There has scarcely been a period in Nigeria that we have been so bedeviled by insecurity: a Boko Haram insurgency that has been going on at different intensities for almost a decade in the North-East, a rapidly expanding herdsmen-farmers’ conflict across the Middle Belt, rampant attacks on hapless villages in Zamfara State that are still unexplainable, communal clashes around Ebonyi and Cross River States. These are besides ‘normal’ crimes such as kidnappings, armed robbery, murders and so and so forth.
The Nigerian nation is quite soaked in blood right now, and what is worse is that our governments seem at a loss on what to do about it: the Federal Government has been very slow to respond to these attacks, either by way of statements or by actions.
It is common to hear Nigerians ask, ‘what are the governors doing?’, and rightly so too – after all, they are referred to as the Chief Security Officers of their states and they spend allocations called security votes, which they spend at their discretion without having to account for it. But in reality, how effective can these governors even be in providing security to their states?
Without offering these governors any sort of soft landing, not much, I daresay.
A major factor for this is the fact that the entire security architecture of this country is in the hands of the Federal Government. A state governor does not have the authority to deploy even a traffic policeman unless Abuja agrees – and this has often led to the slow response that makes crises exacerbate. There have been many instances where governors have complained of alerting security agencies of breaches of peace to be met with stony silence while they await ‘orders from above’.
Not only that, the Nigeria Police Force which has the role of protecting the residents of this country and the investigation of the majority of crimes is hugely overstretched – with 371,800 members on its payroll, it means that there is a ratio of approximately 1 police officer to 480 Nigerians, far below the United Nations recommendation of 1:222. Even worse, about a third of our policemen are providing security to VIPs (many of whom are not public office holders, but those who can pay for it), leaving the majority of Nigerians to be protected by less than 250,000 policemen – not even enough for the South-West region based on the UN ratio.
Is it a wonder then that a lot of our policing is being carried out by the Nigerian military, which as at February 2017 was deployed in as many as 32 states, way more than even during the Nigerian Civil War? While this has been used often as a stop-gap to stop crises and prevent their escalation, it has also led to the police, which already suffers from a shortage of manpower, poor training and chronic underinvestment, being weakened. Thank goodness we do not have any current external aggressors.
This is why calls for state and community policing and the recent move by the Senate to start the process of constitutional amendment to allow for their existence come as long overdue. It is an aberration for a federal country to have one federal police force which causes a lot of bureaucracy, a one-strategy-fits-all approach to policing and increases the chance of corruption and abuse of power. It is also a huge contributor of the inefficiency of Nigeria’s police – many an investigation and court case has been stymied by the sudden transfer of policemen on the case. Even the existence of police barracks is an aberration as the police is not the military that ought to be sequestered from the community it is meant to serve and is a direct consequence of the current centralized structure.
Allowing the existence of state and community police will also give weight to governors being expected to be the Chief Security Officers of their domains. Already, many states are involved in contributing to funding the police in their domains – which together with the security votes proves that they are capable of fully funding them – but are yet unable to have a say in how it runs.
I am not ignorant of the many concerns of those not enamored with this idea, and I do not take them for granted. Indeed, the lack of accountability of our state governments makes many believe that this will be used against political opponents or oppressed groups and it is not a fear that is misplaced.
It does not also mean that having state policing by itself eliminates the problems we have with our police. Like I explained in this 2012 article, the problems of understaffing, poor training, conditions of service and corruption will still need to be tackled individually.
However, this does not mean that we resist this idea – instead, we should explore ways in which it can work. For example, a state police force can be placed under the control of a state judiciary rather than with the executive branch. It can also have a supervisory board composed of persons that are not in the government’s employ.
It will do us well to study how a truly federal policing system works in other countries and see what ideas we can borrow or adapt to our situation: from structure and laws to funding and oversight.
But one thing is for sure: the current policing structure does not work for Nigeria and it is very unlikely it will ever work.