State police essential to secure Nigeria


THE Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, was on the right track recently when he re-emphasised the need for state policing in the country to curb insecurity. His remarks at the legislature’s plenary urging the National Assembly to initiate the process of amending the 1999 Constitution accordingly to enable each of the 36 states establish their own police forces deserves immediate action. Without further delay, the NASS, state assemblies and all stakeholders should mobilise, move quickly and devolve policing before insecurity destroys the country.

Obasa added his voice to a growing consensus that state policing is not only inevitable, but urgently desirable to tackle the challenge of insecurity. Highlighting the rampage of criminals around the country, he urged the NASS to view devolved policing “as a major factor of development.” Similarly, he urged Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to urgently equip the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps to effectively perform the task of community policing.

His call is significant since he declared the LSHA to be “strongly in support” of the state police project. His nod to community policing is also noteworthy. Nigeria continues to operate a single centralised police force in a federation. This is absurdity taken too far. None of the world’s 24 other federal countries toes that foolish path. Nigeria has 36 states, 774 local government areas, over 250 ethnic nationalities and a diverse terrain in its 923,768 square kilometres, the 32nd largest area in the world. Latest estimates by the United Nations Population Division put the country’s population at 223.8 million, the world’s sixth largest. Expecting a single police force to patrol and secure such a country is impracticable.

The evidence of this is being written in innocent blood being spilt daily, property ransacked, entire communities despoiled and terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, organised crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and cultism across the country. Over 100,000 persons were killed 2009 to 2015 in Borno State alone, said Kashim Shettima, then state governor and currently Nigeria’s vice-president. Another 63,111 were killed across the country June 2015 to May 2023 by terrorists, bandits, Fulani herders, communal combatants, cult gangs and in extra-judicial killings by security agents according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker.

With 371,000 officers, the Nigeria Police Force is overwhelmed, and many parts of the country lack any permanent police presence. Insurgents of different stripes taking advantage of this have seized control of some hinterland territories, imposing brutal, bloody rule over the locals.

In response, the military is now deployed in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, a major distraction from its role of territorial defence. Sadly, the creation of four new combat divisions by the Nigerian Army to join the existing four has been primarily in response to internal security rather than immediate threats of external aggression. Similarly, recent major hardware purchases by the Nigerian Air Force such as Hind attack helicopters and Super Tucano warplanes are trained on terrorists, bandits, and other insurgents.

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While consensus has grown on the necessity of state policing, no action has been taken. Continued delay in doing so prolongs the agony of Nigerians. The NASS and the state legislatures should go to work. The task requires President Bola Tinubu and the state governors taking the lead. As party leaders at the national and state levels, they should use their influence to nudge the parliaments to act quickly.

State policing can no longer wait; there should be a national consensus to invoke the “doctrine of necessity” to speedily achieve this objective. Conceivably, bipartisan committees of stakeholders and experts should be set up to study the rules and format, and how soon state policing should begin in Nigeria, taking the country’s situation into consideration.

The United States provides an example of highly devolved policing, with almost 18,000 federal, state, city, county, and campus agencies. India’s constitution delegates law enforcement; thus, its federal government and 28 states and eight union territories each have police forces. The police chiefs in the states are however jointly appointed by the national Indian Police Service. Seven of Canada’s 10 provinces contracted their policing to the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the other three, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador, have their own police forces, while many municipalities also have their own police agencies. This is the way Nigeria should go; states should choose which option best suits them. What matters is that policing must primarily be local, with responsibilities assigned by law to each level of policing.

Obasa and fellow state lawmakers have a crucial role to play. They should reach a consensus through the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures; liaise with the Governors’ Forum, and the NASS. Obasa, who reportedly sponsored the Lagos Neighbourhood Corps bill, should also introduce legislation to sign Lagos on to the South-West security agency, the Western Nigeria Security Network (Amotekun corps) in the state. Sanwo-Olu should drop politics and ignite Amotekun in the state.

The oldest and fundamental justification for government is the protection of lives and property. The President, governors, federal and state lawmakers should never forget this. There are no shortcuts; the 40,000-strong special squad that the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, is set to deploy nationwide is not sufficient to quell the raging insecurity.

Tinubu should move away from the unimaginative obduracy of his predecessors who all failed to appreciate the imperative of state policing and dragged Nigeria further into state failure. The country ranked 15th most fragile out of 177 countries on the Fragile States Index 2022 run by the Fund for Peace. It hosts three of the six most deadly terrorist groups in the world, and is the eighth most terrorised. Insecurity has emptied farms and rendered highways and entire LGAs unsafe across the country. The country desperately needs effective policing. Tinubu should therefore throw the full weight of his office behind the state policing movement.


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