The debate for and against State Policing in Nigeria has always been a very controversial topic, it remains one of those issues that rises to the front burners now and again. With the recent spate of horrible killings in the middle belt and several parts of the country, it’s come up again as a National issue.
In this article, I will be examining the legality or otherwise of State policing i.e. Can we under our current Constitution have State Police Force in each State? What are the benefits and disadvantages? Will we learn from the antecedents of 1966? Economically speaking, can we successfully fund a State-run Police Force?
Before we go on, it may make sense to have a brief history of how Policing began in Nigeria. A Country who forgets her history is likely to perish, as she may not learn from her mistakes. The British colonial masters started organized policing in Nigeria in 1861 by establishing the Hausa constabulary (Hausa Armed Police), they expanded the constabulary as security challenges began to emerge. Please note however that the colonial masters allowed for native policing in addition to the Colonial Police, this is backed by ordinance no. 4 of 1916. In April 1930, the Nigeria Police became unified under the command of an inspector general whose office was at the force headquarters in Lagos. This pattern was maintained by the colonial Masters till 1st October 1960 when Nigeria gained independence. The newly independent Nigeria maintained the colonial style of Policing, this is apparent from the 1963 Constitution which though established a police force styled “Nigeria police force for Nigeria” also permitted a regional legislature to make provision for the maintenance of native police. The native police under our freshly minted democracy, however, became a veritable tool for all manner of oppression, they were used as political tools and impunity reigned.
This led to it being disbanded by the Gowon regime that succeeded Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi when our fresh democracy was brought to an abrupt halt by the Kaduna Nzeogwu-led military coup, particularly because of the role they (specifically the northern forces) played by in the pogrom. Thus, native police forces ceased to exist in Nigeria from 1968 and all existing native police personnel; in the several forces were recruited to the Nigeria police force.
Fast forward to 1979 Constitution, the Federal Government of Nigeria was now bestowed with sole- jurisdiction to control the Nigeria Police Force. By this legislation, operational control of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) was given to the office of the Inspector General of the Police, who in turn, is answerable to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have since (from1999) returned to a democratically led government, but still maintaining the single police system put in place by the General Yakubu Gowon regime, which has been followed by subsequent Nigerian governments be it military or civilian. From the foregoing, it is apparent that we have tried both methods i.e. Federal and State policing. We have seen the different challenges associated with both, we have seen that state policing is actually not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, we have seen also that the cessation of State Police and the establishment of a single police Force was not an accident, it was deliberate and based on recommendations, I have to ask what has changed? Those circumstances that led to the abolition to state police in 1966, are they no longer in existence?
It might help in answering these questions to consider the arguments for and against State policing. Perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of State policing is that often times, Policemen when deployed, or redeployed as the case may be, across state lines, usually do not have local or native knowledge of their new deployment.
Proponents of state-run Police say that it is illogical to expect a policeman who has lived all of his life in Ankpa, Kogi State to suddenly become effective in Saki, Oyo State. He does not speak the language, neither does he understand the culture, the nuances and their customs.
Simply put, A good policeman/woman should be 100% conversant with the environment he is policing in terms of culture, language, and even body languages in order to solve crimes. If you were to hand over policing to a policeman who is a local people in my town for instance, he is bound to find out everything within a short time, who stole whose chicken, who is spending money in a suspicious manner, who the hothead is that insulted an elder, who is new in town etc. Another strong argument in favor of state policing is that it is supported by the principle of federalism which we “practice” currently, the Country is after all called the Federal Republic of Nigeria and our constitution is itself is founded upon Federalism. The Country is divided between the Central government called the Federal Government and the 36 states of the federation, Lawmaking function in the center is the responsibility of the National assembly while the state houses of assembly perform similar function subject to the limit permitted by the legislative list contained in the Constitution. Proponents of state police are of the opinion that this legal arrangement could be extended to the formation and maintenance of the State Police force, it will run concurrently as our Legislative arm. The same way we have Federal and State High Courts run side by side. Now, let us move to the arguments against State Police….
Paramount among the fears is a re-enactment of the events of January and July 1966; also important is the fact that States in Nigeria lack the power or political will to maintain a disciplined force. Another argument against State policing is the inability of some state governors to have an adequate IGR from which it would pay police salaries as one cannot be working in First Bank Plc and receive salaries from GTBank. Using this scenario below, most antagonists of State Police say it cannot work, we have too many vested or shall I say varied ethic and religious interests….a Yoruba man has his Land encroached by a Hausa man in Kano leading to a dispute ,the case is reported to the state police ,the Hausa man arrives the station and begins to chat up the I.P.O or the D.P.O (obviously 99% of recruitment into the state police will be indigenes from that particular state) in the native dialect; do you think the Yoruba man will ever have the confidence of getting justice?”
It is in my opinion immature to be asking for State Police at this time, I have no doubt that decentralizing our Police Force by amending the Constitution, educating the men of the NPF and granting powers to the states to conduct effective law enforcement is ultimately the way forward. We are not yet ready, we only need to look at the way certain Governors have handled the State Independent Electoral Commission at the last Elections where they made sure the commissioners did their biddings, to conclude that we have a long way to go. This and other reasons written above are the reasons I believe that State Policing though ideal is not the way forward at this stage, whether or not the Vice-President believes it is.
Omotoyosi Salihu is a lawyer who has been at the Bar for 14 years