by Usman AlabI
While it is a welcome development that the National Assembly is working on decentralising the police so that each state can have and control its own police force, it is however important that the legislature be careful not to duplicate a national menace at the state level.
The problem with the Nigerian police is first structural which has been legitimised by the constitution, it is this structure that makes it impossible for it to perform its functions independent of the executive. Section 9 subsection 4 of the Police Act places the police directly under the control of the President.
According to sub-section 5 “The Inspector-General shall be charged with the command of the Force subject to the directive of the President”.
The police as defined by the constitution is not an independent, nonpartisan body; as an institution, it is subject to the whims and caprices of the President. It is not only structurally tied to the apron spring of the President; it also lacks financial autonomy; it is more of a political institution than a professional body. It thus predictably serves the interest of the sitting President and his cronies.
The very constitutional interpretation and control of the Nigerian Police makes it a suspect organisation that only suits the interest of the powers that be, it erodes its integrity and professionalism, which then makes it difficult to get the people’s trust. The Nigerian Police in its present state is nothing but a financial and institutional liability completely incapable of performing its constitutional responsibility. Apart from this, it lacks the modern understanding of critical security which has its basis in the people.
The Nigerian Police is one of the underfunded public institutions in the country, it lacks forensic capacity, its colonial antecedent makes it a law and order body that does not see itself as dignifying the life of the citizen or answerable to the citizens. One would be expecting too much from such a police force that is underfunded, ill-equipped, poorly motivated and usually the last hope for those who have been unable to get an employment of their dream.
It is this perverse police system that the National Assembly is in a haste to replicate at the state level. This will only amount to duplicating a National Menace at the state level. The governor will be in complete control of the police, the same problem of financial incapacity and reliance on the governor, and the same issue of autonomy will resurface as the institution becomes a tool in the hands of the governors to be used for their own interest. Thus rather than reduce the security challenges, it complicates it. As of now, no state government is tolerant of the opposition, then imagine such state having its own police, it would undoubtedly increase its potential of using it to completely repress the opposition.
We should be thinking of building impersonal institutions that to a considerable extent is free from the frictions of bureaucracy. The National Assembly should rather look into the Police Act, particularly section 9 which puts the police under the complete control of the President. Pundits have argued that if the National Assembly is to decentralize the police, it should be under the control of the state assemblies or the judiciary, but autonomy is key.
After this, one issue will remain unresolved, whether these states have the financial capacity to maintain their own police force.