State Police And Community Policing: The Urgency Of Now
State Police And Community Policing: The Urgency Of Now
By Mike Ozekhome, SAN
State Police And Community Policing: The Urgency Of Now

Nigeria is currently in a state of dire security quagmire. Nigeria is literally at war with itself, with large swaths of lands flowing with blood of innocent Nigerians through serial killings. Insecurity of lives and properties has taken the centre stage. For over a decade now, Nigeria has been facing the heinous torture, maiming and gruesome killings by Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbers, bandits and other insurgents. All these have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives of innocent Nigerians. Any government’s legitimacy is measured by its ability to secure life and property and give democracy dividends to the governed. See section 14 of the 1999 Constitution.

With the ongoing wanton killings, many have wondered if Nigeria truly indeed has security agencies paid with taxpayers’ money to protect lives and properties. Notwithstanding the existence of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Nigeria Police Force, DIA, NIA, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Department of State Security Services (DSS), unspeakable crimes still take place unabated. Of all these security agencies, the Nigeria Police Force is the one that is constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of the day-to-day protection of lives and properties of Nigerians. While Nigeria was still reeling from the April 2014 abduction of Chibok girls, one year to the 2015 elections, the spectre of yet another abduction of schoolgirls was re-enacted at the Government Girls Secondary School, Dapchi, Yobe State. It was perpetrated by the same Boko Haram insurgents. Then Kankara, Kagara, Jangebe, etc. It is now a daily affair. It is simply merchantilistic, the highest paid industry in Nigeria today.

Most concerned Nigerians daily reel under this danger. Some have suggested ways and means of dealing with this menace. Some have created local security outfits, eg, Amotekun, Easter Security Network, Yan Banga, Yan Kasai, Hisbah, Neighbourhood Watch, etc. This aligns with sustained demands for the creation of state police and community policing.

Origin and state of policing in Nigeria

“Police” is a word derived from the Greek word, “Polis”, which consists of non-ecclesiastical administration that has to do with safety, health and public order of the state. Though derived from the Greek, it was the Romans that actually perfected the system, with the Roman “Policies”, which equated with the Greek “Politeira” – a symbol of power that resided in a central authority. In the UK, policing developed as a local affair which makes every person maintain law and order.

State or provincial police constitutes a type of sub-national territory police force that abounds particularly in Oceania, South Asia and North America. State police simply means the absence of a centralized national police force, which is outside the control of the IGP. This means a death blow to the over-bloated, behemoth federal police force established under sections 214, 215 and 216 of the 1999 Constitution. Section 214 thereof provides for a unified and centralized Police Force that operates from the centre, and prohibits the establishment of any other form of policing in Nigeria.

This was why and how Governor Ortom of Benue State cried out. Herdsmen had given him notice of a future attack. The state’s Commissioner of Police was aware. The helpless governor cried to the centre in Abuja. No help came. The herdsmen attacked. The Governor wept like a baby. Lives were lost. Mass burial took place. The world was shocked.

It appears that Nigeria is the only prominent democracy in the world that still maintains a unified central Police Force over a population of 210 million people, 36 federal states, and 774 LGAs. The New York Police Department is one of the most organized Police Forces in the world, founded by the New York City government that is headed by a Mayor. In the UK, there are about 45 territorial Police Forces and three special Police Forces. So, why must Nigeria retain her non-functional centralized Police Force?

What is state police all about?

The concept

State Police can be described as a body of Police Force unique to each state of the federation, having state wide authority to conduct law enforcement activities and criminal investigation across that particular state. The concept of state policing is not altogether a new phenomenon in Nigeria. It has been widely recommended as one of the means to address the issue of insecurity in our country. This concept has received wide acceptance by most Nigerians for their peculiar exclusive reasons. The government has recently joined. Some said that the Federal Police Command is incompetent, or has failed in its duty of securing Nigerians. Some others believe that the closeness of State Police will help for more effective policing. I belong to this school. I have, over the years, advocated for state Police and community policing. From the 2005 National Political Conference (where I had the Civil society group); to the 2009 Vision 2020 (where I participated in the Law and Judiciary Thematic area); up to the 2014 National Conference (where I headed the sub group on outcome of the conference, within the legal, Law Reforms and Judiciary Committee), I have always shouted myself hoarse on the desirability of embracing this true federalism concept. I stand by it. Its advantages far outweigh its demerits.


State policing has been defined as a Police Force under State authority, rather than under the authority of a federal, city or local government in the state. It has also been defined as the police organized and maintained by a state, as distinguished from that of a lower sub-division (as a city or LGA) of the state government (Mersim, 2012). However, in the Nigerian context, state Police consists of a kind of sub-national Police Force, which is organized, maintained and operates under the jurisdiction of a particular state government, as against the federal government.

The pros and cons

Arguments for and against the establishment of State Police Forces have been going on for a very long time. Proponents of state Police like my humble self argue that this is consistent with the principle of true federalism and decentralization of powers; as the arrangement would enable the states to effectively maintain law and order, especially during emergencies. Such proponents criticize section 215(4) of the 1999 Constitution, for hindering governors from the exercise of their power as Chief Security Officers of their respective states. We contend that the Nigeria Police Force as it is today cannot adequately protect Nigerians. The present Federal Police structure is too detached from the more than 180,000,000 people. They cannot be effectively policed with a force of less than 500,000 police personnel; and hence, the need for states to start their own policing system. It is a truism that most crimes, like politics, are local. Consequently, states’ response to crimes must also be local. This may however be done in collaboration with the Federal Police, as operates in developed nations of the world. Similarly, Nigeria’s geographical area is too large and complex for a central Police Command. Thus, policing citizens should be the sole responsibility of the respective states, as this goes a long way in reducing criminal activities within the states and local government areas.

The police as a security agency should not depend on donation from individuals and corporate organizations. It should be maintained from the resources of such states, to avoid compromising its independence, impartiality and effectiveness.

The fears

No doubt, the Nigerian federation is very dysfunctional. It requires urgent restructuring. The creation of state Police is one of the fundamental requirements of the call by patriots for the operation of true federalism in Nigeria. Some fear that state policing would make governors possess absolute powers to make use of state police for some selfish and devious ambitions, such as illegal arrests and detention of opponents, without trial. While this assertion may be correct, establishing state police under a proper legislative framework will definitely prevent state governors from misusing them. For example, there could be established a federal regulatory body that establishes minimum standards, qualifications and requirements for employment into the force; make rules to prevent jurisdictional and territorial conflicts and related inter-state and inter-border problems. It could also maintain a basic training school for all policemen to have some uniform procedures and processes.

This argument, as attractive as it is, it requires various interrogation. The reason is that creating state Police undoubtedly require constitutional amendment. The 1999 Constitution as it is today places the policing of the entire nation on the shoulders of the federal government. Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution provides that the Nigeria Police Force shall be under the full and exclusive control of the Federal Government. Furthermore, section 215 (2) of the same Constitution, provides: “the Nigeria Police Force shall be under the command of the Inspector-General of Police and any contingents of the Nigeria Police Force stationed in a state shall, subject to the authority of the IGP, be under the command of Commissioner of Police of that state”.

This is quite anomalous for a heterogeneous multi-ethic and religiously diverse country such as Nigeria.

After all, the very policing of the citizens of this country should be the duty of the various states that are close to the people and not the federal government.

This argument finds support from the fact that in the United States of America, the federal government owns the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), while various Police Forces or Departments are owned by the states, county councils, municipal authorities and even territory institutions. Apart from the US, countries like Australia, Spain, Canada, Brazil and India also operate state policing system.

I humbly submit that with state controlled Police, security, law and order would be more effectively maintained within the state. The personnel of such a force, being mostly indigenous, would be better able to contend with any uprising- be it Boko haram, Fulani herdsmen, Kidnappings or armed robbery incidences. Besides, some state governments already have their own vigilante groups, quite akin to state Police established by law. For example, in the Southwest, we have the Odua People’s Congress (OPC). In the North, Hisbah is the Sharia Police in Kano and they work in cooperation with the Federal Police. In the South-East, there existed the Bakassi Boys, IPOB and MASSOB. The South-South boasts of the Egbesu boys. The existence of these semi-Police Forces and others earlier discussed is a pointer that there exists a policing gap across the states of the federation which these groups are admirably filling.

Some opponents

As salutary as this argument is, many Nigerians are opposed to the creation of state police for various reasons, some equally convincing.

Some argue that to have state police is to have replicated in our localities the very inefficiency, corruption and failures the police at the federal level has been saddled with. They argue that the urgent need of our time is simply to have a Police Force that is professional both in outlook and content; a reform that is targeted at addressing structural, institutional and attitudinal challenges. Few of these pressure areas, they argue, are those that relate to recruitment, nature and content of the curriculum and internal discipline. The training manual must be civilian -friendly and 21st century-compliant, especially as regards the human rights content. For recruitment purposes there must be a deliberate policy to undertake effective background checks, argued Professor Cyril Ndifon of the University of Calabar, who believes it is a case of “garbage in, garbage out.”

(To be continued)

Thought for the week

“Policing has to be done compassionately and consistently. You cannot police differently in Harlem than you’re policing downtown. The same laws must apply. The same procedures must be employed. Certain areas at certain times may have more significant crime and require more police presence or more assertiveness, but it has to be balanced.”   (William Bratton)

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