But are the Federal Police insulated from any of the shenanigans of State Police? The answer is a resounding “No!” There is no crime that the Native Authority policemen were guilty of that have not been traced to the doormouth of Federal Police’ -Bolanle


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Readers of my columns would by now be familiar with my advocacy for State Police. I have said ad nauseam and ad infinitum that it is an idea whose time has come. State Police, no doubt, will come with its challenges – is there any idea without its own specific challenges? – but the imperatives of the moment necessitate that we give it a try. The security challenges that the country faces has become like the proverbial coconut leaf, the more you cook it, the harder it becomes! Such that, whatever reservations we may carry from our past as a country against State Police, the worsening security situation commands that we give it a trial and wait to see whether the trial will convince or confuse us, as they say!

This is another instance where the doctrine of necessity should be brought to bear, as was the case when a constitutional crisis stared us in the face as a result of the failure of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua to transfer power to his deputy, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. Hopes that the exit of Muhammadu Buhari, seen as benevolent to the malevolent forces of Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen and bandits, would bring relief to Nigerians on the security front having been dashed; and expectations that the new broom of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu would sweep better than Buhari’s having gone unrealised so far, then, taking a gamble with State Police – even if that is what it is – becomes a viable option.

I was old enough to learn of stories of the excesses of State Police in the First Republic firsthand from eyewitnesses, some of them victims of the political victimisation that the Native Authority policemen of those days were used to perpetrate and perpetuate. Corruption was rife in the rank and file of those policemen. They were tools of oppression in the hands of the powers-that-be against political opponents. A political opponent could wake up a few days before an election to find a corpse in his backyard, planted there, of course, by his opponents!

Pronto, the Native Authority policemen of those days would arrest and charge him to court for murder. He would be denied the opportunity to campaign or stand in that election. He would be denied bail and would be in custody when the election is held and, of course, his opponent would coast home to victory unopposed! After the election, the case would deliberately suffer diligent prosecution and he would be discharged by the court – but the intended deed had been done!

In those days, payment of taxes was a must. You carried your tax card everywhere you went, even to the beer parlour or your rendezvous with your concubine. Failure, you could end up in custody, especially if you were a difficult political opponent that refused to defect or cross-carpet to the party of the day. I heard from my father that there was “Government of the Day” and there was the “Opposition Party ” To be in the opposition was like a death sentence in those days and the Local Police were the instrument of oppression readily at the command of the party in power.

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I heard countless stories of prominent personalities in the opposition who were framed up on the flimsiest of excuses. We read stories of traditional rulers whose salaries wer reduced to one penny because they refused to abandon the opposition party and team up with the party in power or Government of the Day. There were cases of political assassinations in those days, too. These and many other stories of blatant repression of political and other opponents were the reasons why many are opposed to the resurrection of State Police, desirable as the arguments for it may seem.

But are the Federal Police insulated from any of the shenanigans of State Police? The answer is a resounding “No!” There is no crime that the Native Authority policemen were guilty of that have not been traced to the doormouth of Federal Police. In fact, more than the Native Authority policemen of yore, today’s policemen, and not just the policemen but also the other security agencies under the armpit of the Federal Government, have been at the FG’s beck and call, doing their dirty job – be it election manipulation or repressing and suppressing the citizenry at the command of Federal authorities.

Experience, they say, is the best teacher; had Native Authority policing been allowed to learn the ropes, make its mistakes and learn from them, the likelihood is that it may have, by now, outgrown some of its excesses. That is one argument in its favour. It is the same argument that has been employed to justify the need to give democracy a chance to take root here, rather than throw it overboard and bring the military back at the flimsiest of excuses.

Besides, Fourth Republic Nigeria is not the same as First Republic Nigeria; as people will say, the people’s eyes of understanding have opened more, their senses of what is right and what is wrong, and their ability and resolve to fight for their rights are far better than what they used to be in those days of yore. Nigerians today are better educated, more urbane, and better organised to fight for their rights. Just imagine the sheer number of civil society and human rights organisations that we have today; not to talk of the avalanche of new media organisations and the intimidating array and influence of social media operators. This is the age of the Citizen Journalist, as they say!

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Unlike its predecessor, the Tinubu administration is well disposed to the idea of State Police. According to reports, 16 State Governments have also already given it a nod. Twenty other States are being expected to send in their own take on the idea and the Presidency has said it expects all of them to support the idea. I dare to say that there is no alternative! If there is any State that kicks against the idea, it should not be allowed to hold the others to ransom. Those who want to try the idea should be allowed to do so and the unwilling should be allowed to remain within the ambits of the existing Federal policing structure.

The security situation of the country is so dire that something drastic has to be done to contain criminality running riot all over the country. If nothing urgent is done, then, it will not be long before we arrive at the bus stop of a failed State. Which State will say, of today, that it is satisfied with the security architecture of the country? And which governor will say it is not worried by the plight of the citizenry: of farmers driven off the land; of students/pupils driven away from school; of citizens who cannot freely and confidently move from one point to the other; and, worse still, of the young, elderly, pregnant women, name it, who cannot sleep with their two eyes closed? A desperate situation, they say, demands a desperate solution. If State Police is that desperate solution, so be it!

The existing Federal security structure is overwhelmed; State Police will help relieve it of some of the pressure mounted on it all over the country. The Federal system that Nigeria purports to operate necessitates the decentralisation of the policing system. Over-centralisation that the military foisted on the country since they interfered in its governance is not only an aberration, it also arrested its development in the real sense of the word. Nigeria’s top to bottom development model imposed by the military since 1966 has failed woefully; the bottom-up approach or the pre-1966 era fared better.

Have we ever waited to ask why it has always been very easy for militants all over the country to confidently and easily ambush and worst our military men, as was the recent case in Okuama, Delta State? It is because the military men so sent to those terrains were not familiar with them. We have witnessed similar problems in other flashpoints all over the country. Those familiar with a terrain or community are better able to police it.

Another good thing I expect from State Police is that state governors now have a good place to spend the humongous amount of money they cream away every month as security votes. They must now account for this money which, to all intents and purposes, have operated as slush funds. Let the State governors now bear part of the responsibility for the security of their own people and community. Besides, the contradiction of State governors who are the touted chief security officers of their states but have virtually no powers to act will be addressed once State Police becomes a reality.

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We shall then be able to separate the men from the boys. The alibi of “it is the FG” will no longer exist! I have said it before and it bears repeating here that the time has come for us to begin to hold the feet of our governors and local government chairmen to the fire. Too much attention is devoted to the FG while the States and LGs are allowed to escape with blue murder in broad daylight. State Police should put an end to that.

We must, however, begin to think about how we are going to contain the excesses of State governors when the “eku ida” (the sword) of State Police gets into their hands. I need not tell you that many of our governors operate as tin-gods who do not brook any opposition from any source. How do we contain such elements? If we do not, then, State Police may fail to achieve its objectives. Before long, we may begin to yearn for a return to the staus quo of Federal Police all over the country! What must we do?

First, we must understand that some governors will like to abuse State Police and be ready to combat them. Two: Opposition parties must become more vibrant than they are at the moment. As we speak, there is no difference between the leading political parties as they are different fingers of the same leprous hand. No ideology or principles separate them. Real political parties, properly so-called, are needed to checkmate governors that may want to abuse State Police.

We also need strong institutions, especially the judiciary, to keep such governors in check. The citizenry themselves must become active and alive to their responsibilities. Only they can defend their fundamental human rights. Our experience has been that the more organizations or men you put under arms, the more oppression our people suffer! Armed men often see their arms as an opportunity not to protect the people but to extort and subjugate them. How do we change this mentality? When you give the typical Nigerian politician an inch, be sure he will take a mile! The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The currency has not changed!

  • Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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