Last week, I started a discussion on the implausibility of giving the imprimatur for the establishment of state police. Most people agreed with me, but there were two dissenting views that, I think, I should respond to. The two differing voices offered the same logic, basically. If states are allowed to have their own policemen, they said, then, the prospect of a mutually assured destruction would keep both the federal government and state governments in check. This deduction is not only wrong, it is dangerous.
The first question I would like to ask the proponents of that course of thought is: why would they want to place the central government and state governments on the same pedestal in terms of possession of the cohesive power of the state? Why would anyone want a state government to be able to challenge the central government with force? To which school of government do these people belong? Simply because we have had an irresponsible federal government in the past does not mean we should lose our own sense of right and wrong as well. This quality of reasoning reminds me of the kind of silly arguments the anti-gun control lobby in the United States offers that has made the United States one of the most dangerous countries to live in. Almost every week – including last week – you hear of one sick person or the other waking up on the wrong side and just feeling like shooting as many people as he can get simply because, legally, anybody can get into a store and buy a gun, pretty much the same way the rest of us walk into a store to buy toiletries.
The NRA, National Rifle Association, the very rich and powerful United States lobby group that forcefully (with all the money in this world of course) insists that there should not be any controls on the sale of assault rifles, has successfully and unreasonably blocked every attempt to legislate against easy access to arms. NRA’s reasoning is that the best way to check indiscriminate killings in America (like the recent killing of 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years in a Connecticut elementary school) is for everyone to own a gun. That kind of very stupid logic is what makes people like Piers Morgan, the host of Piers Morgan Live on CNN, crazy on TV sometimes. I hope that the NRA doesn’t get its way because I don’t know who would want to live in a country where everyone owns a gun and ready to shoot the next person.
The reasoning of a section of Nigeria’s pro-state police group is not different from that of the American NRA, given our current state of affairs. State and county police work in the United States precisely because the rule of law applies to everyone including the president. When we get to that point when the rule of law works (and I hope this would be very soon) – where a commissioner of police can refuse to carry out the instruction of the president because it is an unlawful order, and where the president and governors know their limits and therefore would not give crude and unconstitutional orders – that would be the right time to start talking about state police. I strongly believe that time will come sooner than most of us think.
And those who hold this view also forget that an irresponsible president (and we have had a handful) could get the Nigerian army and the air force to bomb or destroy state police locations in states where he thought he needed to “defeat” his opponent governor. In other words, if Rivers State, for instance, had its own state police, they would certainly have engaged the federal police in Port Harcourt in defence of their principal, and if the federal police were not winning the war fast enough, the president could have deployed the army and air force to rout Amaechi’s state police. As I write this piece, the DPO of Asokoro police station is unlawfully breaking into the meeting of G7 governors at the Kano State governor’s lodge. He said he had been asked by powers from above to stop the meeting. The DPO did not care that a governor has immunity and that he (DPO) doesn’t have the power to disrupt a meeting of several governors. Even if they were not governors, our laws guarantee the right to freedom of political association to all Nigerians. Doesn’t the DPO know that? But the DPO obviously could not refuse an unlawful order from a superior – whoever that was. Democracy is always about the rule of law. As was expected, the ADC to the Kano State governor and a few other ADCs engaged the DPO in a shouting match. The rest is now history.
The only way out is for Nigerians to start ensuring that only responsible people are voted into power. For now, what we really need is to strengthen and modernise our police force. The current police force is not useful to the country. They are useful only to Jonathan. We currently have 370,000 poorly paid policemen and women for a population of 173 million people. This is scandalously inadequate, considering the crime rate in the country. These 370,000 policemen and women are some of the least paid police personnel in the world, ill-equipped with little incentives to do a good job. We recently saw the inner recesses of a typical police training college but, since then, the president has done nothing. In any case, there’s always never going to be any improvement with President Jonathan.
We need to expand the police force in Nigeria to at least one million well-trained officers and men. Many of our unemployed graduates could be pushed to form a new police force that is totally different from what we currently have. Nigeria at the moment suffers about 80 per cent graduate unemployment. It is one of the worst in the world. Police people also need to be properly equipped with modern facilities. The weapons our police officers use today are the same ones they used in the 1960s and the 1970s. This is wonderful. Salaries in the police force must also substantially move up if we want policemen to confront armed robbers, kidnappers and Boko Haram operatives who are always better armed and infinitely better motivated. We also cannot be serious with the current standard of police intelligence resources that we have. It is the same we have had since the 1960s. It is shameful and beyond the pale that the Nigerian police have not been able to unravel any major crime or assassination since the coming of civilian rule in 1999. Not the murder of Bola Ige, Harry Marshal and several others that have happened in the last 13 years. There is no decent country that is run this way. If the current police intelligence capability is not upped, we should forget everything. The world of today is totally different from what we used to know. Today’s world is defined by terrorism and the internet and all nations including Nigeria need new skills to cope with the realities.
In all this, it is corruption that has ensured that our police force remain in its present prostrate state. For a long time, the police have not received up to 20 per cent of their appropriated budgets. And a large chunk of even the little that is received is diverted by the police high command. A former IG of police is currently buying up choice houses in Abuja and London, yet nobody is asking questions. Tafa Balogun, another former IG, had billions of naira in his account. All these former IGs got corrupted by the presidents they served, as the presidents always suborned them into carrying out illegal instructions against their political opponents. It’s usually during elections or when a president like Obasanjo or Jonathan wants to illegally remove a governor with four out of 32 House of Assembly members that such police chiefs get that “lucky”.
If we really want to have a good police force, the first place to start is with the choice of who becomes president. President Jonathan has nothing to offer in this discussion. That is why 2015 offers the opportunity for a new beginning.
Jonathan And His Legacies
President Jonathan has lately been speaking about legacies and criticisms. As for criticisms, he has made it clear that he doesn’t care. That is not new anyway as he has consistently told us he doesn’t give a damn. But I am surprised that he is thinking very seriously about leaving good legacies. It’s something of an oxymoron for a president who doesn’t give a damn about corruption to give a damn about his legacies. If Jonathan were really serious in his recent talk of leaving behind credible legacies, it would be either that he doesn’t know the spelling of legacy or he doesn’t know the spelling of corruption. So far, the only legacies he would be leaving behind are corruption, oil theft and a disorderly polity. He would be leaving behind a country begging for reconstruction. He has a chance to change all that if he changes himself today. But does he give a damn?