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Most Nigerians want State Policing but without these reforms, it will be a disaster

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Most Nigerians want State Policing but without these reforms, it will be a disaster

The unabated rise in incidents of violent crimes such as terrorism, rural banditry, armed robbery and kidnapping has become an indictment on the Nigerian Police Force. Nigeria has been involved in a prolonged engagement with the various multidimensional threats to her human security but without much success. This has resulted in the widespread agitation and support for the decentralization of the country’s national police and establishment of State Police.

According to a 2018 public opinion survey by NOI Polls, 61% of Nigerians are in favor of the establishment of the state police. It is higher in the most affected regions of Northern Nigeria, where almost 70% of the people favor this option.

What state policing will mean: The popular understanding is that state governments will assume the responsibility of maintaining law and order in their territories, leaving the control, funding and maintenance of the state policing outfit to the governors. Likewise, Nigeria’s National Police Force will be restructured as a specialized unit while its officers and men will be deployed to their state of origins. The idea behind state policing is that locals are expected to be more familiar with their environment, terrain and people and would be better suited to monitoring, crime prevention and policing. However, in order to decentralize the existing police system and create the State Police, there must be a constitutional amendment – particularly Section 214(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which states that:

“There shall be a Police Force for Nigeria which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force and subject to the provisions of this section, no other Police Force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.”

Is State Police a solution?

It is not. Given the multiplicity of factors responsible for the country’s security crisis including; ungoverned spaces, underdevelopment, illiteracy, arms proliferation, drug abuse, rising unemployment and economic hardships – there is definitely no way a populist political idea such as State Policing can tackle these challenges alone.

If anything at all, the State Police can exacerbate insecurity, increase proliferation of small and  light weapons, and drag the country into micro-wars along pre-existing fault lines. Here are two reasons behind my thinking:

  • Institutional Capacity: It is not news, that most Nigerian states lack the social, political, financial and institutional support structure needed to effectively run state police. As presently constituted, the majority of states are heavily dependent on federal allocation, largely insolvent and resort to federal bail outs to meet their expenditure. On the most basic level, they have failed at providing basic social services such as education, healthcare and rural infrastructure, and have failed to address the critical issues around inequality and unemployment. These vulnerable states lack both the financial capacity and the strong institutions required to effectively police their states.
  • Social challenges: Sub-national identity challenges and pre-existing fault lines still abound. Several states are presently dealing with all shades of issues; minority-majority, settlers-indigenes to religious tensions, mostly unresolved. Likewise there are pockets of boundary disputes between Interstate communities that could undermine the effectiveness of the local police unit. Social factors such as the state of origin issue might become determinants of privilege which will ultimately impede the institution and its effectiveness

Hey, how about learning from the Lagos model?

As opposed to the State Police being presently proposed, state governors  should rather fill operational gaps and tackle peculiar challenges affecting the federal force in their states.

An example of this is the model in Lagos State, which set up a specialized unit, the Rapid Response Squad RRS under the existing arrangement. The unit has been sustained through the coordinated use of state security trust funds to intervene in plugging operational gaps identified by the board.

The Lagos State Rapid response squad is made of about 2000 Nigerian Police officers who have been re-equipped operationally. For instance, as opposed to the frequent complaints of lack of equipment in other states, Lagos RRS boasts of capabilities such as Light Armored Vehicles, Patrol vehicles, BMW bikes, Mobile CCTV, Boats, 3 Helicopters (5N-RRS, 5N-SOS, 5N-LAG), Ambulance and officers trained in First aid.

The Lagos model might be expensive for some states but it provides a better approach for disbursement and use of security funds. States will best benefit by acquiring capabilities that best fits their terrain, crime profile and peculiarities. For example, Kaduna State Government will benefit from investing in a Rapid response Squad capable of rapid deployment and engagement in rural communities where banditry and resource control conflicts are prevalent. The Kaduna RRS unit for instance, could utilize dirt bikes, light armoured vehicles and trained bush trackers, supported by a compact geospatial intelligence center and human intelligence from local informants and community members.

This is why it is important for states to setup such security advisory boards that can help resource police and also profile crimes within their domain in such a manner that combines law enforcement deployment with social economic, environmental and criminal justice interventions. Vocational schools, light industries and sports programs have the capacity reengage gangs and prevent crimes in neigbhorhoods.

The way forward with this current Nigerian Police Force

The popular agitation for State Police is largely due to the ineffectiveness of the central police to manage and nip security threats in the bud, as well as concerns over their flagrant abuse and violation of human rights.

Recent failure of the Police Reform Bill to scale the National Assembly has proven a setback to reforming the force. However, the Federal Government and NPF headquarters can still work to implement some internal reforms such as swift action on improving personnel conditions and welfare, as well as strengthening their capacity and capabilities to effectively deter, detect and deal with existing and emerging human security threats.

  • Human capacity development is key: This can be addressed through training and retraining of personnel  in new tactics, techniques and procedures of policing leveraging on security assistance agreement of the Nigerian Government with foreign allies and local expertise. The improvement of human rights training and practice including fresh guidelines for conduct can prove effective.
  • Specialised operations should be enhanced by the Force: This should begin with strengthening the intelligence operations for quick detection and response to threats. Likewise, there should be the establishment of  light infantry and quick reaction force capable of rapid engagement in high threat environments. This force should be supported by Nigerian police Bell Helicopters upgraded with features such as Multi-Mission EO/IR Surveillance Sensors an Forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras for intelligence, surveillance and reconnoissance — serving as an airborne command center. These units should be elite in nature — specially kitted and trained — and capable of operating in difficult and hostile environment. They can also help to police liberated towns in North east and interve in low intensity conflict to reduce the use of military for  internal security. This would increase the military manpower available for use in North east and lake chad  counter insurgency campaign.  
  • Improve coordination with its sister intelligence services and wider community: An appreciation of the idea that the best form of crime fighting is prevention would change the approach of the police to collaboration. It should be open to multidisciplinary approaches including working with policymakers to make necessary social and economic interventions to prevent crime. While manpower, remains a concern for the police force. The government should adopt volunteer police service in soft speciality areas to increase its manpower and visibility. 

Reforming the police is one piece of the puzzle. It will also take a match of good governance, human capital investment, social development and justice to ensure stability.

READ: Buhari’s SARS reform remark holds a lesson he is not applying


Murtala Abdullahi is a climate security expert and analyst at the Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation (GICS).

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