The option between the call by Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State on the people to defended themselves against bandits and stakeholders' clamour for state police as panacea for rising insecurity is not debatable.
Amidst rising security challenges nationwide, the clamour for decentralization of the police is yet again gathering momentum. The agitation which is not new, has over the years been ignored by the previous and present government. Currently insecurity has enveloped the length and breath of the country particularly the North, with both the citizens living in constant fear and government appearing to be exasperated and helpless. President Muhammadu Buhari was recently quoted by the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), as telling his security chiefs that he must not exit government a failure. But words aren't enough as one of the solutions to the insecurity bedeviling the country, is being ignored.
Recently, Governor Bello Masari called on the people of Katsina to acquire arms to defend themselves against bandits. Masari was of the view that it is the people's meek submission that emboldens the bandits to continue with their heinous activities with murderous frequency, insisting that security was not solely a responsibility of the government.
Before now, the governor had expressed this utter helplessness in tears before television cameras. His photograph with a so-called repentant bandit (displaying his weapons) has been widely published.
This generated a lot of criticism as some members of the public felt the bandits should be treated as criminals. The Governor had defended his approach of making peace with the killers and kidnappers as a way of winning them over to the society. It however turned out that the approach was a very bad decision as it didn't help in anyway to stop the senseless killings in Katsina and other states.
Masari however is not alone in the call. Last year, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had urged the Federal Government to allow citizens to bear arms.
Defending his call, he said, "I heard people complaining that Ortom called for Nigerians to be allowed to carry sophisticated weapons and that it would bring about anarchy. What about the herdsmen who are carrying AK-47 and kidnapping innocent Nigerians, raping our women and destroying our villages and towns and becoming a terror to us? How many of them have been arrested?"
Last February, the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd), addressing journalists after the screening of service chiefs by the House of Representatives, chided Nigerians for allowing the criminals a free reign.
He said, "I don't know why people are running from minor things like 'bandit attacks'. They should stand and let these people know that even the villagers have the competence and capabilities to defend themselves."
As expected, Masari's call has continued to generate diverse reactions across the polity. One thread that connects majority of the stakeholders submissions is that his call is a scary confirmation that security has totally collapsed. While some Nigerians rose in Masari's defence, saying that citizens are helpless, a few think otherwise, among them, is the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), which called on Masari to resign over failure to protect Katsina people.
These calls for self defence and the escalating insecurity have again pushed some state governors and other stakeholders to renew calls for creation of state police. Section 214(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) vests the control of the police and other security agencies exclusively on the Federal Government.
Some Governors had in their quest to strengthen security in their respective states, resorted to setting up vigilante groups and regional security outfits. In 2020, the South-west geo-political zone established a regional security outfit, code named 'Amotekun', to aide security agencies in fighting crime in the zone. Few months ago, the South-east followed suit by setting up their own regional security outfit named 'Ebubeagu' as their response to the escalating crime wave in the zone.
But the outfits haven't done much as they lack the constitutional permission to function optimally. They are also believed to be prone to abuse and spiral out of control.
On Police Decentralization and Ekweremadu's State Police Bill
Though self-defence is a natural right, however, decentralized policing seems to make the path of security straight and sure. Last May, during the public hearings on constitution review across the country, calls for state police dominated the hearings. Also, in July, Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, urged National and State Assembly members to join the call for state police irrespective of their political affiliations. Makinde, who gave the charge, said the introduction of state police would help in routing insecurity in the states and across the country.
Also the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria at its second quarter meeting in June, appealed to the National Assembly to use the ongoing constitution review to accommodate state police in the constitution.
A member of the National Assembly, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West), sponsored a bill for the creation of state police as one of the ways of addressing the security issues across the country.
The bill entitled: "A Bill for an Act to Further Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to Provide for the Establishment of State Police and other Related Matters (2020)," has been referred to Senate Committee on Constitution Review.
Ekweremadu, who is a former Deputy Senate President as well as three-time Chairman of the Senate Constitution Review Committee (2007-2019), advised the presidency to embrace state police in order to address the foundational problem of security rather than what he described as "patchwork in the name of community policing."
The lawmaker said the failure of the current police arrangement was responsible for the formation of the South-west security outfit, Amotekun, and other security structures as states try to find a way to fulfill the primary purpose of government, which is the security of lives and property.
He recalled that state police existed in Nigeria during the colonial era and throughout the First Republic until it was abrogated by the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon due to abuse by regional governments.
He described community policing as a distraction, saying that is not what Nigeria needs to tackle insecurity.
The Ekweremadu Bill seeks to establish the Federal Police, State Police, National Police Service Commission, National Police Council, and State Police Service Commission for the states.
The NPSC will, among others, be responsible for exercising disciplinary control over members of the Federal Police, recommending to the Governor of a State the appointment and disciplining of the Commissioner of Police, Deputy Commissioners of Police and Assistant Commissioners of Police of the State Police cadre; supervising the activities of the Federal Police and State Police, and prescribing standards for all police forces in the country in training; criminal intelligence data bases, forensic laboratories; and rendering assistance to State Police in areas as may be requested by such State Police.
The NPSC shall comprise a Chairman and six retired police officers not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police representing each of the Geo-Political zones of the country to be appointed by the President subject to Senate's confirmation. Others are two representatives of the National Human Rights Commission, a representative of the Public Complaints Commission, a representative each of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NBA, NUJ, and Attorney General of each of the States of the Federation.
On the other hand, the State Police Service Commission, SPSC, will comprise a Chairman and three retired senior police officers to be appointed by the Governor subject to confirmation by the State House of Assembly. Others are a representative of the Federal Government (to be appointed by the NPSC), two indigenes of the State appointed by the National Human Rights Commission, a representative each of the Public Complaints Commission, and one representative each of Labour, NBA, and NUJ.
The SPSC shall basically be responsible for recommending the appointment of a Commissioner of Police, Deputy Commissioner of Police and Assistant Commissioner of Police to the NPSC as well as the appointment, discipline and removal of members of the state police service below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police. In recommending a Commissioner of Police, the SPSC shall propose three qualified candidates to the NPSC.
Although the Governor shall appoint the Commissioner of Police for a non-renewable five-year term on the advice of the NPSC, such shall be subject to confirmation by the House of Assembly of the State. Although Nigerians are concerned about the overbearing influence of governors on State Assemblies, the financial autonomy for the Assemblies midwifed by the Ekweremadu-led constitution amendment process, passed by the National Assembly, and ratified by President Buhari, means they will be incrementally more independent.
Meanwhile, where a Commissioner of Police feels that any order given by the Governor of a State is unlawful or contradicts general policing standards, he may request that the matter be referred to the State Police Service Commission (SPSC) for review and the decision of the SPSC shall be final. There will also be a certification review of the activities of State Police by the NPSC. This is to ensure that they comply with approved national standards and guidelines of policing and that their operations do not undermine national integrity, promote ethnic or sectional agenda or marginalize any segment of the society within the state.
Against this backdrop, will President Muhammadu Buhari and the nation's leaders now muster the political will to do the needful or will they continue to dither?
Will Masari, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is in a position to understand the place of progressive laws in addressing the country's challenges. Incidentally, he is also the Governor of Buhari's home state, Katsina and,should be able to impress the urgency on the President that the country cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. The time to start decentralized policing is now.