BusinessDay

Regional security outfits may trigger Nigeria’s needed federalism

The recent security challenges in different geopolitical zones of the country, which are necessitating the formation of regional security outfits is giving the impression that Nigeria may be returning to what could have been ‘true’ federalism by default.

Ebubeagu in the South East, like its South West variant, Amotekun, are regional security networks meant to protect residents in these regions because help has in many cases not come from the centre (federal government) when most needed. Amotekun pioneered regional security in its contemporary sense.

Let us quickly add that we do not believe Nigeria can police its way out of the consequences of unemployment. Youth unemployment is 45 percent – about the highest in the world. There is no level of policing that can prevent the consequences. Having said that let us return to how regional security outfits point to federalism by default.

The South West may have pioneered regional security in its recent understanding but a little historical background will help.

Western Nigeria has clamoured for state police for decades without any sympathetic ear from the centre. At a point, Odua People’s Congress (OPC), originally formed as an activist platform transformed into a sort of unofficial regional security outfit.

In the beginning, its formation was in reaction to what was considered excesses of some settler groups that often clashed with the indigenes. Later, OPC settled to contract security services such as guarding streets and areas. They also tended to dabble into conflict resolutions and interventions.

In the heat of suspected invasion of southern Nigeria by suspected armed herdsmen and several cases of attacks and abductions, the people of South Western Nigeria reacted in mass and demanded the formation of a regional security force.

There was a meeting of stakeholders in January 2020 and “Amotekun” was born. The FG through the Minister of Justice reacted, saying it was illegal and unconstitutional and therefore, totally unacceptable.

This seemed to provoke the leadership of the region and set the West and the FG on a war of words path. Caution seemed to prevail, the FG soft-pedalled, and Amotekun won its non-combat battle.

Since then, there seem to be some respite in South West of Nigeria with some exceptions of course. The South East, Middle Belt, and the North all proclaimed some form of regional security outfit or the other but after meetings between the presidency and governors of each of these other regions; such zeal seemed to die down.

These moves to form regional security networks are not based on wishful thinking but on the antecedents of the Nigerian police force as it is currently known. The Nigerian police is consistently failing Nigerians. Many have argued that this is because the police force is beholden to Abuja, not local authorities.

For instance, when the #EndSARS protests was gathering steam people with a sense of history could pre-empt what will happen, that is, the inspector general of Police and the government will promptly announce the disbandment of the unit and promise reforms so as to pacify protesters. It would not necessarily culminate in reforming the police force. This has been the pattern.

Since 1999 there has not been a police boss that has not hypocritically ordered the dismantling of the notorious police roadblocks in Nigeria. But to date, those roadblocks still exist in all nooks and crannies of the country and serve as the medium for the extortion and killing of Nigerians and road users who refuse to settle the policemen. What happens is that police officers withdraw from the roadblocks for some weeks and return when national focus and attention shifts to other pressing issues.

Today, the cookies appear to be crumbling for the Nigerian federation. The Nigerian federation has always been financed by rents from the sale of oil resources. This is against the classical dictates of federalism where the component units enjoy fiscal autonomy and revenue flows from the component units to the centre.

That order was reversed by the military, which centralised oil revenue collection and its consequent redistribution to all tiers of government in Nigeria. Consequently, states in Nigerian came to depend almost exclusively on the federally distributable revenues for survival.

This fiscal centralisation frenzy also took away the ability of federating units such as states to exercise autonomy over the policing system in their states.

The 1999 Constitution provides that, “there shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force”. The ultimate power of control over the Police in Nigeria resides with the President.

The section prohibits in unequivocal terms the establishment of any other police for the Federation or any part thereof. There has been clamour for the establishment of State Police and the proponents predicated same on the features of Federalism.

The demand for State Police became more pronounced from 1999 to date because of the spate of violent killings by armed robbers and bandits, armed herdsmen, and the continuing menace of Boko Haram.

We believe that the formation of these regional security outfits has introduced federalism into policing by default. This is important at a time when insecurity in Nigeria is attaining disturbing proportions.

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