On State Police: Let’s think again, please, By Pita Okute

Pita Okute: The nation needs not saddle governors yet with additional burden of managing crime detection agencies

The arrest last Wednesday of a robbery kingpin in Anambra State and the seizure of a small armoury from his residence should serve as morale booster to the police and other security agencies. The war against crime proceeds as an ever shifting struggle and every victory against the criminal underworld is worthy of celebration for the relief and comfort it brings to peace loving and law abiding citizens.

For quite some time, Nigerians have had little cause for joy and satisfaction with their appointed minders, the Nigeria Police and other security agencies. A major consequence of this discontent has been the loud calls for a state controlled policing system to help check the upsurge in violent crimes and persistent breakdown of law and order around the country. The proponents of this rather attractive idea deploy ample rhetoric to back their demands.  The bulk of their submissions rest on agitations for “true federalism.” Deriving from that is the expediency of ceding political control of the security machinery in the states to the state governors.

Somewhere along the path of our political development, state governors earned the sobriquet of ‘chief security officers’ of their respective states. Crafty political adventurers have interpreted this to imply that the state governor is a very high official in the hierarchy of law enforcement- somehow combining the powers of inspector general of police and the director general of the State Security Service, not forgetting of course, the commander of the nearest military division. But the tag of ‘chief security officer’, as we recall, is a throwback from the dark days of the coup-prone military era in Nigeria when security was a touchy issue and the leaders could not afford to sleep with both eyes closed. In a democratic setting as we now have, the label may only describe the political will to enhance the rule of law by providing the enabling conditions for the security agencies to perform at their peak. It does not and should not constitute political control of the security apparatus in the state. History has clearly shown where that may lead us and opponents of state controlled police are genuinely afraid of the likely consequences of allowing state governors to have that extra rein in their feisty political hands.

Since the current democratic era, the federal government has been routinely accused of using the EFCC to hound its political opponents. We were all witnesses to the evil manipulation of the Nigeria Police during President Obansanjo’s disagreements with Chris Ngige, governor of Anambra State at the time. Will state governors fare any better, given their established penchant for power drunken misrule? Recently, a national newspaper published a damning report on the wanton abuse of power by officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA). How prepared are we to check potential excesses by state controlled police operatives, if and when they come into being?

We must also acknowledge that we do already have state controlled agencies all around the country that operate as quasi–police organisations. In the short lived Second Republic, Lagos and other UPN controlled states created the “maja-maja” vigilante outfits. A few other non-UPN states also had their own versions of such a service, ostensibly to maintain discipline on the roads and carry out other crowd control duties, but invariably to check the encroachment of opponents into their political turf.  In this dispensation also, Lagos State has LASTMA as a veritable traffic law enforcement agency alongside a vibrant environmental policing agency. Imo State has developed a state-wide vigilante service that operates like a community policing network. It also has ENTRACO, as an environmental sanitation watchdog. Examples abound all over the country of worthy efforts by state governments to contribute to the general upkeep of the law in various tangible forms. In all cases, the enabling laws allow these agencies to investigate, detain and prosecute offenders of the specific laws for which they were established.

The supposed need to have state controlled police, or the archetypal crime-fighting detective agency, emanated from the spiralling crime wave and security challenges in the country. But with state schools and colleges, universities, hospitals and other public utilities running at no greater efficiency than similar federally owned institutions, what is the certainty that state controlled police will have the intended effect of minimising crime in the states? Given the high cost of maintaining any level of security, how do we intend to fund the state police scheme? Shall we depend on already overstretched federal allocations at the expense of vital expenditures on education, health, agriculture and other sectors? The Kwara State governor has already announced that his government cannot fund an independent police force. What about recruitment and training? When we create state police, shall we return some calibre of federal policemen to their states of origin or do we start from scratch? Will the states run their police training academies independent of each other and with all the attendant consequences of varying operational standards and doctrines? How do we insulate the state security apparatus from the power drunken grasps of the state governors and their political party stalwarts and godfathers? Yet, before we get examine these pertinent issues, we need to address one very fundamental question: Have we maximised the use and efficiency of the available resources for containing crime in the states? It is my considered opinion that we have not.

Very amazing is the number of uniforms you see on parade on every road in every state and local government of the federation. From bank and hotel security outfits to street neighbourhood watches, village vigilante, local government, ethnic and state policing organisations, including the entire federal security apparatus, the evidence suggests very strongly that Nigeria is adequately policed. But the reality leaves much to be applauded, because of the wide gap in information sharing and networking with the prime security agency in the country, which is the Nigeria Police. So, rather than canvass for dubious control of extra-legal instruments for coercion of indigenes and residents, governors should work for assiduous deployment of the various private and public security agencies into a seamless, efficient nationwide effort to grapple effectively with the security challenges confronting the nation. I shall not insult anyone’s intelligence by proposing how this may be achieved. Nigeria has enough experts in security management to figure out the operational scheme for an all-embracing, nationwide security network. What we have lacked so far, is the political will to think within the box. However, some lucid examples will suffice.

Sometime in July, Godwin Achinulo, a barrister was abducted around 8p.m. on a lonely road in a village in Imo State. The gangsters shot his driver who ran bleeding for help to nearby houses. Among the first sympathisers were village level vigilante operatives who had seen a car driving away without lights behind a motorcycle. They could have given discrete chase or informed other security people further down that stretch of road of the incident, but did not have any standard operating procedure by which they could report the crime immediately to the police. By the time the Divisional Police Office in Nwaoriebui, the LG headquarters, received official information the next morning, the hoodlums were nowhere to be found. Are we to suppose that the hotel where Cynthia Osokogu met her gruesome death did not have hotel guards and watchmen?  Are bank security and other private guards sufficiently trained to report suspicious behaviour around them, and not necessarily limited to their places of work, to appropriate channels for prompt investigation and action? It is really high time everyone-from the neighbourhood watch and village level vigilante to the private security agencies got involved in a collective, properly organised assault on the criminal underworld in Nigeria.

Let us conclude by pointing out that governors are not just the chief security officers of their respective states. It behoves them to provide leadership in every sphere of government activity. Consequently, they are also the chief education inspectors, the chief health inspectors, the chief agronomists and even sanitation officers of their areas of governance. For all the reasons adduced above, the nation needs not saddle them yet with the additional burden of managing stated owned crime detection and prosecution agencies. What they need do is provide the enabling platform for a robust, proactive and efficient relationship between the various state-based policing agencies and the federal security networks.


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