Nigeria: State Police or State Social Security?

I have three inter-related historical and contemporary concerns. The first is our colonial and immediate post-independence experience with Native Authority Police established for example in Northern Region.

The Police were instruments of reactionary local despots. Anyone who disagreed with those in control of the police could be banished in the land. Opposition political parties found it extremely difficult to operate. Permits for holding political rallies were denied. The police became synonymous with the state and vice versa. Individual liberties and rights were trampled upon. All forms of trumped up charges were brought against individuals for no other reason but for belonging to different political parties.

The second related point is the experience of state electoral commissions. Most Nigerians initially supported the idea of State Electoral Independent Commission (SIEC). However, the Justice Uwais Committee reported an overwhelming support for scrapping of SIEC. This opinion came from every corner of this country and irrespective of political parties. What has changed with few years of our electoral experience: the reality that it is almost impossible for opposition political parties to win any local elections because of state governments’ control of the SIECs. Of course there are exceptions and they are few and in-between. The position of Nigerians is instructive because the Uwais report was an aftermath of the shambolic elections conducted by Independent National Electoral Commission. One would have expected Nigerians to have called for the abrogation of INEC. However, the opposite was the position of Nigerians-that even local elections should be conducted by INEC.

If we combine the power of policing with that of conducting elections, one can only imagine the type of elections that will be conducted, and the fate of individual freedoms, liberties and rights.

Given the state of insecurity occasioned by ethnic and religious violence, it is not exaggeration to say that minority ethnic and religious groups will feel very unsafe to be protected by a police force that is dominated by majority ethnic and religious groups. For example, will Christians feel safe to be protected in a police barrack which is dominated by Muslims and vice versa? In fact minority groups will not even dare to seek for protection in offices and barracks of the police. Even now there are allegations of security agents taking side during ethnic and religious conflicts.

A third reason is financial implications. Let me acknowledge that many state governments do support police formations in their jurisdictions. Without state governments support most police formations would have been worse than they are now. It is safe to say that it is the support of the states and the N20 extortion on our roads that enables the police to provide even the current level of service. However, setting up state police has very important financial implications which many states can’t afford.

Many proponents of state police have argued that not every state must have its police formation if it doesn’t want to or if it can’t afford to. This argument doesn’t reflect our realities. It down plays the role of the police as an instrument of coercion that has been abused. Every governor would rather have any type of state police so that he or she can intimidate and kill opponents. Secondly it doesn’t take into consideration the “irrationality” or bounded rationality of our politicians. Take for example the issue of state universities. Because education is on the concurrent list probably every state has now a university. We know that it doesn’t make sense for many of these states including mine, Yobe, to establish a state university because they don’t need one. Many of these state universities are severely underfunded. In fact even federal universities are severely underfunded. What many of these states need are quality secondary and primary schools and not universities.

We should also ask ourselves if we are applying a correct medicine to a problem. No doubt that the quest for state police has been with us for a very long time but it became strident as a result of the current insurgency. Has the deployment of military curtailed the situation? Has the spending of a quarter of our federal budget on national security resolved the problem? The answers are obvious. Do we now scrap the Nigerian armed forces and replace them with state armed forces? Or do we create state armed forces in addition to the national armed forces? Do we create state security office instead of the office of the national security advisor?

I am not oblivious to the operational difficulties and contradictory provisions of our constitution. It is an anomaly for the constitution to identify state governors as chief security officers of their states but at the same time deny any form of command and control of security operatives in their jurisdictions. It is imperative to look into how a form of duality of command and control can be constitutionalised.

State police will not necessarily end the state of insecurity in our land. In fact to reduce the problem to maintenance of law and order in itself profoundly miss the point. This is my most important concern. The state of insecurity in our land is rooted in the injustices of our economic, social and political arrangements. Yes it is true that there are individuals who may be “prone” to crime or don’t like people of different faiths or ethnic groups. But such persons are in the minority. Majority of the insecurity is systemic. Why would anyone risk being jailed 20 years for kidnapping a woman frying akra by the road side? The highest amount the kidnapper can get is N10, 000. But we hear of kidnappings for recharge cards!

Let’s be honest with ourselves. More than 10 million of our children are out of school. Depressingly, graduate unemployment in some states is more than 60 percent. We have become one of the most unequal countries in the world in the last few years. Please visit a prison to find out how many inmates are serving prison sentences because they are unable to pay a fine of N10, 000. (I never paid attention to that problem until during the last Ramadan). Compare that with the wealth stolen by a former bank managing director who among other properties bought 65 houses but ended with 6 months imprisonment. The level of poverty in the country has increased from about 54 percent to 69 percent in less than 5 years. However, this is happening at a time of unprecedented national wealth. According to a former Vice President for Africa of the World Bank, more than $400 billion have been looted or mismanaged since 1960. In addition, 80 percent of the oil wealth is cornered by 1 percent of the population. Governments are busy demolition houses during rainy season rendering thousands of people homeless. This is one country among those with the highest out of pocket expenses for medical services. Most people who send their children to public schools are those who have no alternative as in rural areas or they can’t afford it.

We treat our women as sub-human beings. We cage them in obnoxious customary, religious and statutory laws of maintenance, divorce, marriage, custody, inheritance and employment. They die like flies during pregnancy. Many of those who survive lose their children before the age of 5. We deny them education or make education unpalatable for them. Do we really expect to live secured with these horrific facts?

State police may give us a psychic victory but it is another band aid that will haunt us in the immediate future. If current socio-economic trends continue and we hit population of 230 million in the next two decades, the clamour will shift to village police. Let’s invest in social security such as basic health, education, housing and income, to combat insecurity because the next insurgency may not be based on a wacko ideology of Boko Haram but how to get rid of the 1 percent that monopolizes 80 percent of our wealth.

Dr Shettima is the Director of the MacArthur Foundation.


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