I was one of the delegates nominated by the Akwa Ibom State Government to attend the 2014 National Conference convoked by President Goodluck Jonathan. The problems of the country were wide-ranging and deep and the view of most discerning Nigerians was that a national conference of well-informed Nigerians could provide the answers to those problems. Before we departed for the conference, the State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio had briefed us on what should be the main focus of Akwa Ibom delegates.

•President Tinubu

Before I left Lagos for the conference I decided to focus my attention on five subjects that were close to my heart. The five subjects of special interest to me were Press Freedom, Niger Delta and oil politics, Human Rights, Gender Equality and State Police. If I had the opportunity at the conference to choose a committee to belong to it would have to be one that would cover most of my preferred topics. If I wasn’t lucky to find myself in such a committee I would send a memo on any of these topics to a committee that would handle the topic. This was my game plan. I wasn’t going to go there and seek to speak on every topic under the Nigerian sun.

At the conference I was lucky to belong to a committee, Politics and Governance, that covered most of my topics of interest. I was also lucky to have as chairmen of that committee two gentlemen who were fair-minded and generally well disposed to speakers who had interesting ideas to plant at the conference. The men were Professor Jerry Gana and Chief Olu Falae. Apart from press freedom issues and Niger Delta, one of the important issues I was seriously concerned with was the high level of insecurity in the country I thought then as I think now that state police was the key to the solution. So I made my desire to push for the approval of state police clear as soon as our committee was set up. There were also people who were vehemently opposed to state police. One of them was a former Senator and Permanent Secretary. The other was a former Military Governor. Whenever I mentioned state police the former Senator would, in strident opposition to the idea hit the table and say “No State Police.” I had to tell him after a few such displays of crudity that if he hit the table once again I would hit the table three times. Professor Gana sought to bring the altercation to a close by calling on me to make my presentation on state police. I did it as calmly as possible so that I would have the equanimity to deal with those opposed to the subject. When I finished Gana said he wanted to give the opponents of State Police the opportunity to use the weekend for a counter attack on my presentation. He said he would ask me to make the presentation again next week. I used the weekend to do more research on the subject taking into consideration the views of the opponents. The following week I was invited to make my presentation. I did it even more calmly, more thoroughly, than the week before. When I finished Gana asked the Senator who was the main opponent of State Police to speak. He chickened out by simply saying “I yield.” Gana then asked the former Governor to take the floor. He said that his view was that Governors might abuse the use of state police. I asked to be allowed to respond to that. I was allowed and I said that every good idea was capable of being abused if the people allowed the rulers to abuse them. I said that we all had the capacity to oppose such abuses by going to court or by mounting demonstrations with placards or by publishing advertorials in newspapers or by opposing such decision makers in other ways that are democratic and non violent. Our committee debated it and voted for state police. It got approved at plenary too.

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A few days later the committee on National Security submitted its report for discussion and decision at the plenary. The committee headed by Mohammed Gambo Adamu Jimeta, former Inspector General of Police comprised retired senior police officers, retired army generals and other retired senior security personnel. They submitted a report that covered copiously various aspects of our security challenges but they did not recommend anything novel, just a strengthening of the security architecture as it is. They never recommended the establishment of state police. Instead, they told the conference that since their committee was specifically chosen to provide solutions on national security, their recommendations should be accepted as the authentic decisions of the conference. The chairman of the conference and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi said that the decision already taken on State Police was valid and that remained the decision of the conference. Those on the National Security Committee were disappointed but that remained the decision of the conference.

For as long as one can remember state police has always had its opponents and enemies especially among senior police officers, army generals, conservative politicians and federal bureaucrats who believe in the almightiness of the Federal Government and its organs. They believe in the hegemony and indivisibility of the security apparatus. It doesn’t matter to them that Nigeria is the only one out of 25 Federal countries in the world that has only one police force. All the others including United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, India, Belgium etc have multi-level policing.

Those who oppose state police easily ignore the fact that Nigeria is a large country with a population of more than 220 million people. And there are just about 400, 000 policemen in the country. Out of this number about 150, 000 of them are serving big men and big women, carrying for them their handbags, agbadas, geles, wigs, walking sticks and bottles of water and soft drinks. They do many other menial jobs for them, drawing water and hewing wood, washing their clothes and their toilets. Because of this gap  in the number of policemen that are supposed to serve the public the Federal Government has had to deploy soldiers to all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) something that is clearly abnormal in a democracy. Soldiers are only expected to be deployed to assist the police in a situation of serious emergency. Now the presence of soldiers in all states is about to become the norm because of the serious level of insecurity and the low capacity of the police to cope with this grave situation without the help of soldiers.

Now there is serious criminal activity in virtually every state, and in virtually every sector of our economy including but not limited to agriculture, solid minerals and oil and gas sectors. The National Security Adviser Mr Nuhu Ribadu revealed recently that more than 400, 000 barrels of oil are being stolen daily from the Niger Delta. If the thieves are stealing so much of our oil it means they want to take away our major means of livelihood after invading our farmlands and our solid mineral sites.

Eventhough it is belated, the decision by the Federal and State Governments to establish State Police is a welcome one. That is a show of courage and dynamism. That is what can fill the yarsuing security gap especially in the rural communities and in some of our towns and cities because every security problem is local and can only be handled by the locals who know the lay of the land, speak the language of the community and are familiar with the cultural idiosyncracies of their communities.

There are those who think that the State Governments may not have the resources with which to fund State Police. No one truly knows how the Governors spend their security votes. Establishing a police outfit under them will be a way of utilising the money more prudently than hitherto. Besides, all the State Governments spend a lot of their state resources to fund the Nigeria Police Force. In 2021, Lagos State Government spent N3 billion to equip the Nigeria Police and in January this year a philanthropist Chief Femi Otedola donated N1 billion to the Lagos State security Fund. All States are not as rich as Lagos but all states award contracats for various projects in their states. They can establish State security Funds to which their contractors, citizens in Nigeria and Diaspora can contribute. Every State can do a fund raiser and explore various other ways of raising money for the protection of lives and property in their states. Once State Police is in place State Governors will no longer be Generals without troops, Chief Security Officers without security. They will be fully responsible for maintaining security in their states and they can be held responsible for failure to maintain security in their domains.

The establishment of State Police will constitute part of the restructuring of our country into a truly federal state; that will be one small step away from the asphixiating unitary system of government that we are running now which has made us unable to breathe, which is making us to choke like whooping cough patients. Certainly, State Police is the answer to our insecurity wahala once all states decide to implement it with utmost dedication.