The debate over whether or not states should have their own police resurfaced and dominated public discourse last week. In this report, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH examines the arguments for and against the proposal in view of the current realities.

Currently, state police is the new buzz in the country, as debate on restructuring seems to have simmered down in the last couple of weeks . It is run-of-the-mill to note that Nigeria is passing through one of its worst security challenges in peace time. This year alone, more than 100 people have been killed by rampaging herdsmen in Benue, Taraba, Plateau and Kaduna States, while kidnapping and armed robbery have now turned almost daily occurrences in the country.

Just last week, armed bandits killed over 30 people in Zamfara State. Although substantially degraded, the Boko Haram still wreaks havoc in the North-east. The Nigerian military has been overstretched as every region in the country is faced with different security challenges. Senator Shehu Sani captured it perfectly when he said blood has now become cheaper than petrol in the country.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at a recent security summit organised by the National Assembly, canvassed for State Police as a panacea to the security challenges in the country. He said the federal government cannot realistically provide security for Nigeria from the centre. He explained that Nigeria has been unable to meet the United Nations’ recommendation of one policeman to 400 persons.

“But for a country our size to meet the one Police man to 400 persons, the UN required ratio, we will need to nearly triple our current police force, far more funding of the Police, far more funding of the military and other security agencies is required. We cannot realistically Police a country like Nigeria centrally from Abuja, State Police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go,” the VP said.

Similarly the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) threw its weight behind Osinbajo on State Police. Zamfara State governor and chairman of NGF, Gov. Abdulaziz Yari, on the sidelines of the security summit  said  proposed policing system would help in addressing the spate of insecurity in the country.

“Today we have reiterated the position of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. And the position of the security summit we held in August, that there is a need for the state police; we can say it is the only answer”, he explained.

The governor said that internal security is supposed to be handled and managed by the Police and that the police of today were inadequate. “There are about four million people in Zamfara and we have fewer than 5000 policemen. We, in governance agree that we can find a way through which we can fine tune the issue of State Police,” he said.

On the cost implications, Yari said, “It is not all the states that are supposed to have the State Police, those that could, should be able to have it. It is something we cannot take off at the same time.  We were created differently”.

He further noted that the issue of security was not something to play with, adding that the primary responsibility of any government is to ensure that lives and properties of citizens are protected.

“Many challenges of Nigerians for the past 10 years ranging from Boko Haram, cattle rustlers, armed banditry, and militancy in the Niger Delta are dwindling the Nigerian economy, and threatening the unity of the nation,” Yari said.

Arguments for and against the creation of state Police reached a crescendo recently. Some political observers expressed the view that Nigeria is not politically mature for a State Police, as most governors in Nigeria who behave like emperors, will abuse it. They cited the case of state electoral commissions, which is perceived to be abused by governors. The perceived abuse manifests readily in the absurdity where the ruling party in a state makes a clean sweep of all the local governments seats during council elections.

Still, there are those arguing that not all states can afford State Police as some still struggle to pay the N18,000 minimum wage, while others battle to stay solvent in the aftermath of the recent recession.

Some keen observers have argued that in view of the current security challenges, State Police may be the way to go. They cited examples of the state judiciary which is not completely abused by the state governors.

It is worthy of note that having the proposed policing system requires an amendment to the 1999 constitution. In the recent constitution amendment however, State Police was not listed. This effectively means that the 8th Assembly may not be able to amend the constitution to pave way for the establishment of the new system. There are some who express the view that the governors are just playing to the gallery as they know the advocated policing pattern will not be feasible for now, and perhaps, in no distant future.

Also, some observers contend that Nigeria is not practising true federalism but a distorted form of federalism. The thinking is that since Nigerian system of government is modelled somewhat, after that of United State (US), there should be devolution of powers to the state as it is done there. In the US, all the states and counties have their own Police. For propagators of devolution of powers, they argue that for Nigeria to achieve true federalism, state Police should be the first step.

According to Wikipedia, “Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government (the central or ‘federal’ government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States of America under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government establish. It can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status”.

Leading examples of the federation or federal state include the US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, Australia and India.

While,  the idea of state Police is generating mixed reactions, the Northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) rejected its creation. The ACF expressed fears that if it gets fully approved, sitting governors would use it to persecute opposition in states.

ACF  in a statement by its secretary general, Anthony Sani, contended that “Given the experiences where state governments use state electoral commissions and kill democracy at local government levels where no opposition party wins a seat in the local government council, there is the high possibility of state governments abusing state police with dire consequences, especially in states with many ethnic groups and religions”.

ACF argued that the problems of Police lie in the lack of training, equipment and insufficient personnel. The forum also added that these problems could not be solved through the multiplication of security agencies.

The pan-Northern socio-political organisation noted that the creation of state Police, as endorsed by governors of the 36 states  and Vice President Osinbajo was a recipe for more crises.

On his part, President of the Middle Belt Youth Council, Emma Zopmal, argued that state policing is the only way of guaranteeing safety of lives and property of citizens.

He said, “They are not experts in security and defence. State policing is the only way of guaranteeing safety of lives and property of citizens. Regional police effectively worked in the First Republic; there’s no doubt that it will work at the state level today.

“With the incessant infiltration of Nigeria’s territorial space by Fulani herdsmen, the federal police can no longer protect some states and citizens from the marauding killer herdsmen. We are aware that Nigerian government says that the Fulani herdsmen are foreigners. I do not believe that state governors will abuse state Police. Even if they do so, they would have copied it from the present federal government, which also abuses police power.”

According to him, with laws governing state Police system, there will be no abuse. “Strong institutions will also ensure that the state Police system is not abused. Our restructuring demands in the Middle Belt are state creation, creation of Middle Belt Region with its autonomy, state or regional police and solid mineral resource control. Functional laws in the state will prevent any abuse of state police.’’

Senator Shehu Sani also weighed into the matter. He said, “I’m against state police even if the president, the vice president, the state governors and the Senators are for it. The tyranny, the abuse of power and the state sponsored and state sanctioned violence it will unleash is unimaginable.

“State Police will only enable state governors to give uniforms and arms to political thugs, criminal gangs, ethnic militia, cultists, secessionists and religious fanatics. Multiplicity and duplicity of armed personnels will not address the security challenges in the country”.