The urgency of State Police

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WORRIED by the increasing level of insecurity in Zamfara State and other parts of the country, the Senate, last Wednesday, reiterated the call for the establishment of state police to address security challenges in the country. In the same vein, it urged the Federal Government to make provision for N10 billion in the 2019 appropriation bill as an intervention fund to cater for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other persons affected by the activities of bandits in Zamfara State. Speaking on the occasion, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said: “From the contributions we have had, I think it is key that we begin to look at the problem and look for long-term solutions. The Police Reform Bill will be laid today. The sooner that we can pass that, the sooner it will help us in addressing the insecurity challenges. But more importantly, we must go back to what a lot of us have been advocating here, namely that there is a need for us to have state or community police. It is the way forward. Otherwise, we will continue to run into these problems.”

There is indeed no doubting the fact that as pointed out by the Senate, a centralised policing system is inappropriate and antithetical to the principles of the federal system of government. As we have said time and again, a multiethnic, multicultural and maximally complex political configuration like Nigeria cannot survive with a centrally organised and controlled security architecture. However, pretending to be wiser and more patriotic than the country’s founding fathers and mothers who evolved a system that conferred respect and legitimacy on each section of the country while ensuring the peace and prosperity of all, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has been playing politics with the issue of state police, with the president and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, taking conflicting positions on the issue even when a committee set up by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on the restructuring of the country recommended state police in very clear terms.

As we noted in previous editorials, the president’s prognosis on state police is based on the false assumption that the Federal Government, in a restructured Nigeria, would still have access to the same volume of resources that it has now. State police, we pointed out, is part of an overall restructuring framework whereby the functions of, and the resources accruing to, the centre and the component units of the federation would be radically different from what they are now. If you restructure, you also change the revenue formula.

As the Federal Government sheds the responsibilities that it attached to itself during the era of misadventure called military rule, so would it lose custody of the resources that it cornered for itself to create the behemoth that it currently is. That being the case, the argument regarding state governments being unable to fund state police collapses completely.

State policing is a constitutional issue and if states say that they can maintain it, it amounts to subversion to put stumbling blocks in their way. Already, the 36 states of the country have special funds and other forms of arrangements dedicated to servicing the existing centralised policing system.

Therefore, if the cost of states maintaining their own police has to increase, the expenditure will be minimal and infinitesimal. Currently, even private firms and individuals have also keyed into the initiative of the governors in funding state police through voluntary financial and material contribution to sustain the existing system that is not serving the necessary purpose. Besides, the arguments against state police premised on potential abuse by state governors lacks merit. The Federal Government itself is guilty of such abuse under the existing system where police commissioners do not even report to governors even though they (governors) are constitutionally regarded as the Chief Security Officers of their respective domains.

The important point is that there are constitutional remedies for abuse at any level and once these channels are effectively utilised, governors using state police as tools of suppression will be appropriately dealt with. It is also important to note that when eventually put in place, state police commands should only complement the work of the federal police and not act in opposition to it.

To be sure, state police will ensure that police personnel fully understand the cultures and traditions of their immediate environments. That way, they would be better placed to perform their functions efficiently. Given the foregoing, we commend the position of the outgoing eighth National Assembly on state police and urge the lawmakers to start the process of establishing it so that it can dovetail into the agenda of the incoming ninth National Assembly. They should take the issue as an urgent national assignment and act expeditiously on it.

Tribune Editorial April 16th 2019

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