State police: Further delay is dangerous, inexcusable


WITH the fire of terrorism and banditry literarily enveloping them, the Northern Nigerian elite have finally unanimously bowed to reality by backing the long-running clamour for state policing. Rising from a joint meeting, the Northern Governors Forum and the Northern Traditional Rulers Council reviewed the state of security in the region and unequivocally resolved to support the establishment of state police forces. Though coming dangerously late, the national and state legislatures and all other stakeholders should move with haste to actualise this objective.

The Northern political, bureaucratic and traditional elite have done incalculable harm to the country and its stability by hitherto stoutly blocking efforts to run Nigeria along its natural federal configuration.

Though by no means alone, they have nevertheless been the major bulwark against state policing, resisting its establishment even as insecurity engulfed the country, with the North the worst hit. At a governors’ forum in 2012 and in public statements since then, the 19 northern governors cited fear of abuse, lack of funds and confidence in the NPF as their reasons for opposing state police.

Critics allege that politics, elite privilege, and undue advantages are their motivating factors. In fairness, some like Governor Nasir el Rufai (Kaduna) and a few other northern governors have variously admitted the inevitability of state policing.

But blood-soaked adversity is a reality check. Chair of the NGF, and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, acknowledged the dire insecurity and the need for sub-national policing. He said, “This will effectively and efficiently address the security challenges of the region.”

While they dug in for years, fiercely opposing the resetting of the country into its natural order of federalism; devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, and state policing, insecurity spiked, threatening the whole country, and tipping it inexorably towards state failure.

Without exception, each of the summiteers was accompanied by squadrons of police and other security personnel to protect them from bandits/kidnappers and terrorists. The highways are unsafe, farms are ravaged by marauders, and homes are fair game for terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers, and killers operating under different guises.

In 2021, said the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, bandit groups killed over 2,600 civilians across Nigeria. Beacon Consulting reported that 6,698 persons were killed in violent attacks in the first six months of 2022, 35.9 percent higher than 4,927 killed in the corresponding period of 2021. It said 3,357 persons were abducted in 2022, up from 2,540 abducted in 2021.

In its latest report covering January to June 2022, Jihad Analytics ranked Nigeria the second “most attacked and terrorised” country in the world, coming only after Iraq and pushing Syria to third place. For three years running, it had been ranked as the third most terrorised. The Global Terrorism Index reckons that by 2020, $40.6 billion worth of foreign investments had been diverted from the country over the past decade because of insecurity.

No region is safe from Islamic terrorists, primarily Boko Haram, its affiliates, and rivals such as ISWAP, bandits/terrorists, Fulani herdsmen/militants, “unknown gunmen,” armed robbers, cult gangs, and ethnic militias. Pirates operate on the extensive coastline. All also double as kidnappers. In the oil-bearing areas and across the country, oil thieves are stealing products on an industrial scale. Over 2.5 million persons have been displaced from their homes in the last 10 years, 2.0 million in the North-East alone.

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Ironically, it is the northern states that are worse hit. Also facing security challenges, the 17 southern state governors, majority of the elite and people have long committed to state policing. Within the last 10 years, said the Centre for Democracy and Development, 60,000 persons have been killed in the North. Governor Babagana Zulum just told an international audience that nearly half of the primary schools in Borno State have been destroyed by terrorists; that 5,000 school buildings – primary, secondary, and tertiary – were destroyed, while 530 teachers were killed, and 52,293 children orphaned.

Soldiers are deployed in all 36 states; abjectly, the federal and state governments have been negotiating with bandits/kidnappers; terrorists, bandits and gunmen are attacking police and military bases, as well as public buildings.

The federal police are overwhelmed and local policing is essential; therefore, re-phrase Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution that establishes the Nigeria Police Force and provides that “…no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.”

Also, move policing from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List.

Policing is always devolved in a federal polity. All other 24 federations of the world sensibly adhere to this. Even unitary states devolve policing. But the Nigeria Police is vainly attempting to police a diverse country of over 250 ethno-linguistic groups, 36 states, 774 local government areas and a population of 216 million with a single force claiming 370,000 personnel!

Contrast that folly with the unitary United Kingdom: at 923,923 square kilometres, Nigeria is 279 percent larger than UK’s 243,610 sq km. The latter, with a population of 67.5 million, currently has 45 territorial police forces and three special police forces. In India, the world’s most populous federation, its constitution unambiguously “places the police, public order, courts, prisons, reformatories, borstal and other allied institutions in the State (legislative) List” reported the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

There is no more time to waste. The National Assembly and state legislatures should move with uncommon speed and amend the relevant portions of the 1999 Constitution as a stand-alone agenda. The country cannot wait for the slow-grinding wholesale amendments the NASS has been toying with.

The NASS and the state assemblies should invoke the “Doctrine of Necessity” today and amend the basic law to permit state policing. Experts and other stakeholders should be assembled to undertake a thorough study and make recommendations on the modalities for state police, with special emphasis on oversight.

In the meantime, with effective oversight and guardrails, state and regional police forces should be equipped and armed with sophisticated weapons to secure their territories ahead of the formal take-off of state police forces. ,

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