By Julius Enehikhuere
As the calls for the creation of state police in Nigeria are growing by the day; so are the fears about the challenges that may crop up following its creation.
The calls are reinforced by the fact that the Nigeria Police are facing perceptible challenges such as inadequate funding, while having some operational deficiencies in dealing with crime and emerging security challenges.
For instance, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris, at a recent public hearing on police reform at the House of Representatives, said that the police would require N1.13 trillion annually to effectively execute police operations.
He noted that the N560 billion recommended by the MD Yusuf-led Police Reform Committee in 2008, was a far cry from the current amount required to reposition the police.
He told the committee that fuelling of police vehicles alone annually required an average of N26.9 billion, including maintenance costs.
Economic experts, however, emphasise that the amount is a staggering figure, particularly in times of economic recession in the country.
But there is a consensus of opinion that security remains key to a country’s development and that there is an urgent need to address all the challenges facing the police.
The experts insist that the police personnel, their welfare and equipment, especially those required for prompt response to crime and crime prevention, ought to be the focus of any police reform strategy.
However, a school of thought believes that these requirements notwithstanding, there should a strong political will to address all the perceptible challenges facing the police, including its control.
A security expert, Mr Uche Okonkwo, said that the police were underfunded, adding that the development had hindered efforts to effectively police the country.
“Modern policing requires adequate funding to expand the scope of operations to support the prevention of crime before it ever happens.
“Whether federal or state police, the primary responsibilities remain the same, which are to prevent crime, uphold the laws, detect and investigate crime,’’ he observed.
Okonkwo, who is a proponent of state police, stressed that any discourse on security matters should be devoid of undue sentiments.
“In the U.S., state police are a police body unique to each state, having state-wide authority to conduct law-enforcement activities and criminal investigations.
“It is a requirement for all the federating states; the arrangement obtains in the U.S. and Canada, so there is no need for Nigeria to be an exception.
“The police model does not give absolute policing powers to the state, there is still the federal police to deal with federal laws involving high-profile crimes, treason and drugs offences,’’ he said.
Okonkwo , who has written several articles on crime control, said that the fears that state police could be misused or hijacked by politicians were largely unfounded.
He said that all that was required was to demonstrate the political will, devoid of sentiments, in the efforts to build a consensus of opinion around the state police, “a consensus that favours the development of the state police.’’
Other proponents of the state police say that new and emerging criminal behaviours have necessitated the creation of state police which would address the various needs of the police, including proper funding and staff strength.
They also say that the creation of state police would bring security closer to the people, while making the people part of the new security arrangements.
According to them, this is because in the modern community policing appears to be the in-thing nowadays.
Nevertheless, those against the creation of state police insist that security is not a theme that could be fiddled with, underscoring the need to centrally control the police for obvious reasons.
They warn that the state police could be hijacked by certain politicians and used to hunt down perceived political enemies.
That is not to suggest that the authorities are not aware of the shortcomings of the Nigeria Police.
For instance, the House of Representatives recently called on the Federal Government to recruit more personnel to the police, arguing that the current police ratio of 370,000 policemen to 180 million Nigerians was grossly inadequate.
This is a far cry from the United Nations (UN) recommendation of 222 policemen to 100,000 persons, which is an average of one policeman to 450 persons.
The Speaker of the House, Mr Yakubu Dogara, represented by House Minority Leader, Rep. Leo Ogor, (PDP-Delta), also said inadequate funding of the police had exposed it to undue criticism by Nigerians.
These views were expressed at a public hearing on a bill to establish the Police Reform Trust Fund and a bill to amend the Explosives Act 2004.
The Chairman, House Committee on Police Affairs, Rep. Dauda Jika (APC- Bauchi), said that the proper funding of the police would boost the morale and efficiency of the police personnel.
Former Gov. Donald Duke of Cross River, a staunch advocate of state police, at a recent book lunch by a former Inspector-General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, said that the speculations that the state police would be abused by political leaders were baseless.
He argued that the state police would not be created for anyone, as there would be laws to regulate its operations.
“Our society is so unique, it has a way of checkmating any such abuse,’’ he said.
All the same, a former Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mike Okiro, stressed that the creation of the state police would be counter-productive, insisting that what the police urgently required was adequate funding to enable them to give optimal service delivery.
He, however, recommended the adoption of the Canadian model of police that allowed the state to support the police with equipment, while the federal government regularly paid the salaries and allowances of policemen.
He stressed that the greatest challenge facing the Nigeria Police was paucity of modern equipment.
“For effective control, let the police remain under the purview of the Federal Government for obvious reasons, mainly because of our peculiar nature,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, another former Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Commassie, said that the current status quo should be maintained.
According to him, the main challenge facing the police has been adequate funding and equipment.
He said that this development had particularly affected the operations of the police, its crime prevention capacity and its response to crime.
“What we need is not state police; if properly funded, the Nigeria Police will serve the interests of everyone,’’ he said.
All the same, Dr Peter Osayi, a security consultant, underscored the need to restructure the police force to enable it to tackle the myriad security challenges facing the country.
“It is no longer news that the police are underfunded and that the Federal Government can no longer shoulder their enormous challenges.
“It is also true that the country is under-policed, far from UN recommendation of 222 policemen to 100,000 people.
“Crime rate is high in various communities; so many crimes are under-reported. In some communities, there is no police presence,’’ he said.
Osayi, nonetheless, said that some states already had a resemblance of state police which had been rendering assistance in crime prevention efforts.
He cited Lagos State as a state that created a strike force codenamed, “Rapid Response Squad’’, which had recorded so many breakthroughs in crime control.
“It is funded by the state government, and it had succeeded in reducing the crime rate by over 50 per cent before other states started emulating the arrangement.
“Almost all the state governments now have a police outfit, created and fully funded by the state government for the purpose of crime control,’’ he said.
Osayi said that it was pragmatic and expedient to build consensus round the state police, allay fears and negative sentiments which the concept had generated, while going ahead to amend the 1999 Constitution to allow its creation.
“Section 214 (1) of 1999 Constitution would have to be amended to allow for multiple tiers of police.
“The fear that state police would be hijacked by state governors is neither here nor there.
“During the colonial era we had the local police used to collect taxes and they also assisted in enforcing the laws.
“Some express the fear that the state police could be hijacked but such fears also exist with regard to the Federal Government’s control of the police.’’
“The creation of the state police does not mean that there will no longer be the federal police to handle federal laws,’’ he added.
Whether to have the state police or not is a contentious debate and the debate continues, as the proponents and opponents continue to convey new standpoints to buttress or knock off the proposal.