The recent killings in Plateau State gave force to calls for state police with the House of Representatives commencing the process of amending the constitution to enable states establish their own police outfits. The bill, which will soon be presented and subjected to legislative process, seeks to delete the power to make laws with respect to the creation, formation and control of the police and other security services from the Exclusive Legislative List. It will also grant to state Houses of Assembly the power to enact laws with respect to policing.
House Majority Leader Femi Gbajabiamila proposed the amendment to provide for the creation of state police. Some of the proposed amendments are that state governors shall appoint police commissioners on the advice of the State Police Council from among serving members of the state police force; that the state police force shall be under the command of the state Commissioner of Police and that the governor or such other commissioner as he may authorise in that behalf may give to the commissioner of police such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order and the commissioner of police shall comply with those directions or cause them to be compiled with. The new section 219 as proposed, empowers state Houses of Assembly to make further laws for the regulation of the state police.
Senate President Bukola Saraki also met with Speakers of the 36 State Assemblies to seek their cooperation on the proposed constitutional amendment to make for the creation of state police. Agitation for state police has been a long running battle in Nigeria. Some state governors made the same call in 2013 but they did not have their way. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also made the same calls recently. He said the federal government cannot realistically provide adequate security for nearly 200 million Nigerians from the centre as it has not been able to meet the United Nations recommendation of one policeman to every 400 persons.
Back in 2013, we opposed the idea of state police and we still do. It is true that we have a problem on our hands but we must tread with caution so that in seeking a solution we do not compound the problem. Nigeria’s is a complex society that requires a federally-controlled police force to navigate. Any solution we adopt should also be one that promotes the country’s unity. State police could aggravate centrifugal tendencies in Nigeria. The proposed amendment also gives governors absolute powers over the security personnel in their states. The danger is that the powers could be abused and governors could use them to fight perceived enemies.
The example of State Independent Electoral Commissions [SIECs] which conduct local government council elections readily comes to mind. In almost every state that conducts local polls, the party in power in the state sweeps everything. This is an indicator of what could happen if governors have state police forces. Another problem we have is indigene/settler syndrome. If there is a clash between the two groups as often happens, state police will most probably take sides with the so-called indigenes. While there are good arguments made by those canvassing for state police, all of them could be addressed short of having state police. For example, state governors complain of not having control over federal security forces even though they are the chief security officers. This is a genuine concern. We urge governors to come up with a solution and sit with the federal authourities to work out a better arrangement.
As to the issue of police understaffing, we urge Nigeria Police Force to engage in massive recruitment. The federal government should also equip the force very well. Sophisticated equipment will make up for the shortage in manpower. We should also holistically review the current police structure and adopt one that works better. If a key institution is not working, we should ensure that it does, rather than create a new one.