The resolution last week by the National Assembly backing the establishment of state police forces represents a major hurdle cleared in the quest for effective law enforcement in Nigeria. After years of brinksmanship, both chambers of the parliament resolved to begin the process of amending the 1999 Constitution to delete the anomalous monopoly of the Nigeria Police Force and grant the states power to set up autonomous police agencies. Lawmakers should move with speed to avert dire predictions of an implosion as insecurity runs riot and the country’s existence is threatened.
Confronted by lawlessness and bloodletting across the country, the Senate and the House of Representatives, at separate plenary sessions, resolved to revisit the constitution and remove the restrictive provisions on state policing. The trigger that jolted legislators on to the path of reason was the latest massacre of over 200 persons by rampaging Fulani militants in Plateau State. Beyond declaring the continued Fulani herdsmen terrorism across the country as genocide, the House described the security system as a “failed architecture.” While the Senate referred the state police issue to its committee on constitution review with a mandate to present an amendment bill within two weeks, the House resolved to pursue decentralisation of policing by reopening the constitution review process.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, has also come out strongly to align with calls for a quick change to the ineffective central policing system or risk further deterioration of insecurity. Terrorism, in the North-East, violence, kidnapping, armed robbery and impunity elsewhere have been overwhelming. Many have warned that insecurity may tip the country, with its hotch potch of ethnic nationalities, to the brink of civil disorder or civil war. A warning by a former military chief and civil war veteran, Theophillus Danjuma, that Nigeria was heading for another civil or religious war, is still resonating. Some commentators fret over the prediction that the 2019 elections may not even hold in the face of insecurity and deepening mutual distrust among sections of the polity.
The lawmakers’ declaration should not be another empty statement of intent to pander to the current agitation. Since the major sections of the polity are near-unanimous on the urgency of state policing, they should move with speed. Only President Muhammadu Buhari and the conservative elite from the North-West and North-East zones are still resisting the inevitable.
The 1999 Constitution, perversely, in Section 214, Part III of Supplemental Provisions, vests policing functions in the Federal Government and places “police and other government security services…” on the Exclusive Legislative List, a gross distortion of the federal principle.
No other federal system of government attempts such folly. Australia’s law enforcement functions are vested in the three tiers – federal, state and local governments. Under the law, however, the bulk of general policing is the responsibility of the states, which they share with municipalities. Australian Federal Police has special functions, coordinating with the state and local forces, as well as New Zealand Police in a unique transnational arrangement. In a federal polity, the primary responsibility for law enforcement must necessarily lie with the federating units. In India, a Third World diverse polity like ours, general police duties are undertaken by the 29 states and seven Union Territories, while the federal law enforcement agencies provide support and deal with specified offences and national security issues.
In forging ahead, we should be guided by our own circumstances, history and culture. Germany’s constitution vests general policing duties solely in the states (Lander) and after the centralising and oppressive Nazi era and communist interregnum (in the defunct East Germany), jealously guards state autonomy. Reforms have seen the federal police functions expand beyond border security and intelligence to special offences. Most big cities also have autonomous police forces.
Though the basic law vests law enforcement in Canada’s 10 provinces, eight of them have wisely contracted their policing functions to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that also polices the country’s three territories and covers financial, border and national security issues. Quebec and Ontario, proud of their French heritage, retain control over policing in their provinces. Municipal and local forces exist alongside the federal and state police agencies. Many Native Indian nationalities managing the semi-independent First Nation Reserves also have autonomous police units.
The United States offers a template for devolved police with one study identifying about 18,000 police departments – federal, state, municipal, county, village, college campus and corporate organisations.
We cannot afford a continuation of this single police absurdity that has reduced parts of the country to lawless zones and continues to take a heavy toll on lives and property and is driving away production and investments. Local policing is the norm everywhere else.
Stemming the tide demands that states should go ahead and strengthen their vigilance outfits and equip them. The United Kingdom has not dismantled its unitary system of government, but has sensibly devolved policing into 45 territorial and three special police forces. Buhari and his narrow circle are the last resisters: their arrogance should be overcome by swift constitution amendment and political will by the states to fulfil the primary purpose of government, which is the protection of lives and property.
When a Buhari supporter like Governor Abdulaziz Yari throws up his hands in despair to “resign” as chief security officer of Zamfara State, the hollowness of that title as it applies to state governors is brought out clearly. Despite the dispatch there of an army battalion, Zamfara has become a killing field like Benue, Plateau, Taraba and parts of Kaduna states in the hands of Fulani militants, kidnappers, armed robbers and cattle rustlers.
Opponents of state policing do so for one main reason: fear of abuse. But decentralised policing system naturally goes with federalism with proper delimitation of jurisdiction and authority. Federal lawmakers should demonstrate their seriousness and responsiveness to the plight of Nigerians by moving swiftly to amend the constitution; they should also put in constitutional safeguards to avoid the serial abuse of the Nigeria Police by successive Presidents replicated in the states.