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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
Civic Rights …

ON STATE POLICE

The murderous rampage of herdsmen which reached a tragic climax with the slaughter of 73 citizens of Nigeria in Benue State, and the altercation between the Governor of the State and the Inspector General of Police reawakened and strengthened calls for a provision for state police in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

Whereas Governors are said to be Chief Security Officers of their States, it is crystal clear that they are not constitutionally empowered to control the State Police Command.  Their helplessness was underlined by the statement of the Inspector General of Police who claimed that the massacre in Benue was the result of a bad law promulgated by the government of Benue State, and who sounded unwilling to ask the police under his command to enforce the law.

But there are those who make a case against the establishment of state police.  Their main argument is that police under the control of State Governors will become a ready instrument of oppression and persecution of their political opponents.  That argument points to abuse of power on the part of many of our State Governors.  It is a concern that cannot be ignored because there are, indeed, instances of abuse of power.   There is a real possibility that state police may become like state electoral commissions in Nigeria.  Whenever and wherever they organize local elections, the ruling party wins all the seats.  Local government elections in Nigeria are like Nigeria Premier League Matches.  By accident or by design, only the home team wins.

There is another argument against state police in Nigeria that we must not gloss over, and that is, the doubtful ability of state governments to fund state police.  State governments in Nigeria are already overwhelmed by their inability to pay salaries of workers on their payroll.  Can one reasonably expect them to be able to pick up the bill when they begin to run state police?  The reader should bear in mind here that the federal government itself is finding it difficult to fund its own police.  An under-funded federal police has repeatedly demonstrated that it is incapable of securing the land.

For a number of reasons, one may consider these concerns to be real and legitimate and still make a case for state police.

First, the very notion of government calls for the establishment of state police.  I shall go further to assert that it even calls for the establishment of local government police.  The validity of these two assertions is relative to the primary responsibility of government which is to ensure that the land, its resources and citizens are secure.  If government is to fulfill this primary obligation, government must have the capacity to make laws and to enforce them. And if government is to have the capacity to enforce laws, government must have an agency that maintains law and order.  That is the role of the police.  Therefore, the very notion of government includes the mandate to establish and to run a police as government's instrument in carrying out government's primary responsibility.  If we say there are state and local governments in Nigeria, and if the state and local governments are constitutionally empowered to make laws, then, not only the federal, but also every state government and every local government should have its own police.

Secondly, there is indeed a lamentable lacuna in the 1999 Constitution when it provides for state and local governments without giving them the backing to establish their own police.  The Constitution gives them the authority to make laws but withholds from them the authority to own an instrument of law enforcement.  The need to correct this has become an urgent imperative.

Thirdly, while the concern that state governors may turn the police under their command into an agency of oppression is well-founded, it does not remove the need for state police.  Instead, it highlights one of the questions that are critical to the foundation of a nation.  That question, as I have had occasions to point out, is: what ought to be the relationship between the government and the citizen?  The way this question is answered will go a long way in determining the role of the police. 

If the primary responsibility of government is to protect the people and the land, the primary responsibility of the police, as an agency in the hands of government, is to protect the people.  Unfortunately, in Nigeria, government does not play this role.  Government itself, is at the vanguard of lawlessness.  Government does violate the rights of the Nigerian.  That is why the police does what government does.  The police is a reflection of society and its government.  If the government violates the rights of the citizen, the police, its agency, will violate the rights of the same citizen. If the government respects the rights of the citizen, the police, its agency, will respect the rights of the citizen.  What we should be most worried about, therefore, is not the type of police we have but the type of government we have.

It is because government is not accountable to the people that government is at the vanguard of violation of human rights in our country.  That is not only true of state governments, that is equally true of local and federal governments.  If Nigerians would insist that government be accountable and polite to the citizen, the police will be accountable and respectful.  An oppressive government will certainly operate an oppressive police.

Fourthly, in response to the concern-again a genuine one-about the inability of state governments to fund their police, I shall say a state or local government that cannot fund its police is a state that lacks the capacity for fulfilling its primary obligation, which is the provision of security.  But a state that lacks the capacity to fulfil its primary obligation is an instance of privation of legitimacy.  Such a state or local government should not have been established in the first instance.  The ability to provide security, which is the ability to fulfill the most primary obligation of a government, must be a prerequisite for the establishment of a state or local government.  Unfortunately, when the military wrote this constitution and loaded it with 36 states and 775 local governments, it did so thinking Nigeria's petrodollars would flow in perpetuity. It envisioned a highly centralized government, with its seat in Abuja, playing the role of Santa Claus to state and local governments.  It paid insufficient or no attention to the question of economic viability of the states being created.

Fifthly, it is a well-known fact that Nigeria is a severely under-policed land.  The New York Police Department is larger than the entire Nigeria Police.  Establishment of state police with rules of engagement that befit a democratic polity will go a long way in addressing the   problem.

Sixthly, it is also a well-known fact that whereas the 1999 Constitution does not provide for state police, many state governors have established their own police without calling it so.  While not attributing purely altruist motives to such state governments, the fact remains that the ability to make laws and the necessity of enforcing them, played a role in leading to the establishment of such outfits like LASMA in Lagos, the KAI Brigade, also in Lagos, and its Oyo State counterpart.

What is at stake in all this is the need for effective policing of the land that life and property be safe.  That cannot be done with the present police arrangement.  That is why we need state and local government police.  But we must ensure that both the government, and the police that is its agency, operate within the law.  That is why, if today, we are going to have the state police, it must be within a legislative framework that protects our rights as human beings and as citizens.

 


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