True federalism and the question of state police

Going by the amount of ink, paper, time and saliva already dissipated in the current debates on the desirability or otherwise of state police in Nigeria, it is more than clear that people are raising issues about the over-centralization of the institution of policing as well as the almighty figure of the federal republic of Nigeria.

The whole picture shows a powerful or an almighty centre at whose mercy good things of life can only filter to even the people at the local government councils. After all, if the centre determines how much goes to the state and local government authorities, the hopes of people would not be misplaced if they lay their trust about security on the power from the centre. The federal authority is so powerful that it can, at will, dictate what should be done or should not be done at the other two tiers of government. This raises the question of distinction between federalism and Unitarism.

In a federal system, power is shared among the three tiers of government. In planning such a federal state, the power of the country is divided under the Exclusive list, Concurrent list as well as the Residual list, with each of the arms knowing and observing its limitations, bounds and scope. If such a society is attained, the federal level would have been divested of much of the power that it holds in the contemporary Nigeria. Such powers would have been properly placed on the shoulders of states and some of them perhaps, on the shoulders of the local government authorities. In such a society, the presidency, the national assembly or the inspector general of police would not be the ones to send down rules and policies from a supposed far and high Mount Aso Rock.

From the looks of things, the Nigerian state, contrary to the spirit of true federalism, seems to be governed as a unitary state in which power is exercised under one direct authority from the centre. In a unitary political formation, initiation and execution of rules, laws and policies will come from the centre. Any other organ apart from the centre can only be seen to be implementing the decisions as directed from above.

The fact that the Nigerian federalism is being practiced in a unitary form may be partly explained by the fact of long history of military rule in the post independence history of Nigeria. The military arrangement could not tolerate any distribution of power among the constituent units. At this period of what scholars would call ‘militarized civil government’ in the post independence history of Nigeria, the civilians themselves could not imagine how the centre would leave some powers in the hands of the states and local government authorities, especially when such states and local government authorities might be in the hands of the opposition parties.

This brings us to the quest for state police in Nigeria. Those who oppose state police and opt for central police in Nigeria may have their points, but the fact remains that in a truly federal state, an executive governor of a state who is supposed to be the chief executive and the chief security or accounting officer of the state would be made to have control over the police command in his or her domain. He should not be subjected to the dictate of the inspector general, through the commissioner of police, in the maintenance of law and order in areas under his or her jurisdiction.

The argument that if given the privilege, the state governors would abuse the power against oppositions does not hold water. In the first instance, it should not be seen as a privilege. It is supposed to be part of the instrument of power guaranteed the governors through the federalist constitution. Concerning the objection based on possible abuse of power by the governors against the oppositions, there is no evidence that the federal government as epitomized by the president and the ruling party cannot equally abuse police power against oppositions. In actual fact, there is preponderance of examples that the federal government at different periods in the different regimes had demonstrated flagrant abuses of the power of police to subdue governors of states belonging to the oppositions.

While it may be true that the power to hold the country together against breakdown of law and order should ultimately reside in the kit of the president and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, it does not follow that the monitoring of the day to day security of component states should be the exclusive prerogative of the government at the centre. The failure of such attempts can be clearly seen in the various forms of crises that have been raising their ugly heads in different regions and states of the Nigerian federation. Many of such needless crises and crimes would have been carefully prevented and avoided by policemen that are indigenes of the different localities who have clear knowledge of their terrains of operation.

Credit –  Kehinde Salami  (Professor of Philosophy, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife)