In a March meeting of the Northeast Governors’ Forum in Bauchi, the regional governors noted that Nigeria’s centralised security system is inadequate against the challenges of insecurity in the country and voiced its support for state police. The Southwest Governors’ Forum and other leaders like Kaduna State Gov. Nasir El-Rufai have increasingly called for a state policing system.
“Instead of playing the ostrich, we must accept the fact that our over-centralised internal security arrangement is an obsolete tool for tackling the monstrous life and death scenario playing out in the country especially our region,” Bauchi Gov. Bala Mohammed said during the meeting.
The clamour for restructuring has remained a recurring issue since the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914. Consequently, at independence in 1960, the country had three substantially autonomous regions (West, East and North). In 1964, the government added the midwest as the fourth region. Further agitations for restructuring resulted in the creation of 36 states, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and 774 Local Government Areas. Yet, the clamour for restructuring had remained unabated. This shows that the present agitation for restructuring is not mainly about the nation’s physical structure, but it has more to do with the power structure and wealth distribution.
The topic has increasingly returned to public discourse with more enthusiasm in recent years. Public office holders, including former presidents, vice presidents and former governors, the academia, civil societies, professionals, students, politicians, religious leaders, and serving governors, have contributed to this debate. The varying concepts have presented viewpoints of different geo-political zones of the Nigerian federation.
Instead of playing the ostrich, we must accept the fact that our over-centralised internal security arrangement is an obsolete tool for tackling the monstrous life and death scenario playing out in the country especially our regionGov. Nasir El-Rufai
Insecurity remains one of Nigeria’s most significant challenges in recent years that has fueled calls for restructuring. Boko Haram remains a persistent threat across the northeast, kidnappings and banditry continue across the northwest, and cattle rustling and farmer-herder conflict in the north-central. Calls for secession continue in the southeast, and a growing fear of herdsmen attack has fueled unease in the southwest.
Clashes between farmers and herders have displaced more than 300,000 Nigerians in four states, an associate professor with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution revealed in March. Amnesty International estimated armed groups in the northwest killed more than 1,100 people in the first half of 2020. Islamist insurgency has killed as many as 50,000 people in the northeast. These various security situations across the country have substantially undermined law and order and the protection of lives and properties.
Tackling Insecurity through State Policing
Nigeria’s police currently operate a federal system controlled from Abuja. The concept of state policing calls for security officials to be indigenes and based in the communities where they serve. It would require active collaboration between the various layers of security structures from the bottom-up. Community police can then call for reinforcement from the state police when an incident is escalating. The state police can also request support from the federal police or military in case of further escalation.
One case for such regional security is the geographical benefit. In recent abductions in states like Zamfara, news reports detailed how kidnappers rushed through nearby forests and mapped their way to hideouts, since they understand the terrain. A proper understanding of a region’s terrain would enable security forces to quickly locate illegal entry and exit points, map out how to catch perpetrators of violence, and even bolster security at weak points to avoid attacks. It would also enable better security along border regions. Nigeria’s Sahel region, including bordering nations like Chad and Niger, are also battling insecurity.
The ongoing disagreement also points us to the importance of history. Nigeria practised state police on regional bases under the 1963 constitution. In 1966, the General Aguiyi Ironsi military government set up a Gobir commission to deal with the perceived problems of the regional police. The idea identified by the commission was that the regional police of that time were overburdened and most often used against people and the opposition. Many people argued that it was the political manipulation of the regional police that led to the 1966 coup in the first place. So, the Gobir commission recommended national police as a solution.
The real problem, which still resonates today under the federal police, is that the country placed the sector under an individual and not an institution. Ideally, the officers should be under the justice system. If the police need to arrest criminals, they need to have a warrant from a judge. This will ensure they operate under the rule of law and not by an “order” from the president or the governor. This is the reason why the police service in the country is militarised with a high level of political interference.
Under such a restructured system, the state police officers’ salaries and remunerations should be directly deducted from an independent source to avoid the now-familiar payment backlogs. The constituted police service commissions in each state should include representatives from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and civil societies nominated by their organisations, not the state governors. This will ensure that the police force remains and maintains independence to operate efficiently without undue interference from the state governors.
Lastly, the Nigerian police can benefit from decentralising its power of command and authority from the Inspector-General at the centre. The needs of the officers of the force will become well catered for; hence, they will be motivated to serve the people better. Again, a decentralized police system can be positively associated with higher responsiveness.
Under a restructured police force, every single division attains sufficient autonomy to enable it function actively.
An efficient policing system is only part of the solution to insecurity. The government ought to bolster economic and developmental issues that fuel sympathy for unrest. However, a more strategic security body that uses regional resources to maximise its reach and ensure accountability from its members could get Nigeria moving in the right direction.