President.
What is the correct position to be pushed by the public regarding the neglect of this police facility? Is it to demand that the police college and others scattered all over the country, suffering from neglect, be rehabilitated, or that all police facilities all over the country that are in a state of general disrepair be fixed? We think not. The Unitary Government of Nigeria alias the Federal Government of Nigeria is incapable of rehabilitating all the police facilities in Nigeria. The Police College Ikeja is a metaphor for infrastructure decay in all spheres of our national life: roads, schools, hospitals, court rooms, military facilities, et cetera. There is too much concentration of legislative, executive and judicial powers at the central government level. That is the central problem, and this is a distortion of federalism.
In the United States, there are the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Marshalls, State Police, and County Police. On top of all these, certain public institutions like university colleges have “police units”. This arrangement has not caused dysfunction. There is synergy and inter-police cooperation. With the guarantee of the rule of law, no mayor or governor will use the police to terrorize political opponents. If any governor or local government chair, in the Nigerian setting, uses state police against innocent citizens; citizens, whose rights are violated, can have recourse to the law courts to seek judicial redress. Fundamental rights are protected by the Constitution, and just as it was the case in the United States during the civil rights movement when federal marshals escorted schoolchildren to school whilst enforcing anti-segregationist laws in Alabama and Georgia, if a state police is complacent or conniving at the violation of rights of the citizen by a state government, the Federal Police, under an executive order, subject to a constitutional challenge or the court’s power of judicial review, can intervene. Nigeria ought to have a statute of general application under which states and local governments all over the country shall establish their separate but identical police forces, lest we have disparities in the existence, structure and powers of the police forces in the same Nigeria. The envisaged police statute will more or less be like the Nigerian Constitution, under which the Federal, States and Local Governments are established, with the governments of the various states and local governments exercising similar, if not identical powers. There is no unitary police in a federal Canada or Germany. Even in the United Kingdom, there is no unitary police system.
The Federal Government has not been providing the facilities and equipment the police in Nigeria need to function optimally. State Governments have come to the rescue of the Police. Demanding that the Jonathan administration should revamp the dilapidated police colleges, without posing the central issue of re-organization, decentralization and re-federalization of the Nigeria Police Force will only sustain the illusion that in a federal state like Nigeria, the police force could be adequately established, organized and funded, solely and unitarily, by a central government. Every state of the Nigerian Federation and every local government council in every state should have her police force or service, alongside the federal police service or bureau. It is absurd to have three tiers of government in Nigeria, and have one tier police force. Unfortunately, the President has said we are not ripe for state police. If we are not ripe as a country for state police, why should we be ripe for judiciaries and legislatures of states; why are we ripe to have state governments and governors or local government areas and local government chairmen?
A distant federal government in a country like ours where the governance arena has become a crime scene cannot ensure that monies disbursed to public institutions like the police colleges, customs training schools, prisons, et cetera, are not stolen or diverted. This has become a culture. The other time, for protesting against their superiors for the embezzlement of their payments during peace keeping operations, soldiers of the 31st Brigade of the Nigerian Army in Akure, Ondo State were court-martialed. The offence? Mutiny or the nebulous and very extensive “conduct prejudicial to good service discipline.” What a country!
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