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Ekweremadu: Seven Years After, Nigerian Elite Heed His Lone Voice On State Police

Ismail Omipidan

Hwas not the one who began the campaign for the establishment of a state police in Nigeria. But since 2011, Deputy President of the senate, Ike Ekweremadu has been consistent in his campaign for what he now refers to as decentralised policing system in Nigeria.

Since then, he kept the debate in the front burner. He seizes every occasion offered him to canvass strongly for the enthronement of a decentralised policing system in Nigeria, insisting that Nigeria was the only country claiming to be running a federal system, but maintaining a unitary policing system.

As recent as last month while speaking at the Parliament of the United Kingdom (UK), where he was a keynote speaker of a lecture “African Politics: The Dynamics and Lessons,” hosted by Keith Vaz, member of Parliament and National Executive Committee of the Labour Party of the UK, as well as the Enugu State Diaspora, UK and Ireland, Ekweremadu, did not fail to impress it on his audience that Africa “must enthrone modern policing that is swift, active, and reliable. This will not only secure lives and property, but also will secure the confidence of investors and our nascent democracies.”

But it was at a gathering in 2013, that he had the opportunity to for the first time lay bare his own idea of a decentralised policing system.

On the occasion, Nigerians and other foreigners, drawn largely from the academic and diplomatic communities, gathered at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, auditorium, for the annual lecture of the university.

He spoke to the topic “Policing and National Security in Nigeria: The Choices before Us.” Ironically, apart from the police orderlies and other plain clothes security operatives, the police authority was not represented at the gathering.

And just barely 24 hours after the lecture, where Ekweremadu, brought to the fore the challenges of unresolved murder cases in Nigeria, listing at least 56 of such cases at the time, the Kwara State Police Commissioner and a native of Enugu State, Mr. Felix Asadu, was murdered in Enugu State.

And unless the police is ready to employ the services of native doctors, babalawos and marabouts to unravel the identities of the killers, as suggested by one of the discussants at the lecture, instead of employing the services of the Scotland Yard Police, Asadu’s death, may no doubt join the long list of unresolved murder/assassination cases in Nigeria.

According to Ekweremadu, one of the reasons it has increasingly become difficult to resolve some of these murder/assassination cases was because most times, the policemen sent to some of these states, have little or no knowledge about the environment and the people, as against a state/community policing system, where those who make up the police team are drawn from the immediate locality, as such, they not only know the criminals in their midst, but are better placed to checkmate the activities of the criminals in their midst.

At the gathering, he made it clear that his presentation and comments are his personal views and not that of the senate or its committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, which he heads, till date.

Like an academic, he began his presentation with an overview of what role a state (country) need to play in the lives of its citizens. According to him, it was the Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, who said that “the state exists for the sake of life, and continues for the sake of the best life.”

He went further to say that even the constitution of the United States of America “succinctly captures the essence of government, when it says: ‘we the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.’ From this preamble, certain fundamental goals for the existence of government can be deciphered,” he added.

He listed some of the goals to include the facilitation of a more perfect union, establishment of justice, ensuring domestic tranquillity, provision of common defence, promotion of the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty, adding however that “without prejudice to the rest of the goals, it appears clearly that security of lives and property is not only intrinsic in all goals, but all of them are indeed dependent on it.

“The 1999 constitution of Nigeria underscores this when it declares that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’ However, whereas it is the primary responsibility of government to ensure the security of lives and property of its citizens, let me clarify that, I do not think that security is like a good which the State (Country) delivers to its citizens without the citizens’ inputs. A security system therefore entails all that the state (country) and citizens do from individual to institutional level to ensure the security of lives and property.”

Tracing the evolution of the Nigerian Police, from the 19th century to date, Ekweremadu submitted that until the fall of the First Republic, Nigeria operated a decentralised policing system.

He was however quick to add that, though it was the General Yakubu Gowon’s administration that first abolished the decentralised policing system in Nigeria, it was first “entrenched in a democratic system of government by Section 194 (1) of the 1979 constitution and sustained by the 1999 constitution.”

He went further to say that in spite of the general feelings among Nigerians that the country seemed to have enjoyed some respite in violent crimes, in the last half of 2012, than in previous years, the picture was still “very worrisome,” adding that the concern forced him to carry out a content analysis of three national newspapers: The Sun, The Nation and Daily Trust, of violent crimes in Nigeria, from July 1, to December 31, 2012.

“In the period under review, there were about 486 violent crimes, ranging from terrorism to violent robberies as reported by The Nation, Daily Trust and The Sun newspapers. Given a marginal error of between five and ten percent, the figure includes robbery, rape, kidnapping and assassinations that took place within the same period. These figures were carefully selected from the three newspapers, while effort was made to ensure that follow-up activities that did not involve any form of violence were omitted. Care was also taken to ensure that in making the selections, similar stories reported by more than one of the three newspaper was not included to avoid duplication. These activities, especially bombings and other terror activities appeared higher between October and November. In all, cases of rape and assassinations were the lowest crimes in number within the period under review. The figures show that Nigeria continues to live in the throes of violent crimes, especially, terrorism, robbery, and kidnapping,” Ekweremadu said.

He was however quick to add that “since its incursion into our national life, terrorism as championed by the Boko Haram in particular remains Nigeria’s Public Enemy No 1. It is a multi-headed monster that has exposed our security failings. This is demonstrated by the table below highlighting some terrorist acts as it affect various sections of the society.”

While listing at least 23 of such terrorist attacks, from 2009 to 2013 at the time, the deputy president of the senate said that the worrisome aspect of the trend is that “the police and other security agencies who are supposed to protect the citizens have been the target and at the receiving end of these merciless attacks. As the preceding table shows, not only have so many police stations been attacked and police personnel killed by the nefarious activities of the sect, even the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force have been brutally attacked in a brazen display of defiance.”

He said further that although the national assembly has appropriated unprecedented amount of money to the security sector, which led to some successes that were recorded in the fight against terrorism, such as the arrest of some high profile members of the sect, Nigerians, he noted appear not convinced that the federal government at the time, especially the police have lived up to its many promises of being “on top of the situation,” adding that “when the hunter becomes the hunted, then there is obviously fire on the mountain.”

To this end, he further argued that the current centralised policing system being operated in Nigeria is one of the major factors that have been blamed for the insecurity in Nigeria.

While highlighting some of the factors for and against decentralised policing system in Nigeria, with examples drawn from other foreign countries to buttress his points, Ekweremadu said “I think the strongest arguments or fear among the opponents of a decentralised police system is the likelihood of abuse by interests, notably the state governors. The problem with this paranoid disposition, however, is that it looks at the state police as the property of the elites, especially the governors rather than as an institution of state. As such, it still sees Nigeria from the prisms of the colonial era and early years of independence, thus failing to take cognisance of the transformations that have taken place in terms of awareness and laws over the years.”

He further noted that the other pertinent question to ask was whether the solely federal police have not also been grossly abused by the high and mighty. He said “I do not think Nigerians, especially Anambra people will forget in a hurry the attempted coup here in Awka in 2003. A top brass of the police physically supervised the abduction of an incumbent state governor and purported chief security officer of a federating unit from office. This, to me is the height of abuse of the police force. My answer to this would therefore be that if the governors are likely to abuse the state police, then make provisions in law that will make it impossible for them to do so. Make stringent provisions in law that can mete out sanctions where such abuses occur.”

On the argument that states in Nigeria would not be able to fund decentralised policing system, Ekweremadu again said “Whereas some states are financially constrained due to our highly entrenched culture of ‘feeding bottle federalism,’ this argument is perceived to be incongruent with the constitutional provision that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. So, a state government that allocates security votes running into hundreds of millions to a governor on a monthly basis, but claims to lack the financial capacity to fund the primary purpose of government must be a strange one.

“Instructively, our states spend heavily on funding the Nigeria police through logistical supports like patrol vans, etc. So, many states are already funding various types of state police under various guises. They include vigilantes which are very popular here in Anambra. We have the Hisbah in Kano and in many other states, just as we have various forms of state-funded security/vigilante outfits across the nation. We have also had the Bakassi Boys in most states of the south-east which were not regulated by law. Importantly, a state that is too poor to fund the protection of the lives and property of its residents cannot be compelled to own a state police force.”

What to do about the constitution?

If and when Nigeria’s government decides to buy into his dream and vision of a decentralised policing system, especially because according to him, state police has not only been justified, it has become imperative, Ekweremadu suggested laws and policies provisions that would allay the fears of the antagonists of a decentralised policing system.

Some of these laws and policies provisions include but not limited to: amending the Section 214 and 215 of the constitution that empowers the federal to exclusively control the police force, removing of police from item 45 of part 1 of the second schedule to allow states to establish state police Service under approved guidelines, giving the national assembly power to provide the framework for the establishment, structure and powers of the state police, the powers of state governors should be limited to making policing policies and should not extend to the operational use and control of the police-just like the National Judicial Council-NJC, and that the Federal Police Service should exercise a level of oversight over the activities of state police among others.

He concluded his presentation by saying “the choices before us are clear. One is to continue doing things the old way and continue to get the old result. The other is to embrace a change by facing the realities on ground and by borrowing a leaf from other vast and pluralistic federal states that have nevertheless been able to secure their territories. While the choice is ours, let us never forget that the choice we make today will shape our future.”

The discussants

Among the distinguished personalities that discussed Ekweremadu’s paper were Mr. Brian Browne, former Consular, US Embassy, Nigeria; Professor Cyprian Okonkwo, Commissioner, Nigeria Law Reforms Commission, Abuja; Prof. Nuhu Yakubu, former Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja and at the time vice chancellor, Sokoto State University, Sokoto, Professor OBC Nwoliseh, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ibadan and Mr. Simon Kolawole, former Editor, Thisday Newspapers.

Instructively, the host governor at the time, Mr. Peter Obi who was physically present at the event, also made his own contributions to the discourse, where he said among other things that once the country’s kind of federalism undergoes restructuring, and is made to conform with values and attributes of federalism, the world over, funding a decentralised policing system in Nigeria, would not be a problem.

Interestingly, only Professor Okonkwo was opposed to the establishment of a state police. But even at that he canvassed support for community policing, while making his intervention, a thing that forced Professor Nwoliseh, to conclude that were it to be a debate, he would have said that Okonkwo argued on the side of those of them canvassing support for the establishment of a state police.

Nwoliseh, also suggested that native doctors, Babalawos and Marabout should be co-opted into the country’s security intelligence, code-named Strategic Spiritual Intelligence (SSI), to help resolve the numerous unresolved murder cases in Nigeria. This is even as he called on the federal government, to restructure the National Planning Commission, and give it the mandate to create 2,000 jobs annually for the army of unemployed youths in the Nigeria, insisting that that was the only way any investment in the security sector could be meaningful, adding that provision of infrastructure like roads, must form major components of security in the country.

The new song on state police

The unwieldy nature of Nigeria’s brand of federalism has always been a subject of debate. But Ekweremadu, since becoming a senator in 2003 has left no one in doubt as to where he stands on Fiscal federalism, just as his views on decentralised policing system, which some want to refer to as state police, is unmistaken. He had apart from calling for the diversification of the country’s economy in the past, also canvassed strongly that the current 36 states system the country runs, was not viable.

 However, each time he made the call, he was usually condemned or ignored, only for those condemning him to later return to his prescription of problem solving, at a later date. For instance, virtually all those who condemned him in the past, including a former Kano State governor, for calling for a decentralised policing system are today making case for it. The Neighbourhood Watch, launched in March 2017 by the Lagos State government, is a major component of decentralised policing system, as espoused in the past by Ekweremadu at several public fora, including in his latest book, “Who Will Love My Country.”

 It was therefore not surprising when last week the federal government threw its back behind the agitation for the establishment of a state place, saying it was clearly the way to go in the face of multifaceted security challenges confronting the country.

Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, gave the hint at a summit on national security organised by the senate in Abuja.

According to him the nature of the country’s security challenges are complex and known, adding that “securing Nigeria’s over 900,000sq km and its 180 million people requires far more men and material than we have at the moment. It also requires a continuous reengineering of our security architecture and strategy. This has to be a dynamic process.

“For a country of our size to meet the one policeman to 400 persons prescribed by the United Nations would require triple our current police force; far more funding of the police force and far more funding of our military and other security agencies.

“We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go.”  (The Sun)

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