Confronted with regional and local policing initiatives amid an unprecedented level of insecurity nationwide, the Federal Government continues to respond with obfuscation. Two recent federal interventions in state and regional community policing measures; one earmarking N13.3 billion to kick-start centralised “coordination” and the other, seeking to confer authority on the Inspector-General of Police to determine the “structure” of local security outfits, are contradictory, intrusive and retrogressive. Undeterred, states and the regional blocs should forge ahead; arm, equip and train their various security units to halt the rampant lawlessness in their territories.
Without mincing words, central government control of community police contradicts the concept of devolution of policing. Globally, community policing is an integral component of policing in federal jurisdictions, but the Muhammadu Buhari regime is going about it the wrong way. It is another attempt to entrench further the current failed centralised structure that local policing aims to correct. Community policing as the name implies, is a strategy of policing centred on binding ties between law enforcement and local communities with emphasis on police “building relationships with local agencies and creating partnerships and strategies to reduce and prevent crime.” A local function, it is has gained currency across the world. It has been found to reduce crime rates. Singapore witnessed a nine-year decline after introducing community policing.
Protection of lives and property is the primary function of a state. Yet, in the face of a level of insecurity unheard of since independence, politics, ethnic hegemony and regional considerations continue to hamper the ability of Nigeria to adopt rational solutions.
The Federal Government’s response to agitation for decentralised policing is emblematic; its resistance to the imperative of state and localised policing has been fierce. Since the South-West regional policing initiative, code-named Operation Amotekun, especially, was launched in January, the Federal Government and the Nigeria Police have been erecting roadblocks on its path. In its latest angst, the government said it was providing N13.3 billion and would work out modalities on the operations of community policing across the country. A presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, further muddied the waters when he said Amotekun and similar outfits would “be streamlined” and “run in accordance with the structure as defined by the IGP.” Ridiculously, the Presidency said, “The community policing structure will be the same across the 36 states and whatever would not conform with the national structure would not be in the scheme of things.” Rightly, however, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, among other stakeholders, have insisted that the regional outfits would not be under federal control.
The Buhari regime, lacking the creativity and the political will to maintain law and order, is behaving like a dog in a manger. It appears to be motivated by mischief, subversion of local initiative and desperation to sustain the aberrant single police system that has failed woefully and pushed the country further down the path of state failure.
Really, the costs of backing down or watering down the viable option will be too shocking. Already, while the Presidency is confused about how to curb violent crime across the country, bandits are relentlessly shedding innocent blood. At least 2,732 persons were reported killed in 33 states between April and June this year, while they slaughtered 1,460 persons in the first seven months of 2019, the government admitted. Armed robbery, kidnapping, gangland wars, cultism and random violence are commonplace in the urban centres and the hinterland. Nowhere is safe!
The single police system decreed by the basic law has foundered. Underfunded, ill-equipped, under-manned, corrupt and inefficient, the Nigeria Police compounds the problem by assigning up to two-thirds of its personnel to bodyguard and escort duties for a few. So stretched are its personnel that only 30 cops are available in the rural areas of Katsina State, according to Governor Aminu Masari. A survey by SBM Intelligence showed that the military now has a presence in 35 states of the federation, evidence of the overwhelming of the police.
The state governors must take the security of their people more seriously. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration on Human Right states that everyone has a right to life, liberty and security. Therefore, the first duty of the government is to afford protection to its citizens. The IG’s ridiculous suggestion that states will fund the rudderless, ill-defined federal community policing project should be rejected.
Instead of searching for an effective approach to mitigate the effects of a centralised police system, the Presidency is desperate to consolidate it. Suggesting uniformity in structure and funding of community policing is antithetical. The demands of policing riverine Bayelsa State with its 10,773 square kilometres and 2.27 million persons cannot be the same with semi-arid Zamfara, 39,762 sq km, population of 4.51 million, a cattle and artisanal mining economy that borders Niger Republic and is beset by banditry. Policing industrialised Lagos, with its estimated 21 million people and urban sprawl requires different organisation from community policing in terror and insurgency-afflicted rural Borno State. America’s New York City has the world’s largest local police force with 36,228 officers serving its 18.8 million people, while Lockville, Minnesota, with a population of 61,581 and low crime rate, has 55 police officers. Nigeria’s woolly federal “community policing” seeks to recruit 50 “special constables” in each of the 774 LGs as if they had the same population, terrain and urbanisation or crime challenges!
The obstructionist policies must stop. Community policing, says the UN, targets “problem-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing.” This contrasts with traditional reactive policing. Community policing is preventive, based on concepts like the “broken windows” where the cops, conversant with and accepted by the locals, effectively contain petty crimes and thereby prevent deviants graduating into more serious crimes. A project by the Journal of Experimental Criminology found 80 percent greater satisfaction in 23 US communities after community policing was introduced. The US Department of Justice does not interfere with the running of the country’s 17,985 police forces; it restricts itself to advising, collaboration and subventions. Its suggested roadmap based on the three Ps of community policing — people, policies and processes — leveraging on increased deployment of technology and intelligence, have been widely adopted. After experiencing spikes in urban crime and riots, 81 percent of Brazil’s population where policing is devolved, is now reportedly served by community-based law enforcement. Community policing has been accelerating in European Union member countries with guidelines emphasising adaptation to the cultures, languages, terrain and challenges in different communities.
Nigeria should reform. The centralised policing system must give way to the rational, practical option of state and local policing, the natural order in a federal polity. The states should press forward resolutely with regional and state initiatives as well as community policing. The practice in other federal systems is that the federal government collaborates where needed and supports local policing on mutually agreed terms, with training, subventions, research and equipment. The Indian Police Service, by the consent of the 28 states and eight union territories, provides training support for local police forces.
For now, the federal security agencies should not be seen to be working at cross-purposes with state or regional security initiatives. Each unit of Amotekun is established by a valid law. Under the rule of law, it is given that a statute is not subject to the whims and caprices of any individual. Amotekun should, therefore, be run in strict adherence to its enabling law and no more. If the centre can look the other way while religious police hold sway in some states, other states and sub-regions should muster the iron resolve to overcome federal obduracy and arrogance and do everything possible to protect their people from deadly criminal gangs.