BEFORE WE HAVE STATE POLICE

BEFORE WE HAVE STATE POLICE

 When operational, the roles of the state police should be clearly defined

While it is not a silver bullet to the security challenges that plague Nigeria and there are several hurdles to cross before we get there, we endorse, in principle, the decision to consider the idea for each state to establish its own police.  “There is a discussion around the issue of state police. The federal government and the state governments are mulling the possibility of setting up state police,” Information Minister, Mohammed Idris disclosed after a meeting between the president and governors last Thursday. “A lot of work has to be done in that direction. But if our government and the state governments agree to the necessity of having state police, this is a significant shift.”

As a newspaper, we have always advocated the establishment of state police to deal with the growing security challenge and in line with our federal constitution. We still stand by our position. But now that the idea is being considered, it is important that there be a serious conversation about safeguards for it to work. In October 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the police hierarchy to commence recruitment of some special constables with a N13 billion take-off grant. Following the directive, then Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu asked police commissioners to liaise with traditional rulers and community leaders in their states to screen volunteers. The recruits were expected to replicate the functions and duties of the conventional police in their localities and wear the same uniform without clear ideas about their expectations and remunerations.  

It therefore came as no surprise when in 2022 hundreds of men and women, dressed in police uniform, staged a public protest in Ilorin, Kwara State, over “non-payment of salaries” since completing their training in April 2021. The viral video on social media stirred up the Kwara State Police Command to disown the protesters. “The characters seen in the video are police special constabularies recruited to complement the operation of community policing,” spokesman, Ajayi Okasanmi said. He added that neither the state command nor the government made any financial commitment to the constabularies before, during and after their training.   

The protest raised pertinent questions at the time: Were many of the jobless youths who enlisted in the scheme told in clear terms that their services were only voluntary, and that they would not be paid salaries? Even more important, were they properly vetted before being given police uniforms and deployed for security duties?

At the root of effective community policing is firm trust between the people and its operators. Incidentally, but for the incident in Ilorin, many Nigerians were not even aware that the scheme had commenced since there has been no dent in incidents of crime in neighbourhoods and communities across the country. Instead, crime rate is on the rise with daily reports of diverse problems ranging from drug abuse to violent gang activities and rape.   

Ordinarily, community policing is predicated on the belief that authorities and citizens at the grassroots have a joint responsibility to fight crime. Under the concept, both the police and the locals build synergy aimed at guaranteeing the security of lives and property in the neighbourhoods by freely exchanging ideas, sharing intelligence and acting on such. Community police personnel are expected to have frequent contacts with members of the community all with a view to enforcing law and order and solving local problems. That is not what is happening in Nigeria today with this controversial scheme. 

If the overall aim of the ‘special constabularies’ is to hire locals familiar with the environment, language and all the nuances of culture to help fight crimes, the idea has been subverted. The conversation about each state establishing its own police must begin from the failure of the idea of ‘special constabularies.

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