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FG directs governors to prosecute rogue policemen, only they do not control them

#EndSARS protests test fissures in Nigeria’s creaking democracy

The Nigerian Executive Council (NEC), has tasked governors to set up judicial panels of inquiry to investigate complaints of police brutality and supervise the tactical units of police formations in their states. Trouble is, the governors do not have control over the police formations in their states, making the directive ring hollow.

NEC is a policy advisory organ of the Nigerian Government whose membership includes, the president, vice-president, former presidents/rulers, former Chief Justices of Nigeria; President of the Senate; Speaker of the House of Representatives; all the Governors of the states of the Federation; and Attorney-General of the Federation.

Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president followed up with an appeal yesterday. “We understand that you want to see action from us and I’m here to tell you that work is ongoing. I chaired a meeting of 36 state governors and the Minister of the FCT (NEC), where we resolved to set up judicial panels of inquiry so we can see justice served, and fast.

“The reason being that only state governors, by law, can set up judicial inquiries in their states. The hearings will be public,” Osinbajo said.

But the protesters on social media said this is only a PR stunt. Some legal analysts weighed in with their opinion. “Legally, the FG CAN’T empanel a judicial commission of inquiry to probe SARS in the 36 States,” tweeted Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and human rights activist.

Effiong further said “The FG can only do so for the FCT. The Supreme Court settled this in the case of Fawehinmi v. Babangida (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt.808) 604. That error derailed the Oputa Panel. That’s the law.

President Obasanjo tried to give such power to the Oputa Panel. Ibrahim Babangida and other despots refused to honour the summons of the Oputa Panel. They went to court to challenge the power of the FG to set-up such a panel whose jurisdiction covers the entire country. They won.

Effiong however said that the action of the Lagos and Kaduna state governments to set up panels of inquiry was in order.

As the #EndSARS protests continue to rock the country, the fissures in Nigeria’s fragile political system is beginning to unravel. Analysts believe the Federal Government is applying band-aid where structural reforms should suffice.

Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State in an interview with the African Independent Television (AIT) on Thursday, said the directive to set up a judicial panel of inquiry when a report from the previous panel three years ago, was ignored, is futile.

“We sent the report to the police, they did not implement it and now you are directing me again to set up a judicial panel of inquiry who is going to pay for it?

“You are asking governors to supervise the tactical units of the police, when did governors become so powerful that they can control the police or supervise the tactical units of the police?

“Is not the same governors you said will use for politics that you’re now telling to supervise. I did not appoint the people, they are not under me, how do I supervise them?

Successive Federal Governments have balked at the idea of state police because they believe it could be abused by state governors and feed their power-lust.

State policing is often analysed through a negative prism due to Nigeria’s fractious political structure. Elections in Nigeria are miniature warfare and some governors unseat leaders of their state legislative houses with impunity. Some governors in northern Nigeria ignore the country’s secular constitution and plural society and assume their duty is first to their religious creed.

Clearly, the potential for abuse is a frightening reality. But inherent in state police formations across different democracies are systems to check abuse.

For example, the bill in the national assembly first introduced in 2018, which was reintroduced in February 2020, sponsored by Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP, empowers the state police commissioner to refer unlawful orders by the governor to a Service Commission who could override him.

In the United States, the Justice Department scrutinizes different state police formations, enforces right violations, and prosecute erring officers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) secures conviction for crimes across state lines and even large cities maintain a police force.

Across Africa, there are mainly national policing structures, a byproduct of colonial rule, merely set to foster better administrative control. They are often ineffective and abusive because they share no relationship with the communities they protect. While in Europe and America, many police organisations are controlled by subnational governments and are better equipped and more effective in deterring crimes.

During the 2014 Constitutional Conference state policing could not scale through the committee level at the National Conference. Delegates were divided along geo-political lines. Delegates from southern states were in favour while those from northern states opposed said Eme Innocent and Ogbochie Andrew, of the Department of Public Administration and Local Government Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in their study on limitations of State Police in Nigeria.

“if the country wanted federalism, it should not run away from the things that make a federation,” the researchers said.

The problem of Book Haram could have been better handled if the country had a police structure that could keep track of the local people and identify deviants before they get out of hand, the study said.

So against demonstrable evidence that attempting to manage a police force numbering over 400,000 across 36 states in Abuja is the administrative equivalence of juggling five balls, successive governments have kept the defective structure.

The preferred Nigerian solution against evident reality which is to run cycles around the problem has led to the formation of police-type organisations across various states either to manage traffic, serve as a vigilante or protect religious puritanism.

In Kano, the Hisbah Police backed by the Kano State Hisbah Corps Law of 2003, passed by the Kano State House of Assembly, functions principally to enforce Islamic sharia by “enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong on every Muslim”.

But this in violation of Section 214(1) of the Nigerian Constitution which provides only the Nigeria Police Force for the Federation and Section 4(2) of the Constitution which specifically empowers the National Assembly to make laws with regards to Exclusive Legislative List, of which police is included.

In Lagos, there is the Kick Against Indiscipline to enforce compliance with environmental and public safety rules and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to enforce traffic laws.

Many states across Nigeria have different organisations like these who chip away at the traditional functions of the Nigerian police and dissipate resources that could have built a professional police force. State governors have no incentive to fund a police force they cannot control, irrespective of the hilarious irony of calling them chief security officers for their states.

The fallout of this warped system is that the police force is not adequately supervised and without effective supervision coupled with deep-rooted corruption in the Nigerian police force, wanton crimes against the public are committed with impunity.

This is why a rogue police unit, called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), has been allowed to carry out armed robberies, extra-judicial killings, and the rape of young Nigerians for about a decade without concrete reforms.

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