Civil Societies says the Nigerian Police needs some autonomy.
The need to decentralize the Nigeria Police and establish State Police was a recurring theme during the CSO Panel’s public sittings and in memoranda received. This was a natural outcome of the security challenges confronting the different parts of Nigeria. CSOs were among the first to call for State Police in Nigeria, but these calls were not taken seriously. Calls for State Police were also associated with politicians in the South West, particularly in Lagos State where the government has led the way.
In recent times State governors have joined the discussion about State Police. While their nationwide body, the Governors’ Forum, has come out in favour of it, the Northern Governors’ Forum has declared itself to be against State Police or at best remains ambivalence. Despite the evident disunity amongst governors on the issue, the raised tempo of discussion is a direct response to the worsened security situation in the country. Today in Nigeria, there is militancy in the Niger Delta, kidnapping in the South East, ethnic and religious conflict in Plateau State, and the hydra-headed Boko Haram insurgency spreading from the North East which has resulted in terrorist attacks even at the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters in Abuja. The growth and spread of these problems, and the evident failure of the NPF to nip it in the bud or arrest and reverse any of them, have been attributed to the absence of State Police. Governors complain that the present constitutional arrangements do not give States any significant control over the police, and that their only input to policing in the country is as members of the Nigeria Police Council.
The CSO Panel considered a broad range of opinions for and against the adoption of State Police in the course of its work. Key arguments in favour were that it is a contradiction in terms for Nigeria to claim to be operating a federal system of government without State Police. The population is too large for a single centralised police system to handle effectively. The Federal Government is unwilling or unable to fund the police, but while State – and even local – governments are obliged to contribute funds to assist various police commands, they have no say over local police operations. It was so bad in some states that despite receiving such funds from different states, police officers still picked and chose when it came to enforcing State laws. For example, in Lagos State, the police refuse to enforce provisions of the State’s Domestic Violence Law, while in Kano State; they refused to enforce provisions of the Shari’a Law which created criminal offences based on Islamic Law. Such attitudes led to the creation of bodies such as the Hisbah in Kano State, who enforced Shari’a law but handed transgressors over to the NPF, whereas often as not, they ran into problems caused by the refusal of officers of the NPF to take necessary action or detain those handed over to them. Indeed, it is this kind of value judgment that makes it imperative to create a State Police that would be willing to enforce all the State’s laws, not just those which took its fancy, as was the case with the NPF.
It was also argued that the twin menaces of terrorism and kidnapping have been allowed to spiral out of control due to poor local or ‘on-the-ground’ intelligence that would have allowed the police to share in local knowledge about strangers, or strange activities in the areas under their control, and put a stop to such activities. It was agreed that the Regional Police of the First Republic were abused by the then regional governments to oppress political opponents, but it was argued that the unwanted effects experienced in those days can be addressed now through appropriate legislative safeguards to prevent politicians and state governors from negative influence over the police.
Above all, proponents of State Police argued that it was a mistake to see the issue as one of battles and struggles for control among different political gladiators. Rather, State Police were needed because at present, policing does not address the needs and concerns of ordinary Nigerians; is careless of ordinary people’s security or need for protection from the depredations of criminals and never-do-wells and has turned itself into oppressors of the people who have much more to fear from the police than they have to be reassured by. A service-oriented State Police starting with a clean slate, it was argued, would be better placed to meet these needs. While it was agreed that the motives of state governors in seeking to establish State Police might be less than pure, proponents emphasized that in calling for State and Local Police, they were rejecting the precedent set by the NPF and its subservient relationship to the presidency. Thus, if State governors hoped to exercise the same powers at state level that the president exercises at national level, they should be swiftly disabused of this illusion.
There were also strong arguments against State Police. Starting from an assumption that State Police would merely replicate the situation at the national level, where the NPF is seen as primarily a political tool in the hands of the President and the Federal Government, opponents cited the example set by state governors’ handling of outfits as diverse as State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), Hisbah in Kano State, Bakassi Boys in the South East, and Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) were cited to show on the one hand that governors were just as – if not more – capable of political oppression and intolerance for dissenting views as the Federal Government, and on the other, that ordinary people were at great – or greater – risk of oppression and extortion as they went about their business or tried to make an honest living as they were under the Federal Police. Particular bitterness was expressed at the way State run outfits would seize the goods of traders and lock them up, experiences difficult to distinguish from robbery and kidnapping!
Opponents of State Police argued that in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country in which primordial ties are strong, the country is simply not mature enough for State Police. Fears were expressed that State Police could result in the dismemberment of the country because it is prone to abuse; while strong doubts were expressed that any legal safeguards would insulate the police from abuse. It was pointed out that the wide dissatisfaction with the Federal Police is partly due to governors and politicians meddling into their affairs and participants asked: If governors have so much influence over the NPF which is not formally under their control, how much more a police totally beholden to them for everything? The use of political party thugs such as ‘Yan Kalare’ in Gombe State, ‘Sara Suka’ in Bauchi State and ‘ECOMOG’ in Borno State to mention just a few, certainly have not inspired confidence that State Police would not be misused or abused.
Concerns were also raised about the kind of oversight that could be exerted over State Police. While at the federal level, the National Police Council and the National Assembly might be expected to step in to play a genuine oversight role, the iron control exercised by state governors over all processes within their domain, with state legislatures reflecting little or no variation from the state ruling party and local governments none at all, meant that this option would be meaningless at state level. Fears were also expressed that any safeguards put in place to guarantee a professional performance by State Police could easily be abused by state governors who would be shielded by their constitutional immunity from any legal action that might be taken against them.
Another concern expressed was that there if State Police were instituted, there would be challenges in relation to inter-state crimes, cooperation between the police of different states, or with the Federal Police. With the country already witnessing the balkanisation of the NPF – the establishment of NDLEA, ICPC, EFCC, NAPTIP – participants also voiced concern that there would be duplication of effort, turf wars and a further reduction in funds available for genuine policing, with more going into setting up unproductive bureaucracies or administrative set up.
In view of the high level of distrust about the intentions of state governors, the general lack of political diversity within States, and sense of class oppression expressed to the Panel, a great deal of work to build trust and strengthen institutions within the States that are independent of political control must be undertaken by State Governors before any real moves to establish State Police can be undertaken. Nonetheless, the issue of State Police should be considered in the context of Nigeria’s federal structure and should be introduced taking into cognisance the abuses of the past by making them autonomous of political control by state governors.
We thus recommend that Sections 214-216 of the Constitution should be amended, and Item 45 (Police and other government security services established by law) on the Exclusive Legislative List moved to the Concurrent List to allow for the creation of State Police. State Police should only be established on a basis of strict adherence to the principles of operational autonomy, and be based on sound professional practice in appointment, operations and control. The State Police should have defined parameters of cooperation and where a state does not fully cooperate with its counterpart or the Federal Police on any matter; the Federal Police should take over and deal with the matter.
Safeguards should be put in place to reassure the public and boost confidence. These include:
· Establishing an independent service commission for the police to guarantee police autonomy at federal and state levels in matters of appointment, discipline, promotions and accountability. It should operate in the same manner as the National Judicial Council and be insulated from interference by political office holders, whether at state or federal level
· Permitting cross service transfer from the state through the federal levels (condonment/transfer of service); this will enable professional and experienced police officers to serve, or be recruited to serve in the police in any part of the federation.
· Recruiting or appointing on the basis of residential status, rather than indigeneity, particularly having regard to the diverse ethnic and cultural make up of most states of the federation.
· The State Police Service shall draw up an annual policing plan which details policing priorities to be during the coming year. It should be based on surveys and official statistics on crimes and trends in criminal activity. Funds should be allocated on the basis of such plan.
· Annual reports should be submitted to the State House of Assembly providing information about police activities during the preceding year and showing the extent to which the policing plan referred to above has been implemented.
· The independent service commission for the police shall carry out periodic audits for all police services to ensure compliance with and maintenance of professional and autonomous service standards and respect for human rights.