Of recent, the much talked about creation of State Police has gathered additional momentum with ongoing debates in the National Assembly on the bill to create a State Police.
It has been accepted by some that there is virtually no way we can address our myriad and multi-faceted internal insecurity challenges as a country without incorporating state policing in the security apparatus. And I agree with that even as it is not a magic wand to ending internal security challenges, but it would assist.
But the fear of some, against the idea of creating such an institution, is that such a security apparatus at the state level could be used as a tool of intimidation by our seemingly unrestrained state executives and that the institutions of governance at the state level are too weak to prevent such abuse.
This is against the background that the apparent weaknesses of institutions at the state level has enabled some state executives to operate virtually like emperors, who are not accountable to anyone than as elected officials subservient to the will of the people.
This is a valid argument as our history has proved that to be true when we had a similar style of policing at local levels. In the past, we had some form of state policing in the form of community policing that was under the traditional leadership and these sovereigns abused it and in some cases, it was engineered to be abused.
The traditional rulers had their police and prisons which became arms of a decision against perceived opponents, and the tendency is that it will be repeated now if we have state Police, as the new emperors at the local level, the Governors, are as much unrestrained as their feudal forebears. Power corrupts even a good man.
However, that we have identified hurdles on the way does not mean we should abandon the journey. We should instead look for a way to cross over. As it is now, much of our security challenges is community-based or fermented at such levels, be it armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, insurgency, herdsmen attacks, communal clashes, they are all fermented and established within our communities and the present system of a national police being assisted by the military in handling these challenges, cannot be a complete solution.
The military is not structured to handle internal security crises, it only addresses the fallout of its escalation from the inability of the police to contain it. And the military depends for its success on a police force that is structurally deficient to even assess correctly the emanating security challenges.
And national police cannot, aside from adopting a quasi-military approach, be of any good in preventing, containing or even eradicating these security crises that are rooted and very peculiar to their environments.
The practice of calling out the mobile police force in large numbers and the military coming out of the barracks to be a followed up force when a crisis erupts in our cities is not the best approach in addressing internal security challenges. It is not a war that comes upon you from outside, internal security crisis happens within our communities and cities and the casualties and destruction are all within. These are situations that are best prevented before they explode.
The present situation where mass arrests and prosecutions of offenders are done during or after a crisis situation, (if at all it happens) and the police counting it as a major achievement, is not the best approach for a Government in owning up to its responsibilities.
The foremost duty of a Government is to protect lives and property, it is not to arrest those who destroy lives and property. And so prevention and the containment is the key to ensuring a peaceful society and that is what policing is all about.
But in a situation where the police as it is now, is not structured to have an umbilical link to the very society it is to protect and with that, unable to possess a capability for a background check on the members of the community, and a military that is called out to assist the police force that cannot even adequately give it the most needed support in terms of intelligence from profiling, background checks and even clue to the underlining issues in the scenario, is not the best because the internal security challenge is community-based and it needs a community-level approach.
So, yes, we need a State Police. Our present security challenges demand that, but to give state governors a blank cheque to create the police force, if they wish, could be a recipe for a new challenge. It goes without saying that even with all its shortcomings, our national Police has a foundation. It has its roots in the professional colonial past which gives it some level of stability.
But how can a newly established state police possess stable roots where the temptation would be for the state executives to create the police force that would be rooted in their preferences. One that would be structured to their selfish inclination such that even after leaving office, they would still exert certain control over it or it would be used as a convenient avenue to give legitimacy to the various militia and political thugs that awash the country by tagging them as State Police. Another challenge is that it could be so constricted in funding that it would lack the prestige and capacity of a police force.
These issues must be avoided if we really want to reap the dividends of having a state policing apparatus. What we need is state police that is so structured and well guided as to prevent it from becoming an instrument of internal subjugation by state executives, and a force that would achieve acceptance from the people irrespective of their religious, cultural or political affiliations.
This cannot be achieved in a hurry or by fiat. The formation of state police has to be a deliberate and cautious journey and to do that, we have to enact federal laws that will guide the formation process at the state level and put in measures that will restrain abuse by state executives or whoever has leverage over the force. Just as a tree earns its stability from its roots, an institution is as stable as its foundation.
To give it capacity, credibility, structure and legitimacy, state police should be formed based on the ability of a state to secure a license from the Federal Government on fulfilment of the underlisted suggested criteria that are not exhaustible.
1. That the state faces a security challenge that requires it to need such a force.
2. That the state can adequately fund such a force by guaranteeing its personnel the same remuneration as those obtained at the federal level.
3. That the state has established the barracks and training facilities for such a force.
4. That the state meets the requirement of maintaining a certain level of manpower recruitment for such a force.
5. That the state meets a quota system recruitment from all-local Government areas and interest groups in the state in establishing the force.
6. That recruitment to such a force be openly advertised and undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Interior on behalf of the state.
7. That the members of the force should attend all relevant policing courses as spelt out by the Police Service Commission as a prerequisite to their promotions.
8. The the Federal Government establish a uniform training school for the training of all members of the State Police force in the country.
9. That the uniform and emblem of such a force must not depict any cultural, political or religious leaning and must be uniform nationwide.
10. That the force must be open to joint training with the Nigerian police and other security agencies.
11. That such a force must have a legal and human right desk that is appointed by the Federal Ministry of Justice of people not from the state.
12. That the Police Service Commission be responsible for the promotion, discipline and sacking of members of the state police.
13. That the head of such a force must meet certain educational and professional criteria and be appointed based on appearing for screening before the National Assembly.
14. That the National Assembly reserves the right to revoke the license of such a force on violating of any of these criteria or when found to operate not at tandem with established laws of the country.
Some of these guidelines are necessary at the initiation stages of state policing in the country to give stability and credibility to the institution of state police and might be discarded as the need for them is no more.
And we can start with one or two states as guinea pigs for a period of 5 years to see how it works in helping our security challenges. As of now, our booming population quartered in unplanned and expanding towns and villages that are compounded by increasing poverty and social contractions make security a big challenge for the Nigerian Police to handle.
So, having state police as a complementing agency in policing the country is a good idea.
Bello Mustapha Kogunan Katagum