Police, Federalism and Nigerian Democracy: A Case for Decentralization

by Ritchie Ejiofor

Law enforcement provides a pivotal place in all democracies and in every society or states. The police are the entry point into the criminal justice system and the effectiveness of the system resides in the effectiveness of the police system as well as its other tag team in the criminal justice or law enforcement system. The police, courts system as well as the correction system all work in cohort to ensure the adherence of the supreme laws of the land is enforced. It becomes the role of the court system to interpret the laws and the correction (prison) system ensures that those who break the law or constitution, when sentenced to any penal restitution to the society, are enforced through the correction system.

The police system particularly in developing economies are apolitical, they owe obligation to upholding the laws and the constitution of the land/country. Countries practicing democracies or federal system of government ensure that there is autonomy amongst the various tiers of government such that there is independence of the executive from the legislature as well as the judiciary. Some countries like Japan, Ghana, including Nigeria adopts the centralized police system. The centralized police system ensures a central command of the police structure through out the country where the police is headed by the inspector general of police and all other subordinates are answerable to the police chief, who in turn is answerable to the Head of state /or president.

In an idealist and in proper meaning of the terminology “federal” system it presupposes that each constituent parts of the federation such as the states, municipalities and federal government all have their autonomy for their daily affairs while issues like international affairs, defense, military and others are vested with the federal government. The United States of America, provides a perfect example for the need of a Decentralized police system and its practice of federalism.
Unlike the United States, Nigeria practices a centralized police system. The inspector General of police is at the head of the Nigerian police. The various Deputy Inspector Generals assist him, and a multiplicity of Assistant Inspector Generals, who in turn heads the zonal/regional police commands. The Inspector General appoints state commissioners to head state commands and they are assisted by deputy commissioners, who also supervises Assistant commissioners. At Local Government area levels, there are Divisional police officers that head the various Local Government Area police structure.

In comparison the United States, very much unlike Nigeria, there is no centralized police system or chain of command. The various municipalities (Towns) have their own police force answerable to the Mayor and municipal tier of government. At State Levels, every States operates their own State police (State Troopers) The state police confines itself to state properties and highways, In the same vein, the Sheriff department is a county police and the operates on county properties, roads, parks etc. Agency or special police institution exist for various states institutions like educational, hospitals, Transit (Train / Mass transit corporations, Parks, operates their own special police. At federal level, Federal police are federal government employees whose sphere of jurisdiction relates only to protective services like custody, federal building and monuments, protecting veteran buildings, agencies like the FBI, CIA and federal marshal all have federal jurisdiction.
Having said that, the Nigerian police system metamorphosed through a the amalgamation and merger of two competing and opposing forces that included indigenes from the Northern region and from the eastern region that helped during the pacification of what will later became known in colonial Nigerian historical discourse as the now famous “race to Nikki”. The original conceptualization including the latter modifications and set up, the fundamental of the policing system in Nigeria still remain the pacification of mercenary tactics, which included; torture, brute force intimidation, flagrant abuse and its role as an army of occupation that has remained largely till date.

Even from the earliest period of the constabulary forces to Native administration police force to the modern Nigerian police, it still remain that the Government of the day has always used this special forces to trample and enforce the law and also to intimidate opposing forces.

The argument have been canvassed severally and most recent by Governor Tinubu of Lagos state then, to introduce State police, his call was quickly shouted down by the antagonist who occupy the federal government. The reason being that, police, Electoral succession and control of the government at the center which ultimately assures better revenue allocation, has been central to the Nigerian issues of grave political problems.

In the period leading to the elections in Nigeria, documentary evidences abound shows the active involvement of the police to intimidate political opponents and a means to rig elections. Average Nigerian voters does not have implicit confidence and non partisan assessment of the average Police officer particularly during election. We have a police system that depends on the federal government for their entire budget, it is also the federal government that provides barrack and housing too for the police.

The argument against decentralizing the police system in Nigeria is so laughable. Some or majority of the antagonist contends that it will lead to abuse of power and political witch hunting by the various state governors if they (governors) where to control the police. Others surmised that Nigerian politicians with their temperament are not suited enough to be objective and not create an atmosphere of ethnic cleansing or fairness. I have tried to address this concerns, much as they are laughable, I think these concerns goes deeper than this superficial excuses.

As presently constituted, the Police control is at the mercy of Abuja, this means that the State police commissioners are not accountable to the state Governors nor local government area chairperson, rather he who controls the power at the center controls the police in the whole federation, therefore can use this influence to ensure electoral intimidation leading to the absence of fairness. Secondly, most judicial officers are at the mercy of the inspector general or state police commissioner for their security details, there are constant case of removal or withdrawer of police orderly(s) from judicial officers. Knowing the state of insecurity in the country, it will be almost impossible for a judge to render a fair and unbiased judgment with all these scenarios lingering around.

Thirdly, the number of police officers in Nigerian in comparision to our estimated population of 120 million is pathetic. In New York city, for every 5 cars on the road, the fifth is an NYPD vehicle, Even though New York cannot boast of being a crime free society, of course crime free don’t exist, the presence of police creates a sense of security and a conducive environment for economic growth.

The creation of special Anti –riot police in Nigeria who are posted to areas with violence, leaves a trail of mass destruction in each occurrence. It makes no sense for a Christian southern, posted to far north Muslim community, if in pursuit of an accused criminal and he/she runs into the mosque, a no Muslim police officer cannot enter and apprehend the culprit without a violence erupting and the target would be innocent Nigerians.
I have advocated elsewhere, that Nigeria should adopt a decentralized police system, with standardized training. Each state should adopt its own police whose power is restricted to only state properties and highway. The Local Government should have their own autonomous police and every town should have a police command to be headed by the resident of that Town. Their jurisdiction

should be outlined. In the same way all the various Universities should operate their own police and their sphere of influence is around their jurisdiction.

The seeming fear that the state governors will manipulate the state police at their whim and caprices is unfounded if, both federal, police agencies, state police and Local Government area police are informed of their jurisdiction and one is not an extension of the other, such that the governor cannot order the autonomous Police in the Local Government area like a puppet since the state does not pay them salaries.

If it becomes the responsibility of the tier of Government to provide security for their sphere of authority, there will be a better move towards a more friendly and effective community policing in Nigeria. If we honestly take a vote or ask ourselves objectively as we read this write up, the mention of the Nigerian police leaves a sour taste in the mouth and mind of an average Nigeria. We need a more professional, de-centralized and effective police system that will uphold their commission oath to maintain law and order and to uphold the laws and constitution impartially. We need a well-paid police system that will attract the cream of the puff of the society finest.

No wonder, you hear other cities in the world describe their police like New York, as the NY finest!!!!

You may also like

Leave a Comment