Will Reps’ renewed move make state police a reality?

Like every constitution amendment suggestion, there is always the speculative angle to the expected outcome, and so it has been over the years with the move to create state police in Nigeria. JOSHUA EGBODO in this piece reviews the latest move by the House of Representatives, and the pessimism surrounding it.

Failed at 9th Reps’ panel

During the 9th assembly of the House of Representatives, the proposal could not get the required majority support votes at the Constitution Review panel’s final perusal of the document in January 2022. During its consideration, 11 members of the panel, then under the leadership of Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase voted in support of state police creation, while another 14 voted against it.  

The then Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Hon. Luke Onofiok (PDP, Akwa-Ibom) had sponsored the bill, which scaled second reading way back in July 2021. The proposal sought to delete police from the exclusive legislative list and put it in the concurrent list.

Outcome of the voting signaled the death of the bill, as it can no go beyond that as part of the other proposals to be presented before the larger House for consideration. Prior to that, the then President, Muhammadu Buhari had expressed opposition to the proposed legislation, citing abuse of the local government system by the governors as the reason for his opposition to the idea of state police, which he felt would suffer similar fate.

States kick

With obvious failure of the bill to make the needed progress, some states with keen interest in establishing their state police units began kicking. While some state Houses of Assembly were mounting pressure on the National Assembly to revisit the issue as precondition for them to vote and return their inputs on the Constitution review exercise, some state governors resorted to what many analysts described as self-help, by establishing security outfits, prominent among which were the Amotekun in the South-west, and Ebubeagu in the South-east regions of the country.

The latest move

With the 10th assembly of the House of Representatives fully in business after its inauguration in July 2023, the bill was reintroduced, this time polished to address some of the concerns expressed over the past attempt. It was jointly sponsored by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Benjamin Kalu and 14 of his colleagues. 

Its promoters said it was designed to strengthen and improve public safety and law enforcement, through the decentralization of the police, for the state police to exist alongside the federal. They said it has also been designed in a way to clarify the scope of powers, as well as the responsibilities of the state and federal police, funding and oversight mechanisms amongst others.

Most of the arguments for the renewed move for creation of state police has revolved around the escalating insecurity around the country, inability of the federal police command and failure or inability of state governors to direct the affairs of police commands in their domains, as may be necessary for timely response to security breaches. The police commands as it were reports directly to, and take orders from the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Abuja.

Still discordant views

As the debate continue on the propriety or otherwise of state police yet lasted, the House of Representatives in its wisdom and desire to harness public and experts’ inputs on the subject matter, it organised a forum which held in Abuja on April 22, 2024 tagged; National Dialogue On State Policing, with the theme; Pathways To Peace: Reimagining Policing In Nigeria, an event that had in attendance, former leaders of the country, the incumbent President fully represented, security chiefs, prominent traditional rulers, experts in the security sector and many more. 

Expectedly, the stakeholders did not appear to be on the same page over the subject matter. President Bola Ahmed Tinibu, who was represented by his vice, Kashim Shetima, and the House of Representatives as an institution stated that they had no vested interests, as they would be guided by the voices of the majority of Nigerians. However, the police authority on one side, and former President Goodluck Jonathan and former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar were sharply divided, respectively in opposition and support for creation of state police.

The President said the government “believes that the path to effective security is through adaptive reforms catering to our diverse nature, and circumstances. This can only be achieved by carefully reviewing various options in the Nigerian context. This inclusive approach will guide us towards a a policing system that is most effective and respectful…The president is committed to listening to your recommendations and insights invariable to share in the policies that would lead us to a more secure and good society”.

Also in his keynote address, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Tajudeen Abbas noted that the National Assembly had no fixed position on the matter. The House of Representatives is aware of the divisive and polarising arguments surrounding the issue under review. Let me state categorically that the House and indeed the National Assembly does not have a fixed position. Our role is to facilitate a dialogue and generate consensus. 

“In discussions as significant as this, it is imperative that we approach each debate with objectivity and neutrality. We must acknowledge our biases and set them aside in favour of what is most beneficial for our dear country. Our discussions should be marked not by the pursuit of personal or political gains but by a steadfast commitment to the common good…Creating State Policing systems requires more than just legislative action; it requires a national consensus. As diverse and complex as our great country is, so too are the opinions and perspectives on how best to manage and implement local policing. It is only through open, inclusive, and respectful dialogue – like the one we are part of today – that we can build the necessary consensus”, the Speaker said. 

On his part, former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan said the issue of state police was nonnegotiable, as majority of Nigerians have already agreed on the necessity, but what was needed was the framework for implementation. 

Recalling his experience as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Jonathan  said “when we took over, the State was almost ungovernable. Gen Abdulsalami (Abubakar) will remember that when elections were to be conducted in December 1999, the security situation in Bayelsa State was so bad. Our elections were pushed to January 1999. The State was in crisis, the Niger Delta agitation was there and criminal elements were also operating in the creeks, posing all manner of havocs to market women and others. 

“My boss then, Alamieyeseigha had to set up Bayelsa Volunteers that worked with the police. We had to build stations around significant parts of the creeks and the boys volunteered to work with the police since they could not carry weapons.  There is no way we can manage our internal security if states will not have their police. The issue is not States having their police but how they will function vis-a-vis the national security architecture. 

“When I set up the 2014 national dialogue, during that period, we had a lot of challenges in the country. People were agitating in many areas and in one state, the whole local government delegates advocated for state police. When the matter came up, everybody supported…We cannot move away from the issue of state police.

“We should not waste our time debating whether we should have State police or not . We had it before in this country, the military scrapped it because of abuse. That is the area we should concentrate on. How do we manage State Police so that it will not be abused by state political actors? If State political actors are abusing state police  and using it to harass and make life miserable for people who don’t belong to their political parties, will the commander in Chief sit down and watch? Or will order the military to overrun the state police? The key areas we have to debate is how do we run the state police viz-a-Viz the national security”.

Former President Jonathan’s position was simply adopted by Abdulsalami Abubakar, who also called for caution in the implementation of the scheme, if finally established.

But the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun described the move to introduce state policing as unnecessary, noting that Nigeria is not yet mature for such. Represented at the event by Assistant Inspector General (AIG) Ben Okoro, he rather recommended the merger of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to become a department under the Nigeria Police, and an annual recruitment of 30,000 personnel to bridge the manpower gap in the police. 

“On the issue of state police, it is the submission of the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) that Nigeria is not yet mature and ready for the establishment of state-controlled police…There is the potential for abuse of power by the state political leadership.

“State governors could use the police forces under their control for political or personal gain and undermine human rights and security. There would also be a conflict of jurisdiction”, AIG Okoro had read from a prepared text as representative of IGP Egbetokun.

Dramatic retraction 

The police’s position was to make banner headlines on front covers of many Nigeria’s of daily newspapers, and also viral on other media platforms. In just about 24 hours after the event, AIG Okoro was to dramatically said the opposition to establishment of state police as reported was his personal opinion, and did not represent the position of the NPF as an institution.

Retracting the comment during a press briefing at the Force Headquarters the following day, Okoro said he only made the comment in his personal capacity to stimulate the discourse, and not the official position of the IGP and the police force. “My expressions on state police at the session held at Abuja Continental Hotel on 22nd April, 2024, are my personal opinion to stimulate the discourse”, he stated.

Outside the National Dialogue event, there still remained continued discordance in public debate on the matter.

Will it sail through?

Assuredly, the House will in no distant time embark on more citizens’ engagement over the ongoing constitution review exercise, chief among which would be the proposal for creation of state police. Provisions in the proposal gives room for states to opt in, or hold on to the existing federal policing structure, depending on their respective capacities. But will it be a reality? Nigerians wait as the exercise progresses.