• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Is Nigeria ready for state policing?

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In a decisive move that underscores Nigeria’s urgent quest for enhanced security measures, the House of Representatives has advanced a significant legislative proposal aimed at amending the nation’s constitution to facilitate the establishment of state police forces.

The bill, titled “A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Provide for Establishment of State Police and for Related Matters (HB. 617),” championed by Deputy Speaker Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu alongside 14 co-sponsors, marks a pivotal step in Nigeria’s legislative process, having successfully passed through a second reading.

The discourse, led by Hon. Tolani Shagaya, one of the bill’s proponents, highlighted the intrinsic link between the government’s fundamental obligation to ensure citizen security and welfare, as enshrined in Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, and the pressing need for a more localised, community-focused policing structure. The proponents argue that the establishment of state police forces is not merely a desirable reform but an imperative measure to address the burgeoning security challenges that threaten the nation’s collective safety.

However, implementing state policing will require time and resources, potentially taking up to three, five, or ten years before its effectiveness can be seen.

The bill envisages a transformative shift in Nigeria’s policing architecture, advocating for the decentralisation of policing powers by transferring the “Police” item from the “Exclusive Legislative List” to the “Concurrent Legislative List.” This strategic amendment seeks to empower states to establish and manage their police forces, thereby introducing a dual policing system intended to enhance responsiveness and accountability at the state level.

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

Furthermore, the proposed legislation outlines a comprehensive framework aimed at ensuring seamless cooperation and standardisation across federal and state police forces. It envisages the establishment of State Police Service Commissions, distinct from the Federal Police Service Commission, to oversee state policing affairs, thus promoting a collaborative federal structure in policing. Additionally, the bill acknowledges the financial implications of such a reform, proposing federal grants or aids to support state police operations, subject to National Assembly approval.

History of policing in Nigeria

The history and evolution of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) are essential to understanding its current challenges, including issues of repression, impunity, corruption, brutality, lack of transparency, and accountability. Originating in 1820, the NPF underwent several transformations, beginning with the establishment of a 1200-member armed Hausa Constabulary in 1879 and the formation of the Lagos Police in 1896. The colonial era saw the creation of several regional forces, such as the Niger Coast Constabulary in 1894 and the Royal Niger Company Constabulary in 1888, which laid the groundwork for the police force’s structure.

The British amalgamation of Nigeria in 1913 resulted in the merger of northern and southern regional police forces into the National Police Force (NPF) in 1930. However, post-colonial reforms did not address the police force’s colonial legacy of order maintenance. The regional government system introduced in the 1960s allowed local and federal forces to coexist until 1966, when local forces were disbanded due to inefficiencies, corruption, and misuse for political repression, leading to the centralization of police and prison services.

During Gowon’s rule (1967-1975), the police and military had a positive relationship. However, from 1983-1999, the relationship deteriorated due to neglect, underfunding, and equipment shortages. Special task forces were established, with police officers often subordinated to military counterparts. Recruitment and promotion within the police were frozen, exacerbating personnel shortages.

The transition to democracy in 1999 marked a turning point for the NPF, with the new Constitution establishing it as a federal institution and prohibiting the formation of state or local police bodies. This period promised potential reforms and improvements for the force, aiming to address its historical challenges and redefine its role in Nigerian society.

Are the Nigerian states capable of managing state police?

The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) has grappled with issues of corruption, brutality, and inefficiency since its inception. The centralised policing model, adopted following the disbandment of local forces in 1966, has been criticised for its inability to address the nuanced security needs of Nigeria’s diverse states effectively.

The debate on Nigerian states’ ability to manage their own police forces is complex due to the country’s history and the need for effective police reform. The author suggests that a constitutionally reviewed state or regional police or a state-focused police within the current constitution is necessary. However, implementing state policing will require time and resources, potentially taking up to three, five, or ten years before its effectiveness can be seen. The author is committed to achieving effective police reform within the current constitution.

Historically, Nigeria operated a tri-tier policing system in the 1960s, comprising federal, regional, and local police. However, complaints of brutality, nepotism, and other issues akin to those faced today prompted the centralization of the police force under the military government of Aguiyi Ironsi. This centralization, which took two years to accomplish, was seen as a solution to the prevailing problems. Yet, decades later, the discourse has shifted back to decentralisation due to persistent challenges within the centralised system.

A hybrid policing model is proposed to address the cyclical dilemma by retaining federal structure while granting states more operational control. This model allows state governors to have authority over police operations within their jurisdictions, addressing calls for decentralisation without dismantling the existing structure. The approach acknowledges potential pitfalls and requires a robust legal framework for effective state policing.

Considering the resources needed to establish, manage, and operationalize a state police force, the readiness of Nigeria to undertake such a venture is a point of contemplation. The endeavour would not only demand substantial investment but also a commitment to learning and adaptation. Thus, while the prospect of state policing presents a formidable challenge, it may also represent a necessary evolution in the pursuit of a more effective and responsive policing system in Nigeria.

As Nigeria stands at a crossroads, the proposal for state policing represents a critical examination of the nation’s security architecture. While the envisaged shift towards state policing promises a more adaptive and responsive approach to security, it also demands a thorough consideration of the legal, financial, and operational frameworks necessary to ensure its success. The journey towards state policing is fraught with challenges but also offers a unique opportunity to redefine public safety and security in Nigeria.