OpinionOPINION: As Insecurity Rises, A Time To Decentralise Nigeria Police Force

OPINION: As Insecurity Rises, A Time To Decentralise Nigeria Police Force

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January 27, (THEWILL) – In the past few weeks, both traditional and social media platforms have been flooded with news about the rampacious activities of various bandits in and around Abuja, the federal capital city and seat of political power. Kidnapping for ransom and the killing of those who refuse to comply with ransom demands are no longer distant occurrences. Instead, they are now unfolding right at the doorsteps of the leaders of Nigeria – a country that boasts of the largest economy on the continent of Africa and is home to the largest number of black people in the world.

The horrifying kidnapping events around Abuja, the seat of political power, are just too dehumanising to repeat in this piece. How can one comprehend and process the atrocities of 25 people being kidnapped in two weeks with four murdered for not complying with payment of the ransoms demanded?

So, this intervention would be concentrated on the critical sociopolitical factors that may have some bearing on the inability of law enforcement agencies, particularly the police force, to rein in the anti-social elements tormenting the apparently defenceless citizens of our beleaguered country, now under siege.

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In this article, l will be proffering actionable steps that have been efficacious in the past but have been hitherto ignored or swept under the carpet by successive administrations over the years for reasons that will be revealed shortly.

At times like this, particularly in Abuja, the folly of not completing the security cameras project that was to have been cited in strategic locations around the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, becomes magnified. Were the security camera initiative contracted to a Chinese firm for $500m in 2010 with central control and command centre operationalised as envisaged, the recent tragedies of armed bandits terrorising the suburbs of the seat of power could have been prevented.

Cities, especially Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, are known to have used security cameras for surveillance to insulate themselves from the pervasive insecurity that defines the Middle East.

But as a result of corruption, fraud or graft that scuttled the completion of the laudable surveillance cameras in Abuja streets project, innocent families, such as the victims of the recent rampage by hostage takers for ransom payment have been left to bear the consequences of the crimes committed by those who do not wield guns, but have applied pens to embezzle the funds meant for securing lives and properties in Abuja.

Clearly, it is the failure of the surveillance cameras project to materialise that precious lives are being wasted by the nefarious ambassadors that have turned our country into a killing field.

Delving further into history, it would be revealed that the police force which had formed the bulwark of internal security during the colonial days, in which it acquitted itself creditably, has currently been rendered nearly comatose by successive administrations.
The perfidy goes all the way back to the incursion of the military into the governance of our country following the unfortunate January 1966 military coup and after six months (June) a counter-coup that culminated into a civil war and a long military period of dictatorship.

It is on record that one of the biggest casualties of the military takeover of governance, apart from the parliamentary system that gets suspended by the military, is the police force, which also gets strangulated.
The simple reason for that is that as an arms-bearing organisation, the military puschists see the police as their biggest threat. That is due to their fear that the police can be used by the ousted political class to try to regain control of the government.

For that reason, the military intentionally does not empower the police which is the agency with the statutory responsibility in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to be in charge of internal security. It is an aberration that the military keeps usurping the role of the police force in internal security functions.
That, in my view, is the bane of the insecurity bedevilling our country.

It may be recalled that following the military interregnum on the eve of 1983 into 1984 that ousted the then-elected president of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the police force was stripped of most of its powers and facilities such as crime control gadgets/equipment including fast cars that the regime of Shagari had just provided before the coup. The simple reason for hobbling the police is because the military considers it to be a threat.

It is along the same line that the military and indeed, subsequent democratic administrations have by omission or omission ensured that the emoluments of members of the police force remained the least amongst members of the law enforcement agencies until the immediate past administration under ex-president, Mohammadu Buhari, intervened by reviewing it upwards as part of the recommendations of the panel that investigated the unfortunate #Endsars-nation wide protests by youths in Nigeria against a unit in the police force branded Special Anti-Armed Robbery Squad, SARS.

It is generally believed that it is the emasculation of members of the police force who earn very little and live in squalor that has influenced their tendency to be very aggressive, bullying and coercive towards our youths, whom they often harass and fleece their hard-earned money.
The reality is that rotten elements in the police force were hiding under the guise of the youths not being able to produce identity cards from firms in the formal sectors like banks, oil/gas forms because they earn their living in the informal economy, and by subterfuge, they resorted to bullying them in order to strip them of their hard-earned income, in the name of trying to checkmate cyber crimes.

That is what resulted in the resistance by the youths that manifested in the street riots of 2020, which was about four (4) years ago.

Last year, in what appeared like the rebuilding of a cordial relationship between the police and youths, when the salary of the long-suffering policemen/women was reviewed upwards, the public relations officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Mr Okereafor, specially commended the federal government especially President Muhammadu Buhari over the decision to upwardly review the monthly salaries of police personnel.

“We have no doubt that the increase in wage will further enhance commitment and dedication in the force.

“NANS is also optimistic that the move will greatly reduce corruption and bribery in the organisation…”

In Nigeria, it is well-known that members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) still earn salaries that are lower than those of their counterparts in the armed forces, such as the military and even the paramilitary such as the Customs services. The reasons for this pay disparity remain unclear to me.

What I do know, however, is that in Nigeria, the police operate as a cost centre, which means that the government allocates revenue to it for its functioning. On the other hand, the Customs services function as a revenue-generating centre, collecting tax revenue on behalf of the government.

In any case, is revenue collection, or otherwise, enough reason for the members of the police force—a cost-generating centre—to earn salaries less than for instance that of customs services, a revenue-generating centre? Is safeguarding lives and properties in society, which is the primary assignment of the police, not more important than collecting revenue, which is the duty of the customs service?

The Police Act, which regulates the force in Section 4, provides that “The Police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property, and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged.”

Without law and order in society, can there be trade that generates the revenue that the customs service collects?

The logic of customs personnel earning more than members of the police force makes no sense, as it flies in the face of common logic. But it is likely that there are other reasons for the discrepancy in emoluments. How justified might they be?

The purpose of this piece revolves around the rationale behind the remuneration of law enforcement officers, such as the police force, compared to their counterparts in other branches which may be one of the reasons they are not motivated. Put succinctly, the inquiry is essential as the demoralisation stemming from such disparities may be a significant factor contributing to the insufficient motivation of Nigerian Police personnel, as such hindering their optimal performance in their duties as the most suitable agency for internal security, hence the continuing rise of insecurity nationwide.

In addition to the evident issues of inadequate funding, a shortage of modern crime-fighting equipment, and insufficient training—especially when juxtaposed with the abundant available to the military—billions of dollars are being applied in procuring hardware such as attack helicopters, super Tucano jets and drones for surveillance and attack, which has led to the demoralisation of the police which lacks modern crime-fighting equipment.

As such the physiological challenges being faced by men and women in the Nigerian Police are not just limited to poor remunerations but also the dearth of equipment to discharge their duties.

Even the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which is comprised of youths that were in direct confrontation with the NPF during the #EndSARS riots, as earlier referenced is advocating for the improvement in the working conditions of the men/women of the police force via the introduction of an insurance policy as a social safety net, providing coverage in case of injury or death in the course of discharging their duties which are increasingly becoming very hazardous.

Without equivocation, this intervention seeks to emphatically endorse the idea that members of the police force should receive better remuneration and training to enhance their morale and enable them to rise to the occasion in stemming the alarming rate of insecurity currently wreaking havoc on our fellow citizens in the cherished country.

Simultaneously, this article calls for increased funding and better equipment to ensure the police can deliver superior services to society because that is their primary responsibility and which they had effectively and efficiently discharged before the military usurpation of political power as political rulers beginning with the 1966 coup d’etat.

To put things in context, it is proper to begin by reminding ourselves of the duties of a police force. According to information from the website of the Nigerian Police Force www.npf.gov.ng, these duties include “the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, and the protection of life and property.”

Before proceeding further, it is pertinent that we delve a bit into the history of the NPF to unearth one or two things about its origin in Nigeria, as documented on its website to see that at inception, it was conceived as community police and decentralised:

“The Nigeria Police Force is the principal law enforcement agency in the country. It had its origins in Lagos following the creation of a 30-man Consular Guard in 1861.

The small guard was subsequently expanded to 600 men in 1891 and renamed the ‘Hausa Police’ because of the enlistment of some captured runaway Hausa slaves at Jebba by Lt. Glover R. N.”

Isn’t that amazing to know? There are more revelations:

“Again in 1879, the Hausa Police was further enlarged by the recruitment of more men and renamed the ‘Hausa Constabulary.’ It then consisted of 1,200 officers and men commanded by an Inspector-General of Police.

The duties of the Hausa Constabulary involved addressing the security needs of the colonial administration, encompassing both military and civil police functions.

However, it primarily had a military character and posture. One such military duty was providing a detachment of 8 officers and 51 men for the Arochukwu expedition.”

The intriguing narrative about the striking origin of the NPF doesn’t end there. “On January 1, 1896, the Lagos Police Force was established.

Similar to the Hausa Constabulary, the Force was armed and comprised a Commissioner of Police, 2 Assistant Commissioners, 1 Superintendent, 1 Assistant Superintendent, a Pay Master, a Quarter Master, a Master Tailor, and 250 other ranks. The Force operated mainly in the Lagos area, while the “Hausa Constabulary” was in the hinterland.”

As the saying goes, ‘imitation is the best form of flattery’ and ‘you do not change a winning team.’
So, the NPF continued to replicate itself.

“A similar force, the Niger Coast Constabulary, was established in Calabar in 1894 under the newly proclaimed Niger Coast Protectorate. It was modelled after the Hausa Constabulary, with a specific emphasis on its military role. During its six years of existence, the force was primarily involved in active service and played a significant role in the major expedition against Benin in 1896.

In the early 1900s, when the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were established, a portion of the Royal Niger Constabulary evolved into the Northern Nigeria Police, while another segment of the Niger Coast Constabulary became the Southern Nigeria Police.”

Now, here’s the ‘bombshell’ revelation:

“During the colonial period, most police forces were associated with Local Governments (Native Authorities). However, in the 1960s, under the First Republic, these forces underwent regionalisation and subsequent nationalisation.

In 1914, the British merged the Lagos colony with the Southern and Northern Protectorates, naming the resulting entity Nigeria. The Northern and Southern Regional Police Forces were later amalgamated in 1930 to create the colony’s inaugural National Police.”

If I have understood the preceding paragraph correctly, the genesis of the NPF is deeply rooted in local policing, which is perhaps why it was quite effective. It is noteworthy and remarkable that those currently advocating for state police are essentially calling for a return to the status quo ante. That method of policing which was quite effective, more or less can be described as the golden age of security in Nigeria.

That is because in those days, folks could travel by road from Lagos to Sokoto safely and fun-loving students could travel from the University of Lagos to the University of Ife, in Osun state, for revelry etc without fear of encountering bandits or armed criminal elements who currently rule roost on our highways.

Obviously, owing to the heightened level of insecurity in the land those are travel propositions that can not be contemplated these days.

Little wonder, proponents of state/community police/ decentralisation perceive that structure of policing back in the days as the most effective way for addressing the rising incidents of kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, and related crimes that are currently wracking the country, and were not in existence in the nascent stages of Nigeria’s existence as a nation.

While the idea of reverting to state police/community policing may be enticing, there exists a significant number of Nigerians, both within the police force and in the political realm, who vehemently oppose the concept of state or local/native policing, hence the idea has remained a mirage over the past several years.

It is astonishing that the approach, which was prevalent during colonial times and demonstrated efficacy, is being met with resistance. The question that arises is: why do these individuals harbour opposition towards local policing, the idea of state/native police or decentralisation of the police force?

Numerous reasons are being put forth by those against the advocacy for state/native police. Opponents emphasise that the system could be susceptible to abuse by state governors who already wield substantial power over their constituents. Additionally, the argument is being made that maintaining such a system would be prohibitively expensive.

Another argument against state or community policing is that it can potentially lead to the division of Nigeria, as politicians may manipulate the police under their control to target their political opponents.

Those opposed to it further argue that it could create a readily available standing army that might be used for secession or the declaration of independence.

Dissenters also point out the lack of uniformity in financing as a threat, contending that some states are financially weaker than others, making it challenging for them to sustain state police, potentially leading to crises.

Now, there are genuine concerns, alongside unfounded ones. Now, the claim that the establishment of state police could result in the relocation of criminals and criminal activities from one state to another, maybe true but police in various regions are coming together for joint operations.

Another claim that appears to be more scaremongering, in my opinion, is the warning that the creation of state police will lead to anarchy, fostering tribalism or strengthening it within the polity. They also allege that this, in turn, may cause a conflict of interest between the Federal police force and that of the state.
According to records in the public space, present and past figures opposing the decentralization of the police force include the current Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbeyokun, PhD.

This stance is shared by Mr Parry Osayande, a former Deputy Inspector General of Police, and one-time Lagos State Police Commissioner, late Abubakar Tsav, among others.

The position of the past and present leaders in the police force are fueled by the provisions outlined in Sections 214 to 216 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which explicitly state that “there shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.”

That is further reinforced by the Police Act that governs the Force.
As Section 4 of the Police Act stipulates, “The Police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property, and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged.”

Already, the police act and provisions in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are likely being violated via the introduction of vigilante groups such as Odua Peoples Congress, OPC and later Amotekun in the Southwest, Eastern security network and later Ebube Agu in the Southeast region and the new vigilante group recently formed by Myetti Allah-an umbrella body of herdsmen from the northern part of the country ostensibly to protect herdsmen and livestock from rustlers.

Going by the wisdom intrinsic in the aphorism, necessity is the mother of invention, the introduction of vigilantes in the various regions may be due to the inability of the Nigerian police force to effectively render services to over two hundred million Nigerians nationwide because its personnel strength is currently merely over 370,000 officers which is insufficient based on a ratio of one police officer to about 600 citizens which is below the UN-recommended ratio of one police officer to at least 450 citizens.

In fact, IGP Egbetokun, at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Kuru, near Jos, Plateau State, recently made a categorical statement as to the capacity of the police force in terms of personnel.
“The Nigerian Police requires an additional 190,000 personnel to be at par with the United Nations recommendation.”

With an estimated 60 million unemployed Nigerians record of 2022, the current unemployment rate is likely to have shot up to 50% of Nigerians in real terms considering the current economic turmoil arising from ongoing economic reforms have exacerbated the level of unemployment. Although the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS matrix indicates that only 4.2% of Nigerians are without employment, statistics also indicate that about 36.26% of Nigerian graduates are unemployed. That means that the police force should not have difficulties in finding men and women to be enlisted into the force.

So, why is there a dearth of policemen/women to help tame the monster of insecurity which has pivoted from religious extremism, herders/farmers clashes over farming/grazing land, disputes over land matters between neighbouring communities to the criminality of the kidnapping for ransom dimension?
The current state of anomie in Nigeria reminds me of the sort experienced sometime past in South American countries like Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc and lately, Haiti, where kidnapping for ransom is the norm rather than the exception, so much so that it recently elicited a plea from the Catholic Pontiff, pope Francis, for the release of some nuns recently taken hostage by bandits.

The lack of interest in our youth joining the police may be attributable to the poor remuneration and unattractive welfare package that is far from being robust and therefore a disincentive. So, the administration of President Tinubu should review the package in the course of decentralising the police force which he is currently contemplating.

While there are vocal objections to the decentralization of the police, there is an equal abundance of political leaders at both the national and subnational levels advocating for state/community police. Former governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Tambuwal, who is currently a senator is one of the top leaders who had made stringent calls for the introduction of state police.
They justifiably (in my view) are pushing that option as a necessary and most pragmatic and efficacious response to the rise of insecurity that is threatening to overwhelm our law enforcement agencies and by implication the citizens in light of the fact that the masses that they are supposed to be protecting have become merchandise of trade for criminal elements who are either killing them en masse, as was the case during last Christmas eve in Plateau state, north central Nigeria where over hundred souls were killed in cold blood by bandits; or the ongoing kidnap and murder of those who delay or fail to pay up the ransom money demanded in Abuja and environ.

But those opposed to the planned decentralisation of the police claim that Nigeria is not ripe for it.

The anti-decentralisation voices need to be guided by the wisdom intrinsic in the counsel of an American investigative journalist, Amber Lyon whose point of view on equivocation or prevarication is quite instructive.

“Things don’t come to us once we are ready. They tend to arrive early. Right when we are not sure of our capacity to fulfil them. And that’s the acceptance of the challenge. The ability to trust ourselves to figure it out as we go. To navigate new waters & learn along the way.”

Arising from the above, the question that those opposed to the decentralisation of the police force should ask themselves is: if not now, when would Nigeria be ripe for state/community police or decentralisation of the police?

Prior to allowing private radio and television stations in Nigeria, the argument against it was that it would be abused by their being used to announce coups arbitrarily. So also was a ban on private ownership of sea ports which was feared would be used to import contraband such as weapons to prosecute coups against incumbent coupists. It was even claimed that Automated Cash Machines and ATMs could not be deployed by banks in Nigeria because it was assumed that they would be broken into or carted away by thieves.

Against the ‘advice’ of the naysayers, all the above-listed services and facilities are currently in operation in Nigeria and there is little or no evidence of the fears earlier expressed.
The introduction of state/community police or decentralisation of the police may not be different in my reckoning.

The urgency to tackle the troubling crisis of insecurity as reflected by the dastardly crimes that have been unleashed in Abuja and environ signify a state of anarchy in our beloved country which can no longer be taken for granted.

It is heartening that the minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike, has stated that he has received approval from President Tinubu to procure a highly digital technology tracking system to aid in apprehending criminal elements that have lately made the abduction of FCT residents their new enterprise.

As the heartbreaking narrative by the kidnap victim Mr Monsoor Al-Kadriyar who was taken hostage alongside his six (6) children ( father of Nabeena the young girl that was murdered by kidnappers) revealed, even when the police responded to their call for rescue, the outlaws were better armed than the police which had to retreat following exchange of gunfire between them with the bandits having the upper hand underscoring superiority of weapons.

Universally, it’s the police force that is usually in charge of internal security and their effectiveness in such duties had been proven to be efficacious when Nigeria was under colonial rule.

The primacy of the police being suitable to combat internal insecurity was underscored recently by an international news medium, The Economist magazine which is United Kingdom, UK based.

In a scathing commentary published on January 18 (last week), it underscored the fact that it is the police that should ideally be in charge of internal security.

But perhaps owing to the fact that the calibre of people who have been presidents of Nigeria have been ex-soldiers and former military heads of state of Nigeria that have the mindset of emasculating the police force, the military has been very well funded to the detriment of the police force which has been like a stepchild whose future is not so bright. The Economist magazine put it best by lamenting thus:
“The police, well equipped but able to use better human intelligence, should lead on domestic security, not the army, which has been deployed in all 36 of Nigeria’s states”

In what seems like light at the end of a tunnel, it is likely that the misfortune that had befallen the police since the return of democracy in 1999 may change for the better under the watch of the new no 1 occupant of Aso Rock villa, Abuja, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
As it may be recalled Boko Haram religious Insurgency commenced under ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s watch and festered during the reign of Goodluck Jonathan before blossoming and attaining full bloom during the reign of the immediate past President Muhamadu Buhari. That is due to the fact that the police force which should have been in charge of law enforcement at the grassroots level where crimes could be detected and nipped in the bud, was neglected by both Obasanjo and Buhari who placed emphasis on arming the military to execute police duties.

Even before the spike in criminal activities in and around the FCT, President Tinubu had outlined plans to establish multiple branches of the police force such as forestry police to patrol our forests which are currently the den of bandits who are holding sway in those uninhabited forests, solid mineral police to protect our invaluable natural resources being pillaged by all manner of local and international syndicates of solid minerals thieves, as well as marine police to tackle sea pyrates involved in crude oil theft and illegal bunkering activities in our waters.

If President Tinubu implements the plan, it would be a more holistic adoption of decentralization of the police force which would be beyond mere state/ community police being clamoured for as a panacea to the rising tide of insecurity.

By and large, it is the neglect of the police force beginning from when the military first struck in 1966, three (3) years after independence, and the continued usurpation of the role of the police and subjugation of the police force by not equipping them with arms, technology and training to enable them to function effectively and efficiently over the years, owing to the fear of the military that the law enforcement agency which is the other agency spread nationwide with the authorisation to bear arms could be used by the political class to challenge the imposition of military rule. Is it not amazing that it is for that selfishness of the military that internal insecurity in our country has degenerated into the current alarming and horrifying proportion?

But as President Bola Tinubu is not an ex-military officer like his predecessors, ex-presidents Obasanjo and Buhari who probably had professional disdain for the police, he is not biased against the police, so he appears to be more objective in assessing the state of insecurity and recognising the role of the police force as the most suitable to drive internal security, which is why he is going beyond the creation of state/community police being clamoured for over the years to the decentralization of the police force in Nigeria via introduction of forest police(by the way it was known as forest guards during colonial era), solid mineral police, marine police etc.

If the proposal is adopted as a policy and implemented, it would be similar to what obtains in the United States of America, USA where even universities have their own police with all the appearance.

Without further ado, my advocacy is that it is about time that the police force is given a new lease of life via decentralisation to enable our dedicated and able policemen/women to do what they know how to do best:
“The prevention and detection of crime.
The apprehension of offenders.
The preservation of law and order.
The protection of life and property” as enunciated on their website www.npf.ng.

*** Written by Magnus Onyibe

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