Unabated banditry calls for decentralized policing system
Over the weekend, it was reported that “bandits” had kidnapped several travellers near Dominion University along the Lagos-Ibadan Road. This happened uncomfortably close to Ibadan, and a police officer was killed. This brings to the fore, again, the issue of the effectiveness of the police.
As Nigeria continues to face multiple threats to its security and sovereignty, some in the form of hybrid insurgencies, calls for a decentralised form of policing have grown louder. In the South-West, such agitation is not new.
It has been a crucial part of the pan-Yoruba cultural group Afenifere’s manifesto on “true federalism”. Afenifere has been asking for decades for a more decentralised form of government that sees greater involvement of local governments in charting their courses as was done before the centralisation of the existing police structure. The argument has always been that a federal system without state police exists only in name.
What many don’t know is that Section 4(7) of the 1999 Constitution provides complementary policing at the state level. It was under this that the Anambra State Assembly enacted the Anambra State Vigilante Group Law 2004, which established the local vigilante group in Anambra State.
The law provides for recruitment, training, remuneration, administration, etc. It provides for an administrative committee at the state level, made up of the special adviser to the Governor on security matters, the director of operations, two deputy directors, a legal adviser, and a representative of the police commissioner.
There are also committees at the town level to be staffed by the state governor in consultation with traditional rulers and one person from each village of the towns appointed by the villagers.
This arrangement was a successor to the infamous Bakassi Boys, who were notorious for some of the worst state-backed atrocities in the South-East in the early nineties. A similar law was passed in Enugu State in 2006, the Enugu State Neighbourhood Association and Watch Group Law. We have similar laws in Imo and Abia states.
One thing is clear, in the South-East, there has been no continuity on these laws, perhaps because, taken on their own, the states in the country, except perhaps Lagos, do not have the means to finance policing. The solution then would be regional police forces. This brings us back to the South-West.
While the South-West has its fair share of community-backed vigilantes, the most significant development in the matter of complementary policing in the region came between 2019 and 2020 when governors of the six states of the region under the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria to together to create a single, regional police outfit codenamed Operation Amotekun.
The remote causes of the creation of this outfit were rising insecurity in the region attributed to armed Fulani militias in Tapa, Igangan and other areas of Ibarapa North LGA of Oyo state. The immediate cause was the killing of Olufunke Fasoranti, daughter of Ayo Adebanjo–leader of Afenifere.
The rationale behind Amotekun’s creation involves the very argument for policing, which, at its core, is a community-led effort. This means corps officers would be drawn from local communities and employed to protect their own people.
The outfit was fitted with operational vehicles, uniforms and a leadership structure modelled after conventional state-backed paramilitary organisations as a retired General heads its leadership.
Sadly, despite the fanfare that greeted its arrival, the outfit has not lived up to the billing for many reasons, including but not limited to the refusal of the federal government to key into the idea.
State police, which is an integral part of restructuring, has been resisted by the Northern elite for a long time. The Buhari-led federal government is perhaps the biggest walking obstacle to that idea.
However, the APC, which was initially opposed to the concept of restructuring, launched a town hall-style conversation in 2018 aimed at bringing the idea to life. The recommendations were never implemented.
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Another thing that has scuppered Amotekun thus far is the rivalry between sister agencies. The police have never hidden their opposition to Amotekun and ruled out sharing intelligence with the outfit from when it was launched.
That position has not changed. Even worse, the military has also clashed with Amotekun in what could be described as turf wars.
Then there is the problem of arms. Arms procurement has been a key source of tension between state governments and Aso Rock. Governors of the South West were unable to provide arms to Amotekun because the National Security Adviser’s refusal to grant such import permits meant that Amotekun has had to rely on locally manufactured guns which are grossly inadequate in the face of a better-armed adversary.
Then there is lethargy by some state governments. Among the six states in the region, the most enthusiastic about the Amotekun project have been Ondo and Oyo. Ogun, Ekiti and Lagos governors have not gone beyond moral support to actively galvanise the outfit in their domains. This has allowed many forest areas, especially in the first two states, to experience armed attacks which exploit the absence of police presence in these areas.
If these are sorted, then there would be the issue of training, especially on human rights. A friendly and well-mannered Amorekun would grant legitimacy to state policing. It is my considered opinion that the biggest risk to the entire experiment is the risk of bad behaviour, and such regional police forces becoming nothing more than local thugs to enforce the will of state governors. Such an outcome will mean the extension of the current, ineffective federal system.
The Nigerian state is presently in a forced retreat, opening up its territories to be divided into Bantustans of competing warlords. This is already a problem in the North-East and North-West. Complementary policing can only work when there is enormous will by the government to take on security problems head-on.
A mutual coexistence between legal police forces and armed groups with checkered records means a ceding of an important government function to a more or less well-regulated militia. The only real answer to this problem is local policing. But it has to be done right.
Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence