BY SAM OTTI
The clamor for a new security apparatus in Nigeria that would wrestle to the ground the vicious monsters of crime has been ringing like a church bell. Sadly, successive leaderships in Nigerian chose to cock their ears to this deafening sound. Not even the disquiet caused by the spreading ills like kidnapping, robbery, violence, cattle rustling, terrorism, gun-running and other nefarious activities of our modern time could spur our leaders to initiate an appropriate response.
When Bayo Ohu of the Guardian newspaper was shot dead by assassins in his Egbeda home, Lagos on September 20, 2009, I was asked by my editor, Abdulfatah Oladeinde, to relocate to Egbeda for around- the- clock report for The Sun newspaper, Nigeria’s undisputed king of tabloid.
Alhaji, as we popularly called him, instructed me to nose for news around the premises and never to return to the newsroom each day without a new angle to the story.
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I lived up to my editor’s expectation when I got an exclusive account of how the hoodlums shot the victim at close range and celebrated their bloody conquest saying, Oloriburuku Atiku (meaning that the fool has died). That made screaming headline in The Sun.
Aside the media blitz of the horrific incident, the award-winning Sun Crime Editor, Christopher Oji and I covered the Service of Songs for the slain journalist, where the former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) renewed the call for State Police to curtail the rising criminality in the country. Fashola’s call was reported widely in national dailies, but this patriotic call got lost in a decade of silence.
Several other prominent Nigerians including the incumbent Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, had boldly canvassed for the creation of State Police in the country. He argued that State Police remains an effective way to secure a big federation like Nigeria, with over 198m people, according to the 2019 population estimate.
Daily Trust reports that Osinbajo made the call in 2019, while speaking at an event tagged, ‘Hard Talk’, an interactive evening of discourse with Muslim Professionals held in Lagos. Osinbajo argued convincingly that controlling the police across the country from a central location could be counter-productive.
“You need to have ahead of the police who are familiar with the community…That is why policing everywhere is local and it just has to be local, that is why state police is possibly the long term option.”
Aside f romOsinbajo, other notable Nigerians had at various times endorsed the option of State Police as an effective strategy to curb the wave of insecurity ravaging the country. Statesmen like the former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and several others had at various times spoken in favour of State Police. In fact, IBB made it clear that the fears entertained in certain quarters that the State Governors could misuse the State Police to hunt their political rivals were unfounded.
So, the big question remains, “Why are our leaders afraid of creating state police? Why are we scared of restructuring the country and implementing true fiscal federalism?” I could still remember how my ‘big media boss’ sent me to interview a US-returnee pastor residing at the outskirt of Ogun State some years ago. The pastor (names withheld) disclosed how he wrote a letter to Obasanjo a few weeks after he was released from prison, informing him that God has chosen him to become Nigerian president. A few weeks to Obasanjo’s inauguration, the Pastor said he wrote a second letter telling Obasanjo that God said his government has been hijacked.
At a time no one ever thought of having Jonathan as President, the Pastor saw the future and foretold the rise to power of somebody from the minority tribe, specifically from the South-South, with the sole mission of implementing TRUE FISCAL FEDERALISM. Jonathan came but failed to implement true fiscal federalism. An attempt to discuss salient national issues in a national conference ended in the political brouhaha.
One begins to marvel at the height of political intrigues, and the glaring willingness to maintain the status quo in a federation reeking with defective structures. I have often wondered why our leaders continue to shy away from the demand for restructuring or implementing true fiscal federalism but chose to run in circles.
Security lies at the heart of Nigerian federalism. We cannot continue with the present security arrangement and expect an entirely new result.
The southeast Geopolitical Zone Security Summit was held yesterday, with southeast Governors endorsing the NPF community policing model. Rome has spoken. No objection allowed!
Earlier last year, I sent a message to the Enugu State Governor, an amiable political leader, calling for a security summit in the state to address the rising security challenges in Enugu. The Governor responded swiftly, assuring me that Enugu remains one of the safest states in the country. He took the time to explain the measures he adopted to ensure the security of lives and property even in my own area, Uzo Uwani LGA. He was faultless in his presentation. He spoke like the real commander in charge of his territory. I saw reasons with him but disagreed with his position that the Community Neighbourhood Watch was a feasible security approach. I had argued that leaving the security of local communities in the feeble hands of poorly-equipped, poorly remunerated, and highly untrained Neighbourhood Watch personnel was akin to hunting an elephant with a broomstick.
I took it up with the Governor a few days before the South East Security Summit, urging him to rally support among fellow southeast Governors for a regional security outfit backed by relevant laws. I am aware of the ‘visibility policing’ approach adopted years back, where Frank Mba argued brilliantly that deploying large numbers of policemen on the streets and major roads would drive criminals into their holes. But that never happened.
With a community policing approach, it goes beyond knowing one’s neighbour. What are the crime prevention strategies that would make community policing work? In my country home, members of the Enugu State Neighbourhood Watch are poorly equipped to fight crime. Visit Ugbene Ajima, Abbi, Nrobo, Nimbo and other communities in Uzo Uwani, it takes as long as two hours to access a police station. There is no single police post in several communities. So, what platform will Community Policing leverage on to function? In a country of close to 200m people, how many policemen do we have? In line with global practice, what is the ratio of citizens versus the Police? What is the total budget for the security agencies and how much is disbursed on procurement of work tools? I believe that divesting these roles would help in managing the budget and improving the ratio of policemen on duty.
It is obvious that the Amotekun, a child of necessity, has come to stay in the South West. The handwriting on the wall is clear. No sane man goes to bed with his roof on fire. In the north, the Sharia Police in some states and the Civilian JTF in areas contending with insurgency, are evidence of self-help. One would have expected the proliferation of security outfits across the country to jostle our leaders to action to initiate a broader approach to address the issue.
While I commend the police for being steadfast in fighting crime, it is obvious that the force is overwhelmed, and its lackluster performance now places the force in the reclusive shadows of public doubt.
The Parliament had in recent times made strident calls on Mr. President to address the nation’s security challenges. Beyond the flowery presentations at the hallowed Chambers, Nigerian desirously expect these lawmakers to hit the gavel approving the creation of State police and a further amendment to the nation’s constitution.
We need to take a closer look at the United States, whose model of federalism we practice in Nigeria. Security should be the business of State Governors as well, and not making them lapdogs in their respective domain. An enabling law allowing state police to run the green lines while the federal police parade the red lines would reduce crime and ensure effectiveness in service delivery. Police Service Commission should be saddled with the additional responsibility of harmonising the activities of both the Federal and State Police formations. That is the way forward.
For those that would label me a bloody civilian and question my credentials in security matters, I owe them one reply: ‘It is my duty’. The security of lives and property is everyone’s business. So, if I can’t carry the guns, I will fire with my pen. And if I can’t fight with the pen, I must speak with my mouth.
Silence is no longer golden. The right of citizenship bestows on all of us the collective responsibility of never keeping silent in a season of anomie.