In the history of nations and institutions, efforts are made to address perceived imperfections, weaknesses and shortcomings. The bold initiative by the National Assembly to explore the possibility of amending the constitution to provide for State and community policing is one of such opportunities. However some fundamental issues should be considered and the process be driven by the need to address current realities.
Public expectation is for a policing system that is all inclusive, that will not marginalize the ordinary man and is not elitist. This, apparently is, the bane of the current security set up. Policing is a civil responsibility that should be guided by highest respect for human rights and a more accommodative attitude towards the citizenry. The ongoing efforts must therefore come up with a police system that is sufficiently purged of the current military mindset. The rights of the people must be made supreme. The notion of regime protection must be done away with completely from the entire national security establishment.
The culture of civility should be enshrined with a system that enthrones transparency and accountability. Nigerians expect a police system in which the people have confidence, is transparent and does not condone impunity. Creating a system that has aversion for corruption is therefore imperative. To ensure transparency, close monitoring and accountability, the office of ombudsmen to exercise oversight functions at all levels should be institutionalized.
The exercise is coming against the backdrop of dismal failure of the national security apparatus to effectively deal with the myriads of security threats that have engulfed the country in recent years. The factors militating against the effectiveness of the security services must therefore be clearly identified and addressed. Policing at the local level must be intelligence driven and proactive.
For the proposed system to succeed in this regards, ownership must be reposed in the citizenry and communities. Citizen participation must also be enshrined. Recruitment and composition at the State and Local Government levels should reflect the diversity of each state and community. Necessary safeguards to prevent domination, sectionalism and such narrow pursuits must be entrenched. Experts in community policing must be invited to put the new set up through the rudimentary stages.
Other reasons that are responsible for the dismal performance of the existing arrangement include the popular narrative that the Nigeria Police Force as currently constituted is overwhelmed by crime and security challenges because of the unified federal policing system. The effectiveness of the existing security arrangement is watered down, not by the type of structure it operates, but a combination of several factors such as inadequate manpower, dearth of working tools and capabilities and leadership incompetence. The Nigerian Police Force and the other security forces as presently constituted cannot effectively meet the expectations of the citizenry with their current strength, equipment holdings and absence of modern crime fighting capabilities. Drone technology, helicopters and sophisticated communication equipments are tools of choice in modern day crime fighting. In other climes having well kitted vehicles are also essential for effective policing. Optimum effectiveness of the security agencies is therefore achievable by simply increasing the manpower and equipping them with the working capabilities they need. Acquisition of cutting edge technology and increased capacity can make the difference. The acquisition of advanced aerial surveillance capabilities by Nigerian Airforce and Nigerian Army made a huge difference in the counter terrorism operations in the North East.
Similarly, the acquisition of communication tracking capabilities by the state services resulted in the successes being recorded in the war against kidnapping. Unless there is improved investment in the security sector, the creation of state police will not be a panacea to security challenges. Other reasons for the failure of the current security arrangement include leadership incompetence and institutional limitations. The security architecture must therefore be reworked to avoid creating a rag tag contraption.
Other factors causing security problems in the country are related to governance such as the virtual absence of governance and security in many parts of the country. The country's landmass and population are too large to be effectively policed by the current strength and spread of the security forces. Criminals especially terrorists today freely operate in parts of the country because of the absence of governance and security especially in the North East. Some foreign intelligence services recently alerted that the Islamic State and other Jihadists have infiltrated the country in the Lake Chad area and other parts of the North in recent years and are exploiting the abject poverty to recruit members. This shows that there is a nexus between susceptibility to indoctrination and absence of governance. Security forces must therefore take a cue from the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Air Force to reconfigure their presence and assets in all poorly covered parts of the country and a role should be found for the state and community police.
In the ongoing exercise part time policing could be an option. Absence of community and citizens participation in policing should be addressed as the country is yet to demonstrate appreciable level of security consciousness, interest and participation in security matters. The notion that security is the exclusive responsibility of the security agencies has long been discarded all over the world because it causes apathy and undermines the performance of security agencies. Proposed amendments should galvanize community participation in state and community policing. Also deserving attention are roles for community and traditional institutions as well as, youths and interest groups in policing at the grassroots level as there can be no effective policing at the grassroots without the involvement of community structures and the youths. The ongoing efforts can also be used to address the problems of unemployed youths at the state and local government levels. Amending the law setting up the NYSC to draft corps members for community policing is worth considering.
Defects in the current security arrangement that are partly responsible for the ineffectiveness of the security agencies include lack of inter-agency cooperation as admitted by of some of the security chiefs, which exposes them to politics and leads to decline in professionalism. There are also the problems of intelligence sharing, coordination and funding. States that can hardly pay salary and pension of civil servants cannot adequately fund a state police set up. The creation of specialized semi-autonomous police entities for the various sectors such as legislative, transport, oil and gas and academic would enable the police to concentrate on its statutory functions. Commercializing police service should be addressed because it does not make sense for more policemen to be attached to commercial companies and personalities than those posted to states and local government areas.
The National Assembly should also be guided by the need to insulate the police system from political interference as policing is more responsive when it is for the general good of all.
Proper funding of the police should be carefully looked into to prevent incessant strikes by armed policemen. Also important is the need for the new creation not to aggravate fault lines in the country which is now more seriously divided along several lines. The most serious threats to national security and the corporate existence of the country are separatist agitations and resurgence of religious and sectional sentiments. The country cannot afford the creation of a police system that will aggravate these fault lines. In some climes, the federal police take precedence over the state and community police in matters that border on national security, while in others exclusive federal police responsibilities are explicitly spelt out.
Likely abuse and misuse of state and community police system should not be over looked because some interests, especially the political class, have not attained the required level of maturity that will insulate the police.
Gadzama, a former Director-General of State Security Service (SSS), wrote this piece from Abuja