• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

In support of state police

Oyo Police parade ex-park management system boss, Auxiliary

By Ayo Oyoze Baje

“The issue today is not whether to establish state police but how it should be operated. There is no need to debate about state police. The issues of state police and Coast Guards were accepted at the 2014 National Conference.”

-Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (former President of Nigeria and Chairman of the Committee on State Police)

The compelling clamour for the establishment of state police here in Nigeria, as recently championed by President Ahmed Tinubu, in response to the ever-soaring waves of insecurity, characterised by Boko Haram terrorism, banditry, kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery deserves an objective appraisal. It also echoes the call on our political leaders’ commitment to walk the talk on the protection of the sanctity of human life, in sync with Section 14 Subsection (2) (b) of the 1999 constitution (as amended).

Human life is of course, precious, priceless and irreplaceable. That perhaps explains why several countries the world over have put in place extant laws, policies, programs and projects to bolster the people’s trust and confidence in the police. In fact, the Nigerian Police, which was established by the British colonial authorities, has been designated by Section 214 of the 1999 constitution as the national police of Nigeria with exclusive jurisdiction throughout the country.

With regards to its primary functions, the police men and women are employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, and the preservation of the law and order. Other duties include the protection of property and the enforcement of all laws and regulations.

Over the years however, there have been calls for state and local community policing, amidst the soaring levels of crime and violence. But unlike in the United Kingdom or the United States, the police were to be a national gendarmerie rather than locally-based. Police would be recruited nation-wide, and by policy they would not be assigned to where they came from. In fact, the Nigerian government launched a community policing initiative in September 2020. The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja set aside N13 billion (about $35 million) to fund the launch and recruited some 10,000 constables, according to Nigerian media.

Some of the challenges faced by the police officers in Nigeria including the fact that they are inadequately trained, live in dilapidated barracks and poorly paid an issue that has been associated with corruption. Though the International Association of Chiefs of Police suggests 3.4 officers for every 1000 residents. Nigeria’s police strength as at August 2023 was just over 370,000 officers which is insufficient based on a ratio of one police officer to about 600 citizens. The UN-recommended ratio is one police officer to almost 450 citizens.

The rise in insecurity since 2009 informed the formation of Civilian Joint Task Forces (CJTF) in the north, ostensibly to assist the police. The Hezbollah units enforce sharia (Islamic law) with respect to public dress and behavior. But down south in parts of Yoruba land, some state governors as led by the late Governor of Ondo state, Rotimi Akeredolu came up with the Amotekun security outfit.

It is noteworthy that against the persisting issue of insecurity, President Ahmed Tinubu-led administration on February 15 set up a committee to explore the creation of state police, amid the spate of insecurity in the country. When he recently flagged the committee’s dialogue open, he urged the participants to consider the implications of state police. Those who expressed support for state police include former President Goodluck Jonathan; Senate President, Godswill Akpabio; Minister of Police Affairs, Senator Ibrahim Gaidam. Others are Emeritus Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan; and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi among others.

On the flip side, the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, was of a different view, insisting that Nigeria was not ready or mature for it because it was open to abuse by governors. But his representative at the event has since said, it was not the IGP’s views but his. But the issue raised has been the fear of many concerned citizens. But we cannot go on this way. So, one believes and firmly too, that there should be checks and balances, including the removal of immunity clause they currently enjoy, which has fuelled abuse of and politicising political power.

Another significant issue that has to be considered inimical to the success of state policing was raised by Emeritus Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan. He suggested that the complaints made by the IGP on the challenges of policing, such as welfare, funding, and equipment of the personnel should be addressed before considering state policing.

In a similar vein, Senate President, Godswill Akpabio has expressly stated that for state police to work, it must be free from religious extremism, and ethnic and tribal sentiments. That again is the crux of the matter.

As a pragmatic way forward, it is high time we embraced state policing, considering the many lives that would have been saved if it was already established. For instance, figures of those whose innocent lives were wasted are simply alarming. According to data obtained from the Nigeria Security Tracker, NST, 98,083 Nigerians were killed in 12 years prior to the coming into power of former President Muhammadu Buhari.

Thereafter, 63,111 people were killed over the eight years of his blood-letting administration. This figure includes the 27,311 persons killed in the then president’s first term, and 35,800 were killed between 2019 and May 2023. Since 2015, Nigeria recorded the least killings in 2017 when 4618 persons died and the worst in 2021 when 10575 lives were wasted.

The NST is a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa programme. The deaths arose from brazen acts of terrorism, banditry and herders/farmers clashes. Others include communal crises, cult clashes, and extra-judicial killings among others. If the state police was in place could so many people have fallen as victims to all manner of insecurity? That is the million-naira question.

The answers are right there in our hearts, heads and hands. Our political leaders must rise up to be counted amongst those who have utmost respect for the protection of human life the same way they do for members of their families, cronies and loved ones.

The current sordid situation also points the way forward for Mister President to give a final nod for the restructuring of this bloated structure that has the federal centre controlling what it should not. State policing is the best way to go, since members would be conversant with the security situation in their immediate environment.

Also, efforts should be put in place to guarantee increase in the number of the police personnel recruited, to boost their number to the people ratio, stimulate effective training with modern information gathering mechanism empowered with hi-tech security equipment and of course, prompt and adequate payment of their entitlements.