In the history of nations and institutions, efforts are made to address perceived imperfections, weaknesses and shortcomings. The bold initiative by the National Assembly to explore the possibility of amending the constitution to provide for State and community policing is one of such opportunities. However, for the ongoing exercise to achieve desired results, some fundamental issues should be considered and the whole process be driven by the need to address current realities.
One of the fundamental expectations is for a policing system that is all inclusive, that will not marginalize the ordinary man and is not elitist. This, apparently is, the bane of the current security set up. There must also be accepted that policing is a civil responsibility that should be guided by highest respect for human rights and a more accommodative attitude towards the citizenry. The ongoing efforts must therefore come up with a police system that is sufficiently purged of the current military mindset. The rights of the people must be made supreme. The notion of regime protection must be done away with completely. This conception of security should be applicable to the entire national security establishment.
Also, apart from the culture of civility that should be enshrined, efforts must come up with a system that enthrones transparency and accountability. Nigerians expect the initiative by the National Assembly will come up with a police system in which the people have confidence, is transparent and does not condone impunity. Creating a system that has aversion for corruption in any guise is therefore imperative. To ensure transparency, close monitoring and accountability, the possibility of creating the office of ombudsmen to exercise oversight functions at all levels should be institutionalized.
The National Assembly must not lose sight of the fact that the exercise is coming against the backdrop of dismal failure of the national security apparatus to effectively deal with the myriads of security threats that have engulfed the country in recent years. The factors militating against the effectiveness of the security services must therefore be clearly identified and addressed. Policing at the local level must be the eyes of the state, intelligence driven and proactive.
Another issue of concern is bringing policing nearer to the people. For the proposed system to succeed in this regards, ownership must be reposed in the citizenry and communities. Citizen participation must also be enshrined. Recruitment and composition of the system at the State and Local Government levels should reflect the diversity of each State and community. Necessary safeguards to prevent domination, sectionalism and such narrow pursuits must be entrenched. Experts in community policing must be invited to put the new set up through the rudimentary stages.
Other areas that should be looked into which are the real reasons that are responsible for the dismal performance of the existing arrangement include the popular narrative that the Nigeria Police Force as currently constituted is overwhelmed by crime and security challenges because of the unified federal policing system. The authorities must not lose sight of the fact that the effectiveness of the existing security arrangement is watered down, not by the type of structure it operates, but a combination of several factors. Majorly, there is the problem of inadequate manpower, dearth of working tools and capabilities and leadership incompetence.
The point has been made that there is no way the Nigerian Police Force and the other security forces as presently constituted can effectively perform and meet the expectations of the citizenry with their current strength, equipment holdings and absence of modern crime fighting capabilities. Just to emphasize the point, drone technology, helicopters and sophisticated communication equipments are tools of choice in modern day crime fighting. In other climes having well kitted vehicles are also essential for effective policing. Optimum effectiveness of the security agencies is therefore achievable by simply increasing the manpower and equipping them with the working capabilities they need.
Acquisition of cutting edge technology and increased capacity can make the difference. This, was amply demonstrated in the ongoing counter insurgency operations in the North East. It is not surprising that the acquisition of advanced aerial surveillance capabilities by Nigerian Airforce and Nigerian Army made a huge difference in the counter terrorism operations.
Similarly, the acquisition of communication tracking capabilities by the state services is what have resulted in the successes being recorded in the war against kidnapping. It is believed that equipping Nigeria Police Force and the other security services with increased manpower, vehicles and technical capabilities will within the shortest possible time bring the menace of insurgents, attacks by armed bandits and other forms of crimes to an end. Unless there is improved investment in the security sector, the creation of state police will not be a panacea to security challenges. The failure of the current security arrangement is the result of lack of the required manpower and equipments. Other reasons include, leadership incompetence and institutional limitations. The security architecture must therefore be reworked to avoid creating a rag tag contraption that will be a nuisance to the populace.
Other factors that have contributed to most of the security problems in the country that should not be discountenanced are issues related to governance at two levels. There is the problem of virtual absence of governance and security in many parts of the country. The country both in terms of landmass and population is too large to be effectively policed by the current strength and spread of the security forces. Criminals especially terrorists today freely operate in parts of the country because of the absence of governance and security. This is the bane of security especially in the North East. Some foreign intelligence services recently alerted that the Islamic State and other Jihadists have infiltrated the country in the Lake Chad area and other parts of the North in recent years and are exploiting the abject poverty to recruit members through inducements. This shows that there is a nexus between susceptibility to indoctrination and absence of governance. All the security forces must therefore take a cue from the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Airforce to reconfigure their presence and assets in all poorly covered parts of the country. A role should therefore be found for the state and community police.
The ongoing exercise is an opportunity to be innovative. Part time policing could be an option. Absence of community and citizens participation in policing should be addressed. Evidence show that the country is yet to demonstrate appreciable level of security consciousness, interest and participation in security matters. The notion that security is the exclusive responsibility of the security agencies has long been discarded all over the world. This attitude, coupled with the apathy of the society, undermines the ability of the security agencies to effectively perform their duties.
These are at the core of limitations of community policing. Provisions in the proposed amendments that will galvanize community participation in the state and community policing are therefore important. Other issues deserving attention are what roles the amendments will provide for community and traditional institutions as well as, youths and interest groups in policing at the grassroots level. The country could evolve a unique system of grass root policing that embodies all these elements as there can be no effective policing at the grassroots without the involvement of community structures and the youths. This is why I believe the ongoing efforts can be used to address the problems of unemployed youths at the state and local government levels. Amending the law setting up the NYSC to draft corps member to be involved in community policing is the other option that should be looked at.
Defects in the current security arrangement are partly responsible for the ineffectiveness of the security agencies. These are the problems of lack of inter-agency cooperation, even by the admission of some of the Security Chiefs, allowing themselves to be sucked into politics and decline in professionalism. There are also the problems of intelligence sharing, coordination and funding. Can states that can hardly pay the salary and pension of civil servants be capable of adequately funding a state police set up?
These are critical and need to be addressed before embarking on full blown community policing along with some practices that overstretch the current Police set up. For example, policing in the country could be enhanced by the creation of specialized semi-autonomous police entities for the various sectors such as legislative, transport, oil and gas and academic. This way, Nigeria Police would be relieved of many duties to concentrate on its statutory functions. The issue of commercializing police service should be addressed because it does not make sense for more policemen to be attached to commercial companies than those posted to entire communities in states and local government areas. The same consideration should also apply to situations where so many policemen are attached to personalities.
The ongoing efforts of the National Assembly should also be guided by the need to insulate whatsoever system it comes up with from political interference. Security should not be designed to service only particular interests. Policing like all aspects of security is much more responsive when it is for the general good of all and not when it is conceived and created to do the biddings of only the elites and the powers that be.
The issue of proper funding of the police being contemplated should be carefully looked into as the last thing the government and the people want to have on their hands are incessant strikes by armed policemen. Also important is the need for the new creation not to be used to aggravate fault lines in the country. The country at the moment is more than at anytime seriously divided along several lines. The most serious threats that are inimical to national security and the corporate existence of the country at the moment are, separatist agitations and resurgence of religious and sectional sentiments. Can the country afford the creation of a police system that will aggravate these fault lines? Caution is therefore advised against creating a monster that will be in conflict with national security and federal authorities. In other climes, the federal police takes precedence over the state and community police in matters that border on national security. While in others, areas that are exclusively federal police responsibilities are explicitly spelt out and are no go areas for state authorities.
The concerns of likely abuse and misuse of state and community police system should not be over looked. There are fears that some interests especially the political class, have not attained the required level of maturity that will insulate the police at the state and community levels from abuse. It definitely will defeat the essence of the whole exercise if the amendments being proposed come up with a police system that will only serve the interest of the elites and dominant interests that will perpetuate oppression, misrule and visit hardship on the populace.
–Gadzama OFR, mni is former D-G, SSS