EDITORIAL: Policing the nation: What options?

policing

The Federal Government has approved the sum of 13.3 billion naira for what it calls “community policing.”

Although information made available to the public so far on this system of policing is sketchy any effort made by the federal government to improve the security situation in the country must be commended.

From what we know this effort is aimed at recruiting more people in the 774 local governments into the police force and possibly purchasing more hardware for the police.

We also expect that issues of training, remuneration and motivation of police personnel will be an important part of the package.

At a figure of 372, 000 police personnel for our estimated 200 million population we are seriously under policed.

The United Nations minimum prescription is a ratio of one policeman to 400 persons.

A few years ago, the Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Mr Mike Okiro informed the nation that about 150, 000 policemen were on guard duties in houses and offices of Nigeria’s big men and women.

That situation has possibly not changed. This means that the actual number of police personnel available to take care of the general security of the citizens who are not in the influence peddling category is considerably meagre.

For this reason, the police and other security agencies have not been able to cope with the upsurge of crime and criminal activities in the country.

This is also why various states and regions have been in the search for various policing models to secure their communities.

The Eastern Region is talking of Forest Guards while some South-south States have different shades of community or vigilante guard models.

In the North East where Boko Haram terrorists operate there is the Joint Task Force which comprises the Armed Forces and locals who are hunters or retired security personnel.

Of all these models the most distinctly defined and legally arranged is the one by the six states of the South West zone called Operation Amotekun.

Each of the Houses of Assembly in that zone has passed legislation on Amotekun which has been assented to by each of the governors.

Each of them is providing the hardware and staff for the take-off of Amotekun.

But there is a snag. The federal government wants to integrate Operation Amotekun into its community policing architecture.

A Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu was quoted as saying that “whatever name they go by Amotekun or whatever, they will be strengthened and they will be run in accordance with the structure as defined by the Inspector General of Police.”

That is the problem. There is the problem of operational control which is one of the reasons the Nigeria Police has become very ineffective in contemporary Nigeria.

We are in a situation where the Commissioners of Police take instructions from the Inspector General of Police in Abuja on matters that happen in a state where the Governor though labelled Chief Security Officer of the State has no operational authority. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State who disagrees with the proposition of subsuming Amotekun has declared that “we will not collapse Amotekun into community policing.

It will stand on its own. We are not people that can be intimidated, that the Inspector General will give orders to.

Amotekun is different. Community policing is different.”

This position throws into bold relief the issue of what type of Federation we are running which is why many people have been calling for a restructuring of the country.

In other Federations such as United States, Germany, and Canada to mention but a few, policing is handled by more than one authority.

This problem of centralised policing in Nigeria has been examined at various fora because of its inadequacy as a model for a vast country like ours with ethnic, religious, language and cultural differences.

The 2014 National Conference recommended State Police in its final report. The Nasir El-Rufai Committee set up by the ruling party, APC, did a tour of the six geopolitical zones and the overwhelming voice of the people was in favour of State Police.

The APC bigwigs including Professor Yemi Osinbajo who was then the Acting President of Nigeria have given a nod to the idea of State Police, but nothing has happened by way of implementing the people’s desire.

Community policing being touted by the federal government is therefore seen by many as a clever attempt to dodge the implementation of the State Police model.

As we have seen in several states in the past the attempt by some politicians to use the Nigeria Police for partisan political purposes including elections has caused avoidable friction between the federal government and the constituent states.

Evidence of this friction can be seen in the monotonous frequency with which Commissioners of Police are changed in some states, especially states that have a different political complexion from the one at the centre.

This partisan political muscle flexing tends to take something away from the professionalism with which the police are expected to do their jobs.

It also stymies the effort at securing our lives and improving the country’s unity and integration.

There is ample evidence that our single, centralised police force has not been able to serve our security needs effectively and efficiently.

That is why different self-defence models are sprouting up like mushrooms in various regions.

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The sooner these frictions are comprehensively addressed through a restructuring of the polity the better for the country.

We therefore call on the federal government to allow the constituent parts of the federation to police their boundaries once, like Amotekun or Hisbah, it has been backed by force of law.

The Nigeria Police as currently constituted cannot guarantee the safety of life and property in Nigeria. Let Amotekun and other such models of policing be!

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