President Muhammadu Buhari has recently restated his opposition to state governments having their own police. According to the president, state governors are not only guilty of causing an imbalance in their domain; they could also abuse state police.

Affirming that state police is not an option, the president flayed the relationship between local government and the governors. According to him, those at the third tier of government are not getting what they are supposed to get constitutionally.

In 2019, Buhari had also opposed the idea of state police, saying that the states might not be able to shoulder the burden of paying the police just as they were not also paying their workers. His recipe for effective security in the localities is to revert to traditional rulers because they know members of their communities.

The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) has also expressed support for the president, saying that state police was a recipe for disaster. According to the group, state governors may just latch onto the state police to set up militias that will hound their opponents and help them in rigging elections.

Nevertheless, many individuals and groups, such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, and Middle Belt Forum (MBF) have opposed the President on the state police issue. The MBF, for instance, said one of the aspects of true federalism was partial autonomy on some issues, such as policing by federating units. The group said that state police would eventually come to fruition.

The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, noted recently that there must be multi-level policing and that it was a fallacy to say that state governors didn’t have the resources to fund it. The South West governors, for instance, rallied round to provide funds, operational vehicles and other logistics for Amotekun, the regional security network.

Ironically, state governors are regarded as the chief security officers of their states. But security agents are not answerable to them. The drama that played out recently between the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) in Magodo, Lagos, is a typical example of such contradiction. The CSP, Abimbola Oyewole, openly disobeyed an order given by Sanwo-Olu to the police to vacate Magodo Estate.      

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This is why the South West governors spoke against the current centralisation of the policing system in Nigeria. Ondo State Governor and Chairman of South West Governors Forum, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), said “an arrangement which compels the governor to seek clarifications on security issues in his jurisdiction from totally extraneous bodies or persons is a sure recipe for anarchy.”

Similarly, 17 southern governors in their meeting in Asaba, last year, canvassed the creation of state police. Expressing displeasure with the frightening state of insecurity in the country, the governors noted that the progress of the nation required that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure Nigeria to berth evolution of state police and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance commitment to and practice of true federalism.

The truth is that Amotekun, Hisbah, Ebubeagu and others are signs that Nigeria is ripe for state police. There should be layers of policing in a federation like ours. It is in line with global best practices where the policing system is decentralised. The United States, for instance, has more than four layers of policing.

Since every crime is local, it is imperative that the people of an area should control crime in their area. This will ensure adequate security. A federal police officer may not be conversant with the local culture and peculiarities of the area he is supposed to police. The argument that state governors will abuse state police is not enough excuse. Even the Federal Government has abused the police and other security agencies as well.

Advantages of state police far outweigh its disadvantages. In the First Republic, Nigeria had several layers of policing, in spite of the abuses. If the Nigeria Police Force as presently constituted were effective enough, the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, would not have asked Nigerians recently to arm and defend themselves. Besides, the current numerical strength of the federal police put at less than 400,000 personnel is far below the United Nations recommendation of 1:400 police-to-person ratio. The creation of state police will fill this gap. However, there should be laws to check abuses at that level of policing.

As the National Chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, rightly stated, “Nigerians should remind President Buhari that people evolve and societies evolve. Therefore, being trapped in a time capsule of the past about state police is not an option Nigerians are willing to accept from him.” State police is an idea whose time has come. There is no way Nigeria can be safe without state policing.