State police is not the answer, By Udo Jude Ilo

Udo Jude Ilo

One of the greatest challenges facing Nigeria currently is insecurity. Since after the civil war, Nigeria has never confronted a more devastating collapse of the security architecture in Nigeria than we are experiencing now. With re-emergence of militancy in the South-South, intractable Boko Haram in the North, armed robbery and kidnapping in the South West and South East respectively, Nigeria is indeed going through rough time.

The undignifying and ineffectual response from our security outfits especially the Federal police has rekindled the call from many quarters for the establishment of state police as a solution to rising insecurity in Nigeria.

These calls are not without merit. The state governors who under section 176 (2) of the 1999 Constitution are Chief Executives of their states do not have any reasonable control over the police force stationed in their respective states. Under section 215 (4) of the Constitution, lawful directives given by the Governor to the Police Commission in his state are subject to override by either the President or Minister authorized by the President. The implication of this provision is that Governors do not have control over the Police in their state. The constitution allows an unfettered level of interference by the federal government which in itself undermines the policy and operational value the governor’s can bring to bear.

In a system where security decisions are guided by altruistic reasons, this provision may not really be problematic since the Federal government would have high level of confidence in the state governors to exercise their powers in good faith. Interference would be limited to emergencies and an unwritten understanding would exist between the states and federal government on how best to collaborate for effective policing. Sadly the situation in Nigeria is far from ideal. The provision of the constitution on police control is reactionary. It is intended to forestall abuse of power by state governors but now has created a situation where the governors cannot exercise any meaningful control and the state police command more or less are run from Abuja undermining efficiency. The inadequacy of the constitutional and policy framework does not in my opinion support a radical call for state police.

The emphasis on state police as a magic wand for addressing insecurity in Nigeria removes attention from the structural inadequacies of our overarching national security framework. Our policy on national security is a derivative of colonial operations. The protection of the state and the unity of Nigeria are the centerpiece of our national security. State here from practice is narrowly defined as persons in power. While best practices around the work focus on human safety and security as the bedrock of national security, Nigeria’s policy promotes the state above persons and by extension develops a skewed scale of preference that pollute the operational architecture of policing. With this kind of distorted security philosophy, state police will only create another layer of fiefdom at the state level that further undermines human safety and security.

The Police lack operational independence. The political government can determine the broad policy of policing but it is a rather major problem for government to determine operational activities of the Police. The current practice where there is no operational autonomy by the police is not only unprofessional but also counter-productive. It seems like the police is being micro-managed and the toxicity of political permutations are unleashed on the decision making process sacrificing efficiency for political correctness.

A lot has been written about how the Nigeria Police is one of the most corrupt institutions in Nigeria. It lacks professionalism and is riddled with numerous problems ranging from lack of funding to a culture of human rights abuses. It is difficult to see how state police will solve these problems. Nigerian Police Force is a reflection of the Nigerian society. As long as endemic corruption persists in Nigeria, security will always be a problem because such institutions will always be susceptible to undue influence. The security challenges in Nigeria must be situated within the context of our economic woes, unemployment, corruption and bad governance. A proper contextualization of the issues amplifies the point that state police is not a quick fix but a tenuous palliative that will escalate the problems.

State governments have not earned the confidence of Nigerians in exercising the powers they already have. There is nothing on ground to suggest that a police under the exclusive control of the state will do any better. Most of the states in Nigeria are not viable. Absent federal allocations, such states cannot even function. They are outpost of administration with near total reliance on federal government hand-outs. How can such states support a professional police force? The constitution in Section 215 was guarding against abuse of security machinery of states because history has taught us that these powers will be abused. There are very weak mechanisms for reining in governors in Nigeria. They currently enjoy unqualified immunity and we cannot feign ignorance on how they have exercised their powers, muscled opposition and handled the state structure like family businesses. Under this environment, it is really dangerous to have state police. The consequences would be dire.

One cannot however deny the fact that the current system needs to be tinkered with to ensure a balance between efficient policing and adequate oversight mechanisms on how these powers are used. We cannot continue with the current system which obviously have failed us and will continue to fail us. It is important that as a country we redefine our fundamental security philosophy. At the heart of national security should be human safety and security. This encompasses economic security, respect of human rights, and reasonable use of state powers and security structure that works for the people’s interest. It will require a seismic shift from the current practice that relegates the human person to the background and is focused on protecting individuals in power.

The plethora of reform prescriptions for the police must be taken seriously and implemented with vigour. We need a professional police that has operational independence and effective accountability structures. State government must within the context of the Federal police exercise meaningful control over the police structure in their state. All lawful orders from the state must be carried out by the State Police Command. The only ground for reference to the federal government should be in emergency situation or where in the opinion of the Police Commissioner, the orders of the Governor are unlawful. In this case, the judiciary should be able to play an oversight role in determining whether such orders are unlawful. This is not a perfect proposition but an indicative pointer on how to forestall abuse and improve efficiency.

Our security problems are not in the absence of state police but rather in our inability to find the right balance between state government powers and overbearing influence of the federal government; it lies in our relegation of human safety and security to the background and our perennial helplessness in the face of endemic corruption in the country. We need to focus on these problems and not on state police.

Mr. Udo writes from Abuja


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  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    Quote: ‘We cannot continue with the current system which obviously have failed us and will continue to fail us’. — Mr Udo
    And what is your solution? A continuation of the status quo! Haba!

  • SureBanker

    From the write-up, Mr Udo has agreed that the Federal police has failed woefully, but he seems to be one of those Nigerians afraid of trying out new options – state police. This is the poblem with some of us – we want change but we do want to change our strategies/tactics – fear of the ‘unknown’ na him dey worry some of our people. See Oga Jonathan for e.g. he supported state police when he was Governor of Bayelsa but today, expectedly, he is singing a different tune. This is the bane of Nigeria’s leadership – moving round and round in circles – and achieving nothing ath the end of the day.

  • Dayo Olaide

    A very analytical piece. But the argument (for or against) Creation of State Police cannot be reduced to Yes or No. I think it is reductionism to argue against state police on ground that state governments cannot be trusted or that status-quo be maintained because GoN can better manage policing powers! To the contrary, the last 50years, GoN has shown little capacity to reform itself. And calling for ‘reform’ of the police structures and administration, which by the way has always been a reflection of the type and attitude of the administration in power, amounts to asking that no action be taken. It is calling for retention of status quo; on ground that GoN lack the capacity to reform itself! The last 12 years of democracy I have watched State Governments run at different speeds. While some remain intractably unfeasible and irredeemably tied to the umbilical cord of the FGN, a few others have sharply charted their course to development and transformation. Given the centrality of security to peace and stability, states falling in the second category will find strength in controlling powers of policing their states. Denying them this, on ground that state governors cant be trusted is a wrong generalisation, and counter-productive. It increases the risk to the development run/trajectory in those states. I have no doubt that deeper reflections on the subject will generate ‘progressive’ alternatives! This is the way to go in my opinion.