Concerned with the militarization of internal security in Nigeria, the Second Republic government of Shehu Shagari decided to revamp the police and transform it into a quasi-military organisation with the ability to respond to any internal security threat. Armoured personnel carriers (APCs), assault rifles and other sophisticated weaponry were procured for the police and police personnel were trained and placed in Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams or mobile police units all over the country. The intelligence section of the police was also beefed up to enable it to track and prevent crimes even before they take place.
Of course, to do this – and due to the economic recession at the time – the government had to reduce the military budget and move more funding to the police. Military officers did not take kindly to this and the feeling of ‘inter-organisational hostility’ began to simmer. To the military officers at the time, and in the words of Eghosa Osaghae in his book, Crippled Giant, “…any attempt to build the police into an ‘alternative’ military force, especially at the expense of the army and other arms of the military, was absolutely unacceptable.”
Expectedly, the moment the military junta of Muhammadu Buhari kicked out the Shagari regime, it halted further investment in the police, seized the APCs and assault and sophisticated weapons bought for the police and restored the military’s pre-eminent role in internal security matters. Soldiers, and not the police, once more, became the default police in the country. And the default tactics of the military was not to detect or investigate crimes but to eliminate threats or expressions of dissent entirely through brute force.
The moment the military junta of Muhammadu Buhari kicked out the Shagari regime, it halted further investment in the police, seized the APCs and assault and sophisticated weapons bought for the police
What happened to the police? Expectedly, it was greatly weakened, starved of funds and equipment and its crime detection, investigation and controlling capacities were almost destroyed such that it closed down its main investigative section (B department) and its dog section. It neglected its fingerprints, handwriting and other scientific departments and ignored training abroad, recruited no new experts and lost grip of its traditional functions of detection of crime and apprehension of offenders.
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A former Chief Justice of the Federation, Alfa Belgore, in 2008, offered an interesting theory of why the military deliberately destroyed the police. He said it was for leaking the 1966 coup to the civilian politicians, even though the civilian authorities never believed them. He said the military never forgave the police for telling the politicians about the impending coup, and that immediately the military took over power, they scrapped the ‘E Branch’ – this was the intelligence branch of the police – and greatly reduced the budget of the police.
Coincidentally, the sophisticated police intelligence unit that picked up the 1966 coup signal was no longer there and could not provide the military with any warning on the Dimka bloody coup of 1976. Regardless, the military regime of General Obasanjo blamed the police for the lack of intelligence on the coup and proceeded to set up the National Security Organisation (NSO) in 1976. Although the government said the NSO was going to be in charge of all internal intelligence operations, in reality, it was created to protect the military juntas in power by snooping on the military and the larger society to detect threats against the government.
After the spate of coup d’états against the Babangida regime, the NSO was disbanded and restructured into three separate organizations under the Office of the Coordinator of National Security. Of course, the primary purpose was to protect the Babangida regime, but, as usual, the official reasons were for proper delineation of duties. The State Security Service (SSS) was to be responsible for intelligence within Nigeria, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence, and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for military-related intelligence outside and inside the country.
From the above, it is clear why Nigeria is gradually unravelling. We have destroyed the police and replaced it with the military whose approach to internal security is to terrify, massacre and destroy. Sadly, all the intelligence agencies were set up sorely for regime protection and not for the protection of the citizens. That is why criminals and terrorists continue to operate almost freely while the Department of State Security (DSS) concentrate almost exclusively on harassing political opponents and government critics on social and traditional media.
Nigeria was supposed to reverse this trend and rebuild the police to begin to perform its rightful functions in a democratic society when it transitioned to democratic governance in 1999. But how can it when it has continued to elect the same old soldiers who destroyed the police in the first place? Throughout Obasanjo’s eight years, for instance, it was clear he preferred the use of soldiers for internal security operations – just like in his military days. It was easier, for instance, to send in soldiers to massacre people and destroy Odi in Bayelsa or Zaki-Biam in Benue state than invest in intelligence to fish out criminals who killed security operatives. Nothing has changed since then. Sadly, the chickens have come home to roost and Nigeria is barely hanging by the thread.
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