Nigeria: State Police - Between Necessity and Worries

24 January 2020
opinion

The apparent incapability of the Nigerian police to stop the persistent deterioration of the security situation in Nigeria, on the one hand, and the justifiable worries over the implications of sanctioning the creation of state police or armed security outfits in a fragile federal state like Nigeria, on the other, represent a dilemma that requires a collective sense of responsibility to address without prejudice to the bases of the country's corporate existence.

This is particularly necessary now that the six South-west states have launched a sub-regional security outfit named Amotekun without enabling laws, which they, in the first place, lack the jurisdiction to make, thereby prompting the raging controversy. Also, though the federal government has declared the outfit illegal, the governors behind it aren't likely to comply.

This development is also likely to encourage other governors or geopolitical zones to follow suit; after all, advocates of "true federalism" have always advocated enabling legislation for the creation of state police to complement the federal police. They have always argued, among other things, that it's one of the basic characteristics of the American-style federalism that Nigeria ostensibly practices.

However, northern Nigerian establishment has always been against it on account of deep-rooted worries that it may undermine and jeopardize the country's corporate survival, which the region particularly considers non-negotiable.

Besides, there are understandable worries that, against the backdrop of the recurrent outbreak of ethnoreligious conflicts in the country, state police, more so state security outfits could be manipulated in the intimidation and victimization of vulnerable communities living in states other than their respective native states. After all, over the decades, there have been so many instances across the country whereby indigenous armed groups would carry out heinous atrocities against communities on account of their regional and ethnoreligious backgrounds. Massacres and counter-massacres have been committed, which left irreparable scars in the minds of millions of Nigerians.

There are worries also that it may trigger a vicious circle of victimization, vendetta and vengeance among various ethnoreligious groups in the country. Because whenever a particular ethnoreligious community suffers victimization at the hands of an indigenous armed security outfit in a state or a geopolitical zone, the perpetrators' ethnoreligious compatriots living in the victims' native state(s) would be automatically exposed to imminent retaliatory victimization at the hands of the indigenous armed security outfits there, which may result in pervasive chaos that may indeed escalate into uncontrollable ethnoreligious conflicts across the country. Already, there have been many instances of this scenario involving many, if not most, states in the country.

Critics of this idea also warn that state police or armed security outfits are likely to end up as tools in the hands of state governors and other politicians to perpetrate politically-motivated intimidation and persecution against their political opponents. Politicians, after all, already sponsor armed thugs who intimidate and perpetrate violence against the electorate, election officials and, of course, their rival armed thugs to effectively grab election victory for their respective sponsors.

Northern Nigerian establishment is particularly obsessed with those worries, which explains its uncompromising obsession with Nigeria's corporate existence. Interestingly, however, what most northern Nigerian elites don't want to publicly admit is that the underlying motive of this obsession is the fear that the region may not survive the cessation of the inflow of crude oil proceeds, which automatically stop in the event of the country's disintegration. This is notwithstanding the region's immeasurable agricultural and crude oil reserves potential, for it requires massive investment and indeed takes time to develop into economy-sustaining resources.

Anyway, now that the South-west states have created an armed security outfit for their geopolitical zone presumably to complement the police, which generated the current controversy, there's no better time than now to address the issue decisively. Because, among other things, while the federal government lacks effective enforcement instruments to enforce its ban on the outfit, other zones and states are likely to equally launch their respective security outfits soon. And unless constitutionally sanctioned and regulated, the trend may lead to the proliferation of armed security outfits with serious security implications that the country cannot afford.

This is also absolutely urgent in the face of the alarming worsening of the security situation in the country as the atrocious activities perpetrated by bandits, kidnappers, terrorists, armed robbers and other crime syndicates steadily overwhelm the already grossly understaffed, under-equipped, exhausted and largely demoralized Nigerian police personnel.

Though it's indeed a tricky dilemma, yet it can be addressed, only that it takes a sense of responsibility and an imaginative approach on the part of those in the positions of authority to provide appropriate constitutional provisions that not only sanction the creation of standard police in states or geopolitical zones but also address all the underlying worries surrounding it.

Effective federally-regulated supervisory mechanisms should also be put in place to ensure strict compliance with the standard professional policing practices and ethics that translate into efficient mutually complementing policing between the federal and the state police.

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