A new police system that tinkers with the present structure is destined to fail.
Bewildered by a recent surge in insecurity, President Bola Tinubu summoned the Service Chiefs to a meeting last Tuesday. It has become a ritual, sickening and knee-jerk response by all presidents, which normally leads to nothing. This President should change course and pursue the struggle against insecurity to a logical end, and the police reform he initiated last October, become moored to the praxis of federalism.
At the end of the Nigeria Police Council conclave, which he chaired in October last year, he set up a Constitutional Review Committee to carry out comprehensive police reform. Lapses in the Constitution that encumber reforms; coordination among security agencies; alignment of technology with manpower resources, and other initiatives germane to strengthening policing are the terms of reference for the team. Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, who participated in the meeting, shockingly revealed that the Nigeria Police Force has not had any meaningful reform since 1891.
The National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu; Minister of Police Affairs, Ibrahim Geidam; Chairman of Police Service Commission (PSC), and a former Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase; and Governor AbdulRahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara State, who is also chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), constitute the committee’s membership.
The President has reasons to be flummoxed. Under his nose in the Federal Capital Territory, a family of six, comprising female siblings and their father, were kidnapped a few days ago. A lawyer, Oladosu Folorunso Ariyo has just cried out for help from professional colleagues, as kidnappers cloaked in military regalia, stormed an Abuja estate where he lives, and took away his four children and wife on 7 January. Sadly, the criminals have killed the first born, Michelle, to draw home their anger for not receiving the N60 million ransom being demanded from grieve-stricken Ariyo. The N7 million he has raised was flatly rejected.
These tales of sadism and horrifying security spectacles in the seat of power speak volumes about the lot of Nigerians without even a modicum of security protection. The gunmen invasion of Barikin Ladi and Bokkos in Plateau State during the Christmas festivities and wanton massacre of 163 people in 25 communities, alongside the torching of houses in well-coordinated and simultaneous assaults, fits into this ugly narrative. The death toll rose to 198 by 28 December. Tallies of violent attacks and their concomitant loss of lives in the seven months of Tinubu’s presidency are so revolting that they should jolt him into acting differently from his predecessors.
A new police system that tinkers with the present structure is destined to fail. Before now, the president had mooted the idea of increasing its numerical strength, said to be over 300,000. But the challenge is much bigger. The contradiction between a federation, which the 1999 Constitution, as amended, says Nigeria is in Section 2 (2) and its imposition of a unitary or single policing on the country in Section 214, must be resolved now. It is standing logic on its head. Insecurity will continue to grab headlines and Tinubu will continue to be embarrassed by these as long as large swathes of Nigeria’s territory remain under the control of bands of criminals – kidnappers, bandits, armed robbers, killer-herdsmen, secessionists, Boko Haram and ISWAP.
To redeem the country from this quagmire, the 2014 National Political Reform Conference had recommended devolving policing after its painstaking deliberations. This implies the creation of state police across the 36 states of the federation, in addition to enabling community policing, the National Border Force, Coast Guards and placing the control of the unaccounted for, and often embezzled security votes under the State Security Council of each state. Nigerians had applauded the proposal.
Incredibly, however, former President Goodluck Jonathan who initiated the 2014 conference, and his successor, Muhammadu Buhari, lacked the political will to implement the recommendations of the report in spite of the stranglehold of insecurity on Nigerians. Buhari, a retired general, whose three-point agenda included tackling security challenges in the country, embraced equivocation, lamentation and sabre-rattling tightly throughout his eight years in office. He had told a Niger State delegation led by its then governor, Sani Bello, who came to him to bemoan the frightening security situation in their state that the level of insecurity being experienced was “surprising.” “We have to be harder on them… If we don’t secure the country, we will not be able to manage the economy properly.” Yes, he spoke forthrightly, but failed to act.
Therefore, Tinubu has to change gear. He should dust off the report of that 2014 conference and implement its proposals. A former Inspector General of Police, Gambo Jimeta, chaired the Committee and its salient recommendations on national security, just as retired senior military officers, jurists, Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and other eminent Nigerians had their imprints on the report, after they weighed the provisions of the Constitution and all the statutes necessary for the country to chart a new direction.
The president cannot re-invent the wheel of policing in a federation. There are 18,000 police services in the US, comprising those at the federal, state, district, community and different organisational levels – all working with the common goal of keeping the society safer. Even when breaches occur, Prussian efficiency is displayed in bringing the felons to book. Germany has 22 police forces, while there are 45 of them in the United Kingdom, which is not even a federation. A raft of policing promotes efficiency, effectiveness, professionalism and training tailored to peculiar needs of areas, since every security lapse is local.
Following the current security unease in the FCT, the Inspector General, Kayode Egbetokun, has set up a Special Intervention Squad (SIS) for the area, which he plans to replicate in all the states in due course. Tinubu should not be deceived with this cosmetic response. We have seen it before. What became of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), with its feral and murderous binge that triggered the national revolt of #ENDSARS of 2020, should inform a rethink.
The Nigeria Police Force as presently constituted is corrupt, through and through, evident in the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) survey in 2019, which ranked it as the most corrupt public institution in Nigeria. Road blocks across the country exist just for collecting bribes from motorists, for which many who resist are killed. Recruitment into the Force is a racket, which has allowed questionable characters or armed robbers to find their ways into the police. These aberrations denude the police of professionalism and the capacity to protect citizens. Public trust is of paramount importance in policing. The NPF, regrettably, grossly lacks it.A Police Force committed to its statutory duty of being in charge of internal security, could not have struggled with the Police Service Commission when chaired by a former Inspector General, Musiliu Smith, for years, over whose responsibility it was to recruit 10,000 personnel with which to start Buhari’s promised community policing that never was. That duty was statutory for the PSC. A legal challenge that ensued from this seeming scandal reached the Court of Appeal.
In the decade to 2018, the 36 states used over N2 trillion to fund the police, according to the NGF. Governors as the chief security officers of their states, desperate for law and order to prevail, procured Toyota Hilux vehicles for patrol, communication gadgets and even provided funds for operations. Without results, it was like pouring water into a sinking hole as insecurity steadily mounted. So petrifying was the situation that the NGF chairman and governor of Zamfara State, Abdul’aziz Yari, volunteered to resign in 2019 if that would help to restore peace in his troubled state. The current NGF should, therefore, support state policing to abate the total collapse of security in the country.
Nigeria needs pragmatic, intelligence-driven, well trained, equipped and technology-led policing in each state. Territories in the North-east freed from Boko Haram control, require to be held through effective policing. Otherwise, military engagements will come to naught once they move out of rescued communities, as insurgents return to wreck more havoc there.
Tinubu should desist from acting the 2018 script of Buhari, when he ordered a batch of 1,000 troops to Zamfara State, to be “as ruthless as humanly possible” in fighting bandits. Yet, his regime could not trump that evil situation in the state and the North-west region.
Mr President, to save the security situation in the country from further deterioration, the time for state, community and other levels of policing has come!