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Son of the Soil: The Case for State Police in Nigeria

Imagine a state in Nigeria where men recruited into the force are recruited based on personality types that are motivated by the desire for peace and stability within their states. These men have zero tolerance for crime and criminals within their home towns, they form part of the state police.

You don’t only see these policemen when there is crime. They are well known faces within the communities. They visit schools and teach the children the importance of obeying the law and shunning crime. They frequently patrol the streets, interacting with members of the public, noting complaints, intervening in minor arguments before they escalate to violent clashes. They sponsor and attend community events such as cultural days, sporting events and even Independence Day festivities. They are interactive on social media and are adept at sensitizing the public on security awareness.

This State Police Force are well equipped, well-funded, well trained and well manned. If the state has a population of 17 million, there are at least 38,000 men to police the state. Well within the recommended UN ratio of 1 policeman to 450 citizens. The state runs one of the best Police training academies in the country. Well maintained, with the best of the best forming part of the training staff.  Rarely do you see able bodied men sitting around idly doing nothing. Unemployed graduates are promptly recruited and trained to form part of the effective state police force.

This State Police Force take pride in the fact that their community, their town or city, their LGA, and their state year after year is consistently on the list of lowest crime rates in all of Nigeria. The state police’s allegiance is to the peace and security of the state, not to any political group or seating government administration.

The state governor as the Chief Security Officer of the state knows that running a low crime state is attractive to investors and tourists and in the best interest of his state. He also knows that these days, the people of the state have no patience and zero tolerance for non-performance. They were interconnected and have heard all about the peace and stability being experienced in the neighboring states. They will vote the governor out in the next election if he does not ensure safety, security and protection of all citizens of the state.

 

Why the Need for State Police

The level of insecurity across Nigeria today is multi-faceted, and is currently threatening the stability of the country. There are high levels of crime in the South-west, secessionist movements in the South-East, rampant kidnapping, gang related violence and destruction of critical national infrastructure in the South-South, Terrorism in the North-East, violent herdsmen attacks across the Middle belt, extensive theft and cattle rustling in the North-West. Other criminal issues plaguing the country include: cybercrime, domestic violence, rape, ethno-religious clashes, political conflicts, illicit trafficking, cultism etc

In order to effectively tackle the increasing level of insecurity within the country, the Nigerian Police Force will need to undergo some long overdue restructuring or “unbundling” which involves the Federal government relinquishing the job of securing the various states to the state government through the establishment of state police force.

In today’s threat environment, crime perpetrators are usually well known within the community. Effective policing will require a police force that is in close relation within the community and the members of the public have to be comfortable sharing information with the police. Aside from the decades of mistrust there is also the issue of familiarity that is preventing effective information sharing between law enforcement and members of the public.

For instance the people in Borno state are more familiar with a Cameroonian from the Extreme North region than they will be with a Nigerian from the South-South. In other words, sending an Ijaw policeman to serve in Borno is not the most effective way of policing a society.

The Police Force is aware of this connection between affiliation and sacrifice, and have instituted a “back to state” policy which according to the Nigeria Research Network “stipulates that most rank and file officers should be drawn from the local communities they serve, or police joint patrols with community security groups, or police registration and official identification of vigilantes. This policy is a clear indication that even the police agree that using sons of the soil to police their states of origin is a more effective strategy.

The Fear Surrounding the State Police Idea

Opponents of state police believe that Nigeria is not ready for it because like the Presidential Committee on Police Reforms said “The country will break up.’’ Opponents believe that the state police will pay allegiance to the political party in power and would be used to suppress rival political parties. This school of thought is not unfounded.

During the British colonial era, the major role performed by the police involved repressing groups and individuals considered as disturbances by the colonial rulers. After the Nigerian Police Force was created in 1930, it co-existed with local administration police forces who served the regional powers in the Northern and Western parts of Nigeria. These local forces were eventually abolished because they were involved in partisan politics including brutalization of opponents. After independence in 1960, Nigerian Police Force still operated much like the colonial era forces where they were being used by politicians and the ruling political class to harass opposing parties.

As a result of these actions over the years, the perception the Nigerian public have towards the Nigerian Police Force has remained negative with lack of confidence in the force and distrust.

Much of this fear still exists today and with the secessionist talk in the South-East and violent political rivalries in some Niger Delta states, it is easy to see why opponents of state police fear that a police force that is fully funded by the state will most likely do the bidding of the state governor and consequently the ruling party.

Another argument against state police is that not all states will be able to afford an effective police force. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Nigeria Poverty Profile in 2012, a state like Lagos has a poverty rate percentage of 8.5 percent, compared to Yobe and Zamfara which have poverty rate percentages of 90 and 91.9 percent each. Such numbers already show that the quality of state police forces will differ from state to state based on the economic disparities.

STATES POVERTY RATE %
Lagos 8.5
Osun 10.9
Anambra 11.2
** National Avg 46
Jigawa 88.4
Yobe 90.2
Zamfara 91.9

Table: Nigerian States Poverty Rate Percentage. Source: National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Nigeria Poverty Profile 2012.

Counter-Argument

The main counter argument to the two issues of state police meddling in politics and the inability of some states to afford state police, is that the central police structure the country currently runs is already threatening the stability of these states and increasing crime across the country.

Having a centralized police structure already increases the vulnerability of the police force to political interference. Case in point was the incident in Rivers state in 2013 when the Commissioner of Police for Rivers State ordered the invasion of the state’s House of Assembly in which he was acting on “orders from above”.

When it comes to some states not being able to afford a state police, there is already a disparity in the level of security received from one state to another. One just needs to visit a state like Lagos where the state government donated close to N4.8 billion in vehicles and equipment including helicopters, patrol vehicles, gun boats, and power bikes and so on, to the states’ police command.

Proponents of state police have quipped that states that are ready for the restructure should be allowed to set up and start, while those that are not ready can continue on the federal structure and pace themselves. Also the central police body can serve to ensure and encourage high standards in the force across the country, making sure that the various state police understand their roles in staying politically neutral. The federal police could also enforce the neutral police laws by ensuring those found abusing their professional powers and meddling in state or federal politics, face appropriate punitive measures.

Effective Centralized Police

A country’s law enforcement is supposed to embody the government within the communities. If there were stronger local law enforcement, a lot of criminal activity being experienced today would have been put under control before their escalation to the point of requiring the intervention of other security agencies such as the military.

Having a centralized police force is meant to be beneficial in the area of tackling crimes that cross state borders. For example, cattle rustling and herdsmen attacks that are taking place across the country. Or another example, are the various bank robberies, kidnappings and pipeline vandalism incidents that take place in Lagos but are perpetrated by criminals and criminal gangs from other parts of the country.

An effective central police force is able to expedite the capture of the perpetrators of these crimes, by gathering information from the local populace and sharing it among the various divisional, state and zonal headquarters for further action. But anyone who has had to file a simple crime report in a police post or station knows that getting policemen to act on information is not that easy. The victim gets passed on from station to station in the name of jurisdiction.

Ineffective Centralized Police

In essence, the centralized Police structure in Nigeria has not been effective in defeating crime that transcends across state borders. Instead, it has brought about an endemic situation where majority of human and material resources dedicated to the force have been concentrated mainly in the center, with remnants trickling down to the frontline units who then remain under-equipped, underfunded, undermanned and subsequently ineffective.

The Federal government cannot afford to effectively fund a central police structure and ensure that every organizational level down to the police post is well manned and fully equipped. A case in point, Ahmed and Salihu from the University of Kano carried out a geospatial analysis of crime in a specific local government area of Kano state. Their findings indicated that crimes occurred mostly in areas where there were no Police Stations. Although there were police outposts, in these areas, crimes still took place because there simply wasn’t enough equipment and manpower in these outposts to effectively and efficiently tackle these crimes.

Police Structure

Diagram: Organizational structure of the Nigerian Police Force.  Resources dedicated to the force have been concentrated mainly at the top, with remnants trickling down to the frontline units who then remain under-equipped, underfunded, undermanned and subsequently ineffective.

 

Some may argue that the government should simply increase the budget allocation and then the lower level police structures will be better funded. Unfortunately, this strategy has not worked. According to Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian government has steadily increased the Federal allocation to the Nigerian Police Force but since the budget is centrally planned with little input from those who are directly tackling crime in the state and divisional commands, the funds still end up being mismanaged and wrongly allocated.

Transitioning to State Police

Running a state police organizational structure will ensure that even rural communities in the outskirts of the states have adequate law enforcement representation. The policemen won’t be from a faraway land, living in a barracks and disgruntled about paying for daily transportation to his post. The members of the police force will be from that community therefore they will have a stake in its security. They won’t sit in a stationary police vehicle all day, and drive around only when ‘IGP’ is in town. They will actively patrol the streets and engage members of the community collecting vital information that will be the key in destroying any criminal networks that want to threaten the safety of their children and future generations to come.

When implementing state police structure, the state governments must not make the same mistake of allocating more resources to the higher echelons, the goal should be that highly trained and highly skilled personnel operating within the Police outposts. The police stations and posts must be exceptionally maintained and fully equipped with reach-back capability directly to the State Police.

The federal police will exist to handle cross border jurisdictional crimes, carry out checks and balances by ensuring that no state police or personnel is jeopardizing national sovereignty and they will seek to make certain that high professional standards are being met and exceeded by the various state police across the country.

Conclusion

The commencement of the police recruitment is a welcome development in that it shows the government is being honest about the challenge of an undermanned force. But let’s be honest, 10,000 police recruits is but a drop in the bucket and is still a short sighted strategy. A long term strategic approach will involve investigating the feasibility of state police and actively working a phased implantation of the same.

If states such as Lagos, Rivers, Anambra, or Adamawa are ready to start recruiting and training locals or what Yorubas call “omoluabi” (a local who embodies a person of integrity) to serve in the state’s police force and bring about genuine peace, security and stability to the state, then by all means they should be allowed to. The willing states should draw up a detailed plan with phased implementation and then other states can cop on as they see the effectiveness of this structure and are ready to do so.

Policing threats in Nigeria will become increasingly challenging due to macro socio-economic issues such as population growth, climate change, mass migration, widening income inequality, corruption, globalization, and volatile oil market and so on. Nigeria’s 21st century problems have only begun, it is time to adjust the current security structure to meet the times.

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