Lateef Ibirogba: Rivers crisis and the lingering issue of state police

by Lateef Ibirogba


A state governor, as the chief security officer of his state, in an ideal setting, ought to have the control of police stationed in his state. The current trend where the Police Commissioner in a state will have to take orders from Abuja concerning security issues in a state, is, to say the least, quite pathetic and unfortunate.

The on-going political impasse in Rivers State and its implication on the socio-political stability of the country has once again brought to the front burner the need for a more scientific and better managed police force.  The fact that an elected governor of a state is not sure of his safety under the present arrangement makes it expedient for the creation of state police.  Indeed, if  it is true, as it is being alleged in certain quarters, that the Rivers State police authorities are guilty of complicity in the crisis, by joining forces with the powers- that- be to make the state un-governable for Governor Rotimi Amaechi, then it is time for us to give serious consideration to the whole question of state police.

If the governor that is constitutionally regarded as the chief security officer of his state could no longer enjoy the trust of his state’s police commissioner, it is obvious that the system that is currently being operated is weak and faulty. One finds it rather absurd that the Rivers State police commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu, who was quoted in some national dailies to be calling Governor Amaechi a despot still occupies his seat. If the Inspector General of Police should by any means publicly insult the person and the office of the president, would he have stayed a day longer on that seat?

A state governor, as the chief security officer of his state, in an ideal setting, ought to have the control of police stationed in his state. The current trend where the Police Commissioner in a state will have to take orders from Abuja concerning security issues in a state, is, to say the least, quite pathetic and unfortunate. Imagine the many agonies of Governor Amaechi as he helplessly watches the police authorities in his state, which is being partly funded by his government, turn against his administration. Imagine what he, as chief security officer of the state, could have done to stem the dangerous drift in his state. Poor man! What a frustrating experience it must have been for him when he could not even vouch for the loyalty of men that police his official residence and even his person.

Paradoxically, almost all the governors in the country are investing heavily in the various police commands in their states. In Lagos State, for example, the government in the last 13 years has invested billions of naira on the state police command as well as other security organs in the state. In fact, the first Security Trust Fund to be established by any government in the country was initiated by the Lagos State government. Similarly, the governments of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, and Ogun states, to mention but a few, are examples of states that have invested hugely in security. Now, does it not amount to double standard that a governor bears such a huge responsibility, which in the first place should be that of the Federal Government, only for the system to turn around and deny him unhindered control of the same institution?

It has been argued in some quarters that state police is nothing but a recipe for anarchy. Those who hold this view believe that it could lead to abuse of power and political vendetta by the various state governors. Others are of the opinion that it could lead to political turmoil. The reality, however, is that the present centralised structure has, over the years, been subjected to limitless abuse by the central authority. If state governors could manage other institutions of governance there is no reason why they cannot manage state police. The combined team of LASTMA, Federal Road Safety Commission officials along with the police are all collaborating and complementing one another on Lagos roads to maintain traffic and instil discipline in motorists. Just imagine Lagos roads with just only traffic police in control!

The truth is that Nigeria is too large and complex to be policed centrally. In an ideal federal system, the issue of state police should not be a contentious matter, after all, in the First Republic, there were regional police and local police existing side by side the federal police. If we are really serious about overcoming current security challenges in the polity, the time to embrace state police is now. If our country must progress, the big question should be who is even afraid of state police and why?  Could it be that some people are comfortable harassing their real and perceived enemies with the current arrangement, or why is it that the police is always the ready tool of oppression whenever the Abuja lords want to settle scores with their opponents?

State Police is an important component of true federalism and emblem of authority of governance, since sovereignty is divided between the central authority and federating state authorities.  It is not a new concept in Nigeria, but is rather a clamour for modification to the colonial legacy of Native Authority Police which successfully worked alongside the Nigeria Police Force till the 1970s before it was abolished and integrated into a single Nigeria Police Force by the military oligarchy (who had an infamous sojourn into politics) to achieve their unitary command system. The Native Authority police was very effective as a tool for combating crime and maintaining orderliness that time, though with some excesses and abuses typical of the party politics as it was played at that time.

Today, party politics is more mature and robust than it used to be in time past. Though the 1999 Constitution provides for a single federal police, this precludes states from taking charge of the protection of lives and properties of their people as Chief Security Officer and denied them the emblem of authority.   It was this central nature of the police that gave the killers of the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Uncle Bola Ige opportunity to hatch their plan with ease. If Nigeria is really a federation, centralized system is a constitutional lacuna that must be addressed through constitution amendment to pave way for State Police.

It has also been argued that many states cannot afford the cost of establishing and maintaining state police. It is worthy to note that the primary and most fundamental responsibility of any government at whatever level is the protection of lives and property of its citizenry. This is the cross they swore to carry and fortunately, no State has complained that it is too heavy for her to address.

On a final note, State Police is a necessity in a federal system like Nigeria if we are to effectively combat crime as it is being practiced by other federating units the world over. Given the required political will, we can successfully and efficiently operate State Police in the country. The time has come for us to give the subject the desired attention and we can no longer shy away from this. God bless Nigeria!


Read this article on the Nation Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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