By Tayo Ogunbiyi
The debate over the necessity for State Police has been on for quite some time. Before now, the most vociferous advocates of state police have been members of the opposition as well as notable civil society activists. It is, however, crucial to stress that agitation for the creation of State Police should not be viewed as a partisan or an anti-Federal Government crusade. Neither can it be said to be the handiwork of mischief-makers or ruby-rousers.
State Police is an important component of true federalism and emblem of authority of governance, since sovereignty is divided between the central authority and federating state authorities. It is not a new concept in Nigeria, but is rather a clamour for modification to the colonial legacy of Native Authority Police which successfully worked alongside the Nigeria Police Force till the 1970s before it was abolished and integrated into a single Nigeria Police Force by the military oligarchy to achieve their unitary command system. The Native Authority police was very effective as a tool for combating crime and maintaining orderliness then, though with some excesses and abuses typical of the party politics as it was played at that time.
Though the 1999 Constitution provides for a single federal police, this precludes states from taking charge of the protection of lives and properties of their people as Chief Security Officer and denied them the emblem of authority. If Nigeria is really a federation, this is a constitutional lacuna that must be addressed through constitution amendment to pave way for State Police.
Considering recent level of threat to public security across the country, taking recourse to State Police seems a more attractive option. Without a doubt, the centralised policing system has not really been effective and it is only logical that we consider other plausible options.
Aside the well accepted philosophy that that policing is essentially a local matter, every crime is local in nature. Hence, it is only rational to localize the police force. No matter its form, crime detection needs a local knowledge that State Police can better provide.
Perhaps more importantly, it is important that a State Governor who is the Chief Security Officer of his State has the control of the police command in same State. The current trend where the Police Commissioner in a state will have to take orders from Abuja concerning security issues in a state doesn’t look tidy.
Ironically, almost all State Governments in the country are investing heavily in the diverse security agencies in their respective states. In Lagos, for example, the State Government has in the last seventeen years invested billions of naira on public security. In –fact, the first Security Trust Fund to be established, by any government, in the country was initiated by the Lagos State Government.
Presently, the Lagos State Government has rebranded and repositioned the State’s Rapid Response Squad. Within six months of its inauguration, the administration procured and handed over to RRS some equipment which included three helicopters, two patrol boats, 100 motorcycles, 13 BM power bikes, 60 ford salon cars, 55 Ford Rangers, 40 Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs, 31 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) as well as police uniforms and other kits.
This is in addition to the purchase of 100 new squad cars for a new initiative tagged Special Operation Service (SOS) which harmonizes community policing in partnership with the Rapid Response Squad (RRS). Similarly, an integrated security and emergency control platform that interface with all security networks in the State was set up.
In-spite of this massive investment in public security, the Lagos State government did not rest on its oars as it again donated security equipment worth N4.7b to the State Police Command. As massive as this intervention is, the administration has continued to promote the course of public security in the state as it also made a presentation of additional security equipment at a cost of N1.85billion to security agencies in the state.
The equipment, which was officially presented by the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) was distributed to the RRS, 107 Police Stations and Thirteen Police Area Commands in Lagos State. Other beneficiaries include the Nigeria Customs, Immigration Services, the Nigeria Army, Air force, Navy, DSS, AIG Zone 2, Civil Defence, Federal Road Safety Corps, LASTMA, NDLEA, Lagos State Task Force and the Nigeria Prison Services. Provision of this equipment is a deliberate attempt to fast-track investigation, surveillance and intelligent information in the state.
Now, will it not amount to double standard that a state government bears such a huge financial burden on his state police command, which in the first place should be the responsibility of the Federal Government, and yet has little or no control over such security organ?
To properly address the security question in the country, we need to tackle the touchy issue of State Police. No matter how much a state government spends on security, the reality is that it has no direct control over any of the national security organs. The current centralized police structure in the country will continue to limit the capacity of states to effectively address security issues.
It has been argued severally that State Police is nothing but a recipe for anarchy as it could lead to abuse of power. The reality, however, is that the present centralized policing arrangement has, over the years, equally been subjected to limitless abuse by the central authority.
In-spite of all the arguments against State Police, the fact is that Nigeria is too large and complex to be policed centrally. In an ideal federal system, the issue of state police should not be a contentious matter. If we are really serious about overcoming current security challenges in the polity, the time to embrace the option of State Police is now.
Let’s face the fact; Nigeria is too large and complex to be policed centrally. In an ideal federal system, the issue of state police should not be a contentious matter, after all, in the First Republic, there were regional police and local police existing side by side the federal police. If we are really serious about overcoming current security challenges in the country, we need to re-examine the issue State Police more earnestly and objectively.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.