Distinguished Senator Murray Bruce, in his feature article in yesterday’s edition of ThisDay Newspaper, advocated as many others have done in the past few years, the creation of State Police. He, like many other Nigerians believe that such action, alone, will solve the serious crisis of policing our country.

I am old enough to have experienced what life was like with state or local police in this country. I also am one of those who took keen interest in police and policing.

In 1966, after our first Military Coup, I worked with a group of civil servants in the Northern Civil Service in an initiative to abolish the Native Authority Police, then under the effective control of the Regional Government. We were driven by our common concern of the massive abuse of the Native Authority Police.

Not many of the present generation of Nigerians, under the age of sixty really experienced life under the Native Authority Police system in Nigeria of the fifties and sixties.

The Native Authority Police formally existed in Northern and Western Regions of the country. In Eastern Nigeria, there were no Native Authority Police. They had what was called Court Messengers, who functioned more or less like the Native Authority police forces in the North and in the West. The management, financing and operational controls were supposed to be the responsibilities of their respective Native Authorities, under the direct control of the Emirs and Chiefs.

This arrangement worked well under British watch. With Self Government and then Independence, the Regional Governments exercised effective control, although in times of tension, the Nigeria Police took over this control.

The first generation pioneer opposition politicians of the forties and fifties and up to the end of the civilian era in 1966 experienced hell, far worse than we have ever experienced since Military and Civil dispensations since then.

Many of them, especially at election times were simply rounded up at rallies, walked to the Native Authority courts, promptly convicted and sent to another Native Authority institution: the Native Authority Prison for long enough periods to take them out for the election period and render political opposition prostrate. Some were simply abducted and disappeared for the period of the elections. Anyone interested can visit the National Archives in their various locations to study the Newspaper Reports of the time to understand what I am talking about.

So in our first memorandum, submitted to the then Military Governor of Northern Nigeria, General Hassan Usman Katsina, we recommended the merger of the Native Authority Police with the Nigeria Police, which then looked respectable and efficient. Simultaneously, we recommended the take over of the Native Authority Prisons by the Federal Prison Service.

At the same time, we advocated the transfer of the Native Courts to the Regional Judiciary. Most surprisingly all these recommendations were virtually unanimously endorsed even at specially convened meeting of the Northern Emirs and Chiefs.

Our hopes and expectations were then that we would improve the justice system and ensure the existence of a properly trained and professional police Force. We had hoped that transparent recruitment and professional training of the Police would be assured. We also hoped that the justice system would be free and fearless. We were to be deeply disappointed. The Nigeria Police, we have today is worse than anything we could have imagined. The justice system does not enjoy the respect and confidence that a good judicial system should enjoy. Neither the Bench nor the Bar in this country deserves the respect of the citizen.

I believe that in trying to resolve the crisis of our policing and ensuring peace and security of our lives and property, we must give the deepest possible thought in bringing about any change in our present arrangement.

In 1999, just before Chief Obasanjo was sworn in as President, I presented to three memoranda to the President elect which addressed three issues which I counseled him to address early in his Presidency. They were 1) Security and Policing, 2) Petroleum, Pricing and Distribution and 3) Electricity. I said if he did not begin to address those issues within his first three months in office, he would have lost the battle.

In the case of the Police I said rather bluntly, some would say recklessly, that the best way to start would be disband the Nigeria Police altogether, although I recognized that it would seem irresponsible to wake up one day and find that there is no Police for the country. So I suggested other ways for experts to examine the issues for policing in a Federation like ours. I also suggested that it must redesign to reflect the realities of the Nigerian condition. Adopting any system from any other country would not serve our purpose, just like our adoption of the British and American political system has failed us.

Rather jokingly, the President elect, after reading the three memoranda, asked what I knew about any of those three subjects. I replied that I knew next to nothing or nothing about all of them, but I have been concerned about them and have given deep thoughts about them all.

What he needed to do was to get those with the knowledge and expertise to study the situation with a view finding the necessary solutions to them. We laughed, but he promised to give them all some thought. Eighteen months after that encounter, he asked me whether I still remember those three memoranda. I said I would never forget them. They still continue to worry me very deeply. He said the situation was very much worse than I had conveyed. The rest is history.

The Nigeria Police has gotten much worse than even at the time I wrote that memorandum of the Force. Perhaps, the creation of State or Local Government Police would help improve the situation. I don’t know!

I suggest that those levels of Governments and the various leaderships levels of the country, the NASS, the State Houses of Assembly and Society Organisations should all engage in a National Debate that would propose workable and acceptable systems of Policing and Security Architectures for this country.

One thing we much never forget is that we are an amalgamation of Federated States within a National Federation. We are a nation made of many Nationalities, Cultures, Religions and traditions, each with different ways of viewing issues, issues that we must reconcile for our common good.

I am persuaded that we need to decentralise our Policing System. How we do so is the question to which we must give full and most urgent attention. We must not rush to create State Police Forces and think that we have resolved anything.

Policing and security will not come cheap. It will cost a lot of money. I suspect that the reason that the Nigeria Police that we have is so bad, is because their funding is very poor; corruption is deep and much of the funds appropriated for the Force do not go into real policing duties but into the pockets of individuals at various levels. Their Barrack accommodation is primitive or absent. In the Colonial period, Police Barracks around Nigeria were the choicest living environments. No more. Police Clubs and recreation facilities so necessary for the moral and proper discipline of the men have long disappeared.

While some Governors complain that they cannot discharge their security duties just because they do not have their own police; every Nigerian who cares knows well enough that the Commissioners of Police in their states are in the pockets of their respective Governors who dole out pocket monies to the senior hierarchy.

Nigerians and foreigners alike also know only too well that our Police cannot stop banditry. Daily, all those who travel our roads know that the police check points are mere police money collecting points. One newly appointed Inspector General of Police called them ATMs and ordered the scrapping of all of them. Not a single police check point was demolished. Unfortunately the Military Check Points are now doing the same. The result is that whether you are carrying cement or containers of AK 47s, a Military or Police Check Point does not constitute any barrier.

There is a standard fee to pay. No matter what is being carried. The common belief is that the weapons used by high way robbers, kidnappers and herdsmen are all supplied by the Police. Some times, they even provide training. My barber once asked me whether Fulani Herdsmen can afford AK 47s; even if they can, will they know how to use them, they must be trained by someone. Who can that be, he asked me. He answered the question himself: the Police. The man is from Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State. I believe him.

So, if as Distinguished Senator Murray Bruce believes, the simple act of creating State Police will resolve the present crisis of policing, has he or the Senate or the House of Representatives given thought of the cost of creating 36 State Police Forces and adequately funding them, in the situation that we now face whereby teachers, health and other essential workers are not being paid by state governments. This issue of financing must be faced and resolved before we take the plunge. There would be no use creating police forces whose main, if not only source of income is from money extorted from travellers.

I know that we can adjust our priorities and spend our money more wisely than we have ever done since the return in 1999 of elected government and the massive flood of petro dollars into our coffers. Those days are not about to return any time soon. Our political leadership is not even willing to let us know how much we are spending on them.

Unless we carefully work out how to create and properly finance good professional and efficient policing systems, we should not take the plunge.

The final and most important question is: are those who lead or aspire to lead us prepared to have truly impartial, efficient and independent professional system? Are we as a people willing and ready to recognize and respect professionalism not only in our police, but also in our entire national and sub national institutions?

Let us recognize that this is not a short-term undertaking. Let us give ourselves time to fully discuss this issue and to arrive at a National Consensus.

–Joda, an elder statesman, writes from Kaduna.