In a manner typical of a populous and variegated Nigeria, the issue of State Police has generated heated public debate.
While some state governors vehemently advocate the creation of state police to decentralize security operations and make them more manageable in a vast country such as Nigeria, those in opposition fear that the outfit could turn to a tool of repression against perceived political enemies of the state governors.
We can, however, come away from the cacophony, holding the fact that, because a debate of this kind is actually going on, all is not well with the present system which vested all powers in the federal government to control the police and determine its fate. Indeed, had a central police system been living up to expectation, no one would have raised a voice to call for another system that could deliver the desired services.
A police force, in essence, maintains public order within a community, prevents and detects crime, and enforces rules of conduct or laws. It is an agency controlled by a government which is an authority to which the common people in the community have submitted their allegiance.
When crime rate is high, it is interpreted by deductive reasoning, that the police have not been working hard enough to “prevent and detect” crime. Several reasons could lead to police inefficiency, one of which could be overload.
It is arguable though that the numerous kidnap and armed robbery cases occurring in our communities appear to have overwhelmed the present police force which takes orders from far away Abuja. That explains the creation of extra-constitutional outfits such as Bakassi Boys that transformed into vigilante groups and lately seek to be recognized as the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN). If the police, as it is constituted today, had been doing its job satisfactorily, there would not have been a desperate yearning for the vigilante outfits to guard the communities against the menace of day and night marauders.
The fears of opponents of a state police hinge mainly on the past experiences of those who were unduly mistreated in the hands of these quasi police agencies on the orders of the politicians that created them. References can be made to incidences of murder in Abia State in the past which some people allege are traceable to the Bakassi Boys, as well as the harassment of people of other states living in Lagos by the Odua People’s Congress (OPC), Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) and the like.
It was so because the quasi police personnel, in the first instance, were not formally recruited and therefore did not pass through security training. Such a situation would change when the state policeman sees himself as an employee of government who is fully protected should he refuse to carry out orders that counteract the overall legal and moral regulations of the land.
Former Police Inspectors-General and other top officers of the force met recently to condemn the idea of state police, believing that the nation was not ripe for it. It is not contestable that they are an interested party out to protect their constituency. In this case, they acted the father figure shielding its progeny from public glare and refusing to share territory with any other outfit.
Some again fear that there could be a clash of functions between the federal and state police. A clear delineation of functions and operational territories takes care of that, just as it is in the countries that run a three-tier police system in the federal, state and local government.
However, rather than dissipate energy in arguments for and against state police, it would benefit the nation more to think of other lasting ways to combat crime than overdependence on the police. Perhaps, the excessive focus on the police as custodians of our peace and order might have, paradoxically, contributed to the rise in crime rate.
The inglorious Anini days in old Bendel State had since revealed to us that those to whom we surrender our lives for protection could be comfortable allies of the enemy. In his celebrated trial, the notorious robber who was finally executed implicated some police chiefs he had placed on his payroll in exchange for cover and supply of weapons for his nefarious activities.
Again, the base nature of man is to seek relevance in the society. By this knowledge, it would be difficult to deny that the police tacitly relish a high crime situation which gives them a sense of worth, a raison d’être. If the more we have crime the more we need the police, it stands to reason that the less crime there is, the less need we have of police. This no-crime-no-police situation is the last an average policeman would wish. And so the criminal unwittingly becomes the policeman’s goldmine. It would be naïve to think that the police do not enjoy the funds, vehicles and materials that the state governments shower on them which they sometimes convert to personal use. With the creation of state police, all that would be directed to the respective state police services that are likely to emerge.
Clearly, the high crime rate in the country is indicative of the venom in the youth at the continued marginalization of members of their constituency by a few individuals who merely organize the looting of commonwealth in the guise of political leaders. The youth do not see for themselves a future in this country as no plans are made to create jobs. The so-called leaders pay lip service to proposals to fix our ailing power sector which is unarguably the pivot of massive job creation and economic boom, judging that once bubbling industries in the country have packed up while some among them have relocated to neighbouring countries because there is inadequate electricity to power their plants resulting in massive job losses. Those who work, especially for government, are not sure of their pay at the end of the month and those who work in the private sector are exploited. It is no better for the rural farmers who do not have good roads to convey their produce nor storage facilities to preserve them.
What the youth witness is a systematic stifling of merit as those perceived to be connected walk on paved paths of life while the majority is left to wallow miserably in a land blessed with oil. The daring ones among them who cannot take it anymore are on a suicide mission of make or break. They can’t watch those they are better than, or even miscreants of their ilk, build mansions and ride flashy cars simply because they are allies to some political bigwigs. They throw morality overboard and feast on the lucrative business of kidnapping, internet fraud, and so on. We may sermonize till the end of time and condemn the criminals for taking to crime because they have no jobs, but it is better not to give them room for excuses as this has always been the reason they advance to their victims. In simple terms, we are witnessing a revolution which, if allowed to snowball, leads to destruction.
Debates over state police are needless. The nation should focus on bringing the economy once again on a good footing to be able to engage the youth meaningfully and turn them away from crime. It is unfortunate that efforts in the past to create jobs through the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) and others hit the rocks as the Nigerian factor loomed large against them. We must learn, however, that nothing creates jobs more than infrastructure, especially electricity. There is definitely no need for the oversea trips our governors embark upon and tell us they are there to attract foreign investments while they have gone for their personal business transactions, for, no sane businessman would invest in a land bereft of necessary facilities.
The best police is not the one armed and in uniform, running around in siren-blaring armoured personnel carriers. It is a system that holds merit over and above other qualities, a system that respects the law and not the person, a system where one sows a seed and reaps later, not the monkey-de-work-baboon-de-chop system. It is not profligacy but prudence that leads to a stable economy where everyone gets to know what to put in and what to get out of the society. In such a situation, we would be able to sift the pathological criminals among us from the circumstantial ones and, perhaps, would need a handful of uniformed men to deal with them and stop bothering about state or federal police.