The subject of state policing is getting renewed attention following the recent launch of a book by the former Inspector General of Police, Dr Solomon Arase, on “Law on Prevention and Detection of Crimes by the Police in Nigeria.” Although the book launch tried to pour cold water on the realisation of state police in the country, several present and past governors queued up to advocate for its creation. “Policing is local and local knowledge is absolute,” former Cross River state Governor, Donald Duke, said. “We need state police. You can’t do it all from Abuja,” current Edo state Governor, Godwin Obaseki, added.
The logic of both men is sound, except that their advocacy for state police deals with policing, but says little about the state of our states. And that’s where the real hurdle resides.
One of the more obvious lessons from our over four decades of federalism is the ineptitude of our state government institutions. In virtually all of their responsibilities, whether it is driving economic growth, spurring infrastructural development, expanding access to healthcare and education or even fulfilling the basic duty paying civil servants their (often meagre) wages, Nigerian states have floundered. Standard of living everywhere, with few exceptions, remains abysmally low partly because of the near absence of state institutions. One needs no special skill in prescience to know that handing over an entire policing apparatus to states, nearly 2/3 of whom do not even have detailed budgets, will almost certainly be a failed exercise.
Of course, our current policing structure isn’t working. The federal government-controlled police are grossly inefficient in intelligence gathering, crime prevention and securing criminal convictions. But, state police as an alternative would most likely produce worse results in all three indices given that they would probably face poorer funding (states can’t even pay staff!) and more, inadequate infrastructure. There’s also the real chance that they would worsen our already horrible ability to hold law enforcement officers accountable.
Largely bereft of real opposition and with no civil society groups breathing down their necks, most state governments are free of checks and devoid of active demand to balance their actions with the law. It’s the reason many governors are often seen as demigods in their states. Handing them full control of the police apparatus will be gifting them a Gestapo. Agreed, the government at the centre isn’t much better, with its serial flouting of court orders and routine excesses of federal law enforcement officers, but there are those exceptions where, through pressure via social media and activism of civil society groups, the rule of law triumphs. If policing becomes a state thing, in most states those exceptions might totally cease to exist.
If state police is a bad idea, then what’s better? Acting President Osinbajo’s answer is community policing. “We are looking very carefully at the issue of community policing, and very soon we will come out with a policy on that,” his representative at Arase’s book launch, Mr Babafemi Ojudu, said. What that means is still largely unclear, but the immediate problems facing the police? Not so much. Our police are majorly short-changed in their expertise, resources and welfare; we need a pragmatic and transparent plan to address these critical issues. And taking the police into states’ control will not help. What will go a long way in significantly improving all aspects of policing is investing in the proper training of personnel, adequate provision and maintenance of the resources that they need to carry out their duties and improved welfare condition, in wages and other benefits such as housing and healthcare.
For those benefits of state policing, it’s worth waiting for when our states get a hang on how to carry out their current basic duties effectively and efficiently.