By Dennis Amachree, MON
The call for State Police has been resonating in Nigeria for years, due to the realization that the Nigeria Police, as presently constituted cannot handle the increased demands of law enforcement, in the criminal justice system.The entire criminal justice delivery system needs to be restructured.However, many argue that Nigeria is not ripe for State Police, because State governors will use the Police to haunt their political opponents.Whichever way, the consensus is that the policing system for over 180 million Nigerians is inadequate.
Some security analysts have it that the legislative amendments, structures, funding and reorientation needed, to start a State Police are not in place.Yet others are of the opinion that the government in power is scared to allow State Police, because, as with all other past governments, they will not have total control of the Police and therefore will be losing a major force of its power of coercion.
However, the present government or any government in power, simply need to have the political will to start the process and many of the variables will fall in place. As for the big question; if Nigeria is ready for State Police? My answer will be YES, because establishing State Police, or actually restructuring the criminal justice delivery system is a process; and there is no better time to start that process than now.
A major plank in restructuring the Police is reorientation. First, the idea of the Police not being your friend needs to be turned around. The legislators have work to do in birthing a new Police system, to make it citizens friendly; a Nigeria Police Service, rather than a Nigeria Police Force. A Police unlike the Hausa Constabulary that was created to secure the lives and properties of the colonial masters, but one that protects the lives and property of ordinary Nigerians. An independent policing system that is restricted to the jurisdiction of its creation; shielded from political manipulation.
A State Police that is close to the society of its jurisdiction, which will make it more effective is what is desired at this time. However, those in authority have this knack to abuse the police. Now that the national assembly is considering the Bill to establish State Police, Nigerians expect a thorough job. It should not be a cut and nail job where the State Commands as they are constituted at present, are directed to be the new State Police.
The time has come to reorient the Nigeria Police, to see themselves as professionals, providing services of public safety to the public. They are not established to recover debts or get involved in land matters etc. The abuse of the Police has permeated the society to the extent of individuals hiring the police to settle scores with opponents.
The political foot-dragging is anchored on a false premise; the premise of using the Police as a cohesive power against opponents, be they political or civil. This false premise must be corrected before passing the Bill to establish the State Police in Nigeria.This is the time to take a holistic view of the policing and criminal justice system. Indeed, a time to review the security architecture of the country.
Following the American system, we need to re-organize our policing system to be independent and more effective. We should start from the intelligence services. The Act that established the State Security Services and National Intelligence Agency should be amended to make them independent and answerable to the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the National Assembly. They should not be controlled by the President, as is practiced at present.The Defense Intelligence Agency should report to the Minister of Defense.
All other federal police bodies like the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Customs and Immigration Services, National Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and others should report to the Minister of Justice (not the Attorney General). This calls for the separation of the offices of the Attorney General and that of the Minister of Justice.
We can borrow from the United States of America, where we also copied our Constitution. The criminal justice system in that country is well defined in terms of powers, responsibilities and funding. Laws are defined in terms of Federal, State, County (like our Local Government Areas) and other specialist Police Departments.
At the federal level they have the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), which has nationwide jurisdiction for enforce of federal laws.They are limited by US Code to investigating only matters that are explicitly within the power of the federal government. There are other federal law enforcement agencies, which include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) the United States Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
After the terror attack of 9/11 in New York, the government created the Department of Homeland Security, as a counter terrorism agency, with many other law enforcement agencies reporting to it. In the case of a crime or disaster, many agencies can respond, but when the situation is clear, the agencies are flexible enough to allow the responsible agency to take command. According to the US Constitution, the federal government is not authorized to execute general police powers. The agencies have their jurisdiction and specific duties to carry out.
State Police on the other hand started as an agency to enforce State lawswhich were mainly traffic laws. They were later given investigative powers. They were referred to as State Police or Highway Patrol Police and report to the State Department of Public Safety. Their duties are very clear and these include; arrest and detention of suspects, crime scene protection, search and seizure, emergency assistance to the public, interrogation and interviews and the presentation of testimony in court. It can be seen from these duties that the state police is restricted to police duties duties only. So, in Nigeria, I will suggest that they report to the State Commissioner in the Ministry of Public Safety.This will remove them from political manipulation.
Other responsibilities of the State Police will include maintaining law and order across the state jurisdiction. These will include patrolling roadways, enforcing state laws, maintaining peace and assisting local government law enforcement when necessary. For instance, if someone commits murder in one State, the State Police will investigate and prosecute the suspect. But if he flees into a neighboring state, it becomes an interstate crime, where the FBI will be invited to take charge.
Establishing State Police must in effect give way to the concurrent establishment of County or Local Government Area Police (Sheriffs), who will be responsible for carrying out Local Government Ordinances. That will be the limit of their jurisdiction. Theywill engage in the enforcement of traffic laws and control, parking and environmental laws. They maintain the county jail for drunk, traffic violators and domestic violence suspects awaiting to be charged to court. In large municipalities they have City police like the New York City Police (NYPD) or Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Policing in the United States has been so segmented that a unitary system, as practiced in Nigeria will be totally dysfunctional. Right now all university campuses have Campus Police. Airports have their Airport Police, so does the Railroad Service with their Railroad Police. Nigeria used to have the Railway Police in Nigeria. In most American cities, high-brow housing estate, have their fully equipped Police units patrolling he estate. All these are full fledged Police units carrying out their duties within their jurisdiction.
The unique aspect of all these Police units is that, in cases of emergency or crime scene situation, the Police, in one form or the other will respond immediately. They call for back-up from the appropriate Police unit, be they the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team or FBI as the case may be.
The watch word here is jurisdiction. The legal instruments that created them, will clearly define each agencys responsibilities and jurisdiction. Under a system like this, we will not be seeing a federal police officer controlling traffic at a junction in Maryland or Yaba in Lagos. That is the job of the LGA Sheriff.
It is also colonial for men of the Mobile Police Force to be attached to politicians and high net-worth individuals, where they have to protect such big men from hostile Nigerians. They create confusion and fear among the populace in traffic and there are reported incidents of fatalities resulting from their reckless driving habits.Body guarding in other climes is usually discreet and carried out by private security companies; and many of such companies abound in Nigeria.
The responsibility of the Mobile Police Unit is crowd control in situations of riots; not escorting or protecting politicians or high net-worth individuals. State governors are scared stiff if their Mopols escort details are withdrawn by the Inspector General of Police. They feel as if they have been stripped of their coercive force. Constitutionally, the protective details of a governor should come from the SSS and not the Police. This is the same reason some governors, especially in the opposition want their State Police so they can control them the way they want, which also boils down to abuse.
The National Assembly will be making a very big mistake if they just go ahead and establish State Police without taking a holistic view of the security architecture and spelling out each agencies responsibilities. They should make the intelligence agencies independent, to checkmate abuses from the executive arm of government. There should be a professional police service that can interpret criminal laws and enforce them, not minding whose ox is gored.
In the national order of protocol, it is clearly stated who statutorily requires protective security services, which is provided by the State Security Services (SSS). These include, the President and his family, the Vice President and his family, the President of the Senate and his family, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and his family. Others include Governors and their Deputies, Ministers of Finance, Petroleum and Defense, because of the sensitivity of the portfolios they hold. All other ministers will have Police Orderlies.
Local government chairmen are not entitled to any protective detail. After all they are people at the grassroots and I doubt what they are protecting themselves from. Any other request for protective details will be considered by the Director General on the threat level the persons is exposed to. The Police is responsible for the outer circle of protection for the people on VIPs mentioned above. The police authorities have to curb the crazy behavior of escort details and a State Police needs to properly define the essence of such duties, depending on any prevailing threats.
For State Police to operate effectively, the issue of funding has to be addressed adequately. One of the major problems of the Nigeria Police today is the issue of funding. To be effective, the policemen need to be well-funded, to take care of regular salaries, welfare and insurance benefits. If the primary responsibility of government is the protection of lives and property of the citizenry, then funding the security and law enforcement agencies should be a top priority for the government.
So it is incumbent on any government, be it federal, state or local government to find the money to fund their Police. Also, it is not compulsory that States in the federation should all start their State Police Services at the same time. Even in the United States of America, different States started their State Police at different times.
Lagos State, the Center of Excellence is following the American model by already starting the process of having their own State Police. The Lagos State Traffic Management Agency could metamorphose into a State Police and the newly created local government/neighborhood group could emerge as the Sheriff Department.I foresee a Lagos City Police Department (LPD) in the very near future.
So we have to come to terms with the reality that Nigeria needs to restructure its criminal justice delivery system, with fully defines roles and responsibilities at the federal, state, and local government levels. The government should also not forget the large number of private security guards tat abound in the country. They could be the extra eyes and ears that will support the policing system in the country.
Another important area of concern is that of equipping the Police. Besides communications system, arms and ammunition and serviceable vehicles, the Police in each state needs a well equipped forensic laboratory and an integrated data bank. Forensics will invaluably improve the investigative skills of the Police, while an integrated data bank will serve for easy referencing in tracking criminals across the country. This will help in cracking some of the cold murder cases in the country, which are still pending..
Some may argue that considering all that is involved to start a State Police, Nigeria is not ready, but I fault that narrative as archaic. Restructuring the criminal justice delivery system is a process and the time to start the process is now.