The issue of state police returned to the front burner of national discourse in the past ten days when the idea got support from two important places. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Nigeria Governors Forum [NGF] threw their weight behind the idea of state police. Speaking at the National Security Summit organized by the Senate eleven days ago, Osinbajo said, “For a country our size to meet the one policeman to 400 persons ratio required by the United Nations, we will need to nearly triple our current police force. Far more funding of the police, far more funding of the military and other security agencies is required. We cannot realistically police a country like Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go…”
Four days later, speaking on the sidelines of the same summit, Governor Abdul-Aziz Yari of Zamfara State, who is chairman of NGF, said the idea of state police was first endorsed by NGF during the last administration but that the crisis that enveloped the forum frustrated it. He said, “State police is something we have agreed during the constitutional amendment but at a later time when the forum divided into two, some governors played to the gallery…Today, we have reiterated the position of the vice president on the security summit we held in August that there is a need for state police. And we can say it is the only answer. The police of today are inadequate so if we look at the ratio, it is far below international standard. Therefore, we in the forum agreed that we can find a way of fine tuning the issue of state police.”
Governor Yari, who was to face a major internal security crisis in his state only a few days later, however added a curious dimension to the issue by saying only states that can bear the financial burden should establish state police. Those that cannot afford it, he said, should have more federal policemen deployed to their states. This qualifier by Yari confuses and ridicules the purpose. We believe the idea of state police has merit. Up until 1969 each Native Authority in the North had a police force called Yan Doka, which existed side by side with the federal police called Yan Sanda. The military government however dissolved NA Police as part of local government reforms and federalised all the police, as it did in other sectors. Today the system is unwieldy because state governors are constitutionally the chief security officers of their states but police commissioners in their states answer more to the Inspector General. Besides, the federal police today is heavily subsidised by state governments.
The biggest point against state police is the danger that state governors could abuse it. Some Nigerians are even calling for INEC to take over local government elections from SIECs because of the open abuse in nearly every state. This issue has no regional, tribal, religious or other sectional implications. The potential benefits as well as the likely dangers of state police apply equally to all parts of the country. Let us therefore sit carefully together and decide whether or not we should give the idea a try. Whether federal or state, we must still also tackle issues of police number, welfare, training, funding and equipment.