The Upper Crust

Why I opposed state police (II)


With Uche Nnadozie

I am not unaware of the fact that in the presidency, the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo has in the past and even recently spoken loudly in support of state police. This is easy to extrapolate that apart from the National Assembly, the executive is also in support. I have equally seen several governors call for the same thing. There appears to be a consensus on the matter presently. Yet I’m not convinced. I still think that this is either the ideological fantasy of a policing for a heterogeneous society or the utopian calls for “true” federalism. The discussion about our policing structure is centered on a fait accompli. It is not deep. It is always about whipping up sentiments.
Each time there is a security breach or two; cries of state police rent the air. Whenever there is relative peace, everywhere goes dumb. We carry on as if nobody ever asked for it. But soon as there is an armed robbery incident, we remember state police. We talk about state police as though communities and countries where it is practiced do not have security breaches. For example in the United States, in spite of their state and local governments police, that country records the highest criminal deaths in the world. in a place called Chicago, a city in the state of Illinois, crime is another name for the city. That city has state police, county police, Sherriff system yet it remains the crime headquarters of the US. Successive administrations have come and gone, yet no improvement. The other day, President Donald Trump threatened to deploy federal assets (police) to bring the crime under control.
In our case, my greatest worry is that we have never attempted to unemotionally dissect the Nigeria Police problems. We have not been bold enough to proffer solutions either. We have just been carrying over the problems while recommending state police as the solver of all our police problems. Besides, we are also talking about the country, Nigeria not any other country or culture. We are talking about a system that is averse to thinking; a system that do not want to find real solutions or provide real service to the people.
Let us take for example a place like Lagos state. I recall when previous governors of the state began to support the police massively. This singular effort helped to stem armed robbery in the state which had become rampant. While it is true to see how support from the state helped contain crime, it is still with the understanding that the police control lay elsewhere. Otherwise, a previous administration had “deported” some Nigerians to other states which it had no power to do. One can only imagine a governor having police that he commanded without any interference from anybody. He may just wake one day and sack a whole community because crime could be rampant there. My point being that no matter what model we adopt, we must not forget where we are coming from as a people. Our history must always guide us.
The other critical point is the detail of what the police will be like. Do we start with a pilot scheme or do we truly define community policing and ensure that it works. Raising funds to engage police personnel, the size, the budget, remuneration, technology and training are some of the consequential variables that will be thrown up. Since its obvious states can’t fund state police with their meagre resources are they also calling for the reordering of revenue allocation?  Are we going to fundamentally change our constitution to reflect the new reality? Resource control, state police, more devolution of powers, etc.  Is there gong to be a constitutional conference where these issues are sorted or do we rely on the National and state Assemblies to tinker with the constitution.
So to get the funding for the police at the state level, other things are involved. Yet, let us tell ourselves the truth. The states already have some make belief policing going on. With different kinds of vigilantes dotting the states and in the case of Lagos again, they have gone a step further to set up a neighborhood watch. It is this kind of imaginative thinking that I had thought that states can start with; a system that helps the police to gather intelligence within communities. They do not bear arms yet are ubiquitous. It is such community level policing that I support. The Lagos example can be replicated around the country according to each state’s capacity and needs. They could be strengthened with some kind of weapon and hand cuffs. Their offices should be at the local government or ward level secretariat. But they must be on the move. They must be embedded in the communities at the lowest levels.
They should know everyone and have contact of everyone that lives in each neighborhood. They should also be equipped with quasi judicial skills, so that they can settle small time issues at that nuclear level. Of course, they cannot combat cattle rustlers that engage and kill army officers. They can’t engage kidnappers who collect ransoms running into tens or hundreds of millions of naira.  It will be futile therefore for this kind of policing to engage with Boko Haram or armed robbers. Yes, we need a police system that helps with misdemeanors and general feeling of being secured. I reckon we can get that with community policing using the current federal police. Yet please, this country needs to place CCTV across the country. Biometric capturing will help keep a data bank. For any form of policing to succeed, we must first do something about our data. We must identify Nigerians first. Data is more important than state police at this time.

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