• Monday, April 15, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Insecurity: State police won’t work; Nigeria needs regional police

Kuje graduate inmates seek presidential pardon

Faced with escalating violence across Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, the beleaguered president, reportedly agreed with state governors to establish state police. The news excited those calling for state police in Nigeria. But the agitation for state police is utterly misguided; it is based on shallow reasoning, not on a rational, hard-nosed analysis of the potential consequences.

To be clear, Nigeria cannot continue to have a unitary police force that purports to “police” the entire country from Abuja. Equally, however, Nigeria cannot have a mushrooming of ramshackle state “police forces”. Rather, what Nigeria needs is formidable regional police with extensive reach across a region. In the Nigerian context, the advantages of regional police far outweigh those of state police.

Read also: High food prices direct consequence of insecurity Pat Utomi

Somebody will say that each of America’s 50 states has a police force. But consider the facts: the US is the world’s richest country, and even the smallest American state, Rhode Island (population: 1.096 million), with a GDP of $55.6 billion, is richer than each of Nigeria’s 36 states, except Lagos. The GDP of Lagos State is N41 trillion ($102 billion). Rivers State has the second highest GDP: N7.96 trn ($19.72bn). Compare that with that of Rhode Island. By now, Nigerians must accept that it was a fatal error to have adopted the very costly American presidential system, and the idea that Nigeria must do what America does is nothing but bunkum.

The Nigerian presidency has criticised the country’s poor economic situation, arguing that its expensive US-style presidential system and 36 state governments, each with extensive administrative structures, contribute to duplication and wastefulness. The 36-state structure has resulted in the creation of five or six bog-standard universities and five or six underused airports, which are considered white elephant projects by the National Civil Aviation Authority. The country’s wealth is overestimated, and the 36-state structure is a result of the region’s limited resources and resources.

So, the first problem with state police in Nigeria is that no state, except Lagos, can properly fund and run it. Most of the states cannot survive without the monthly allocation from the Federation Account, and even with the allocation, they are borrowing heavily to cover their recurrent expenses. How would they fund a police force? Would the Federal Government change the revenue-sharing formula so that states get at least 37 percent instead of the current 26.7 percent? Despite Tinubu’s knee-jerk promise to create state police, he won’t agree to change the formula and give states enough money to run their police forces.

However, instead of creating five, six, or seven separate police forces in a region, the states in each region can pull resources together and establish a strong and powerful regional police force. State governments already support vigilante groups, most of which freely use force. Yet, they have made virtually no positive impact on violence. What would change if states, most of which are unviable and technically bankrupt, were to create “police forces”? Well, there would simply be a proliferation of glorified vigilante groups, not proper police forces. Put simply, state police would be under-resourced, badly trained, poorly remunerated, and unprofessional. It’s a disaster that Nigeria must avoid.

The Uwais Report highlights the politicisation and abuse of state police in Nigeria, with no constitutional safeguards in place to prevent governors from hijacking the police for political purposes. The incumbent governor’s party controls all elective local government positions, including chairmanships. State governors have also crippled local governments by hijacking their Federation Account allocations. The executive arm of government has always controlled electoral bodies and security agencies to gain electoral advantage. The report warns that state police will destroy local democracy in Nigeria.

Read also: Grain price drop will not last long if government fail to tackle insecurity Experts

In their book Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, John Campbell and Matthew Page highlight the flourishing of the military in Rivers State, Nigeria, where politicians have armed and employed militants to rig elections and threaten opponents. The ruling party has also funded vigilante groups to rig elections. This highlights the high-stakes nature of politics in Nigeria, where state governors can hijack state police during elections, making it difficult to protect state police from potential manipulation.

By contrast, regional police will be less easy to capture and manipulate. Why? Because each region’s police force will be jointly run by the states in the region, Given that each geopolitical zone is likely to be controlled by more than one political party, the possibility of a region’s police force being commandeered by one state governor is remote. For instance, the two PDP governors in the South-West won’t acquiesce to their APC counterparts using the region’s police force to rig elections. Similarly, the APC governors won’t allow their PDP counterparts to hijack the region’s police force. In the UK, ministers oversee the territorial police forces, but the police are operationally independent from the government. This is more likely to be achieved in Nigeria under regional police than under state police. Regional police will have in-built checks and balances that can be strengthened constitutionally.

Finally, violence in Nigeria is not contained within a state; it spreads within a region. The economist Charles Tiebout argues that where there are possibilities of significant inter-jurisdictional externalities or spillovers, it’s better to pull resources together and create institutions with an inter-jurisdictional or inter-territorial reach. Thus, strong and powerful regional police forces, with a region-wide presence, are better able to deal with the intra-regional nature of violence in Nigeria, including intelligence gathering, than siloed state police forces that won’t have the power and wherewithal to work cross-jurisdictionally.

Truth be told, Nigeria must be thinking in regional terms. The most successful countries are organised regionally. Indeed, Nigeria was far more successful under a regional structure than under today’s 36-state structure. For instance, can anyone say that today’s six-state South-West is anywhere near as successful as the old Western Region? Absolutely not. What the state structure has done is create jobs for politicians to be governors, commissioners, heads of parastatals, etc. But that has not translated into better living standards and employment opportunities for the citizens.

Read also: Has the military tech failed to tame Nigeria insecurity?

So, regional police are better than state police. But how can regional police be created? Well, if the Constitution can be amended to create state police, it can certainly be amended to recognise the current six geopolitical zones and create six regional police forces. Last week, the Senate passed the South-East Development Commission Bill and will pass similar bills for other geopolitical zones. The six geopolitical zones, which are already a de facto structure for allocating political and developmental resources in Nigeria, are now being recognised legally. Furthermore, state governors are already working together for their regions. Thus, nothing stops the creation of regional police forces. The only obstacle is a selfish desire to hoard power!