Debate about State Police has been a recurrent, controversial and lingering debate in Nigeria. It comes up now and then especially when something significant happens that brings to the fore the inability of the Nigeria Police to live up to its constitutional mandate of protecting life and property.

This debate also reared up, stirring controversy, at the Federal Government Police Reform Committees set up successively under the Obasanjo, Yar ’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan administrations, respectively in 2006, 2008 and 2012. It also featured prominently at the Civil Society Panel on Police Reform in 2012.
It is not in doubt that the Nigeria police force is over-centralized, under-resourced and ill-equipped, and suffers from political interference. Unable or unwilling to ensure public safety, many officers have turned to crime. The federal government which, constitutionally,  has responsibility for the police has been perennially unable to adequately fund the police. In fact, federal government’s funding of the police represents a mere contribution as state governors, corporate entities and individuals have remained the life wire for the police. Therefore, calls for State Police have been recurring. However, some Nigerians express serious fears about the dangers of allowing State Governors, most of whom operate like emperors, to set up State Police in their states. The fears are very well founded, though. When we consider what Ebubeagu, the alternative security outfit set up by the governors of Imo State and Ebonyi State in the Southeast, has been turned into by those governors, or what similar state-established and state-controlled security outfits have been used for in some states in the North, those who oppose state police would be justified.
The debate has reared up once again. This followed the revelation by the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris who briefed journalists after a meeting between President Tinubu and State Governors in Abuja on Thursday, March 15, 2024 stating that State Police was discussed in their meeting. He was quoted as saying that ‘’The Federal Government and the state governments are mulling the possibility of setting up state police.” The Minister explained that the process is still in its infancy and would only take shape after more deliberations between stakeholders.
Whereas the fears of those who oppose state police are founded and they are justified in their opposition to state police, there are also arguments in favor of State police.
Ideally, and if Nigeria is truly operating a federal system and the states are the federating units, the states also ought to have their own state police to enforce state laws just as the states have state – as opposed to Federal – High Courts, as well as state- as opposed to National – Independent Electoral Commission.
It is also our considered view that policing is local and that the most single serious obstacle to police effectiveness is the over centralization rather than ‘’localization’’ or decentralization of the police. There is therefore, the need to localize policing or decentralize policing authority and resources to enhance effectiveness and efficiency. Decentralization can take different forms. State police is one form. But modalities must be put in place to address the genuine concerns expressed by those who oppose it before it can be established in any state. The other is to devolve policing authority and resources to the lower levels of the police from the Force Headquarters, through the Zonal Commands, to the State Commands, to the Area and Divisional Commands. This way, the commanders at those levels would have reasonable autonomy to take initiatives and make decisions without having to refer to the Inspector general of Police at the Force Headquarters, Abuja. Ultimately, the answer to police ineffectiveness, lack of professionalization and deficit in community trust and partnership would be community policing which, by its defining characteristics, is also democratic policing.
Historically, policing in Nigeria started as a local initiative and joint community action devoid of the coercion that characterizes modern policing.
Pre-colonial policing methods were rooted in the community. Customs and beliefs were enforced by such structures as “age grades,” secret societies, and vocational guilds (e.g. hunters, farmers, or blacksmiths). It is important to note that age grades (kinship organizations whose membership is based on a predetermined age range) still exist in many local communities.  Law and order was maintained largely without the use of force.
Colonial police formations engendered a culture of police brutality. Colonial authorities used the police mainly to subjugate local communities, control dissent, and advance British political and economic agenda.
At Independence, Nigeria inherited the institutions and culture of the colonial police.
The Military interrupted Nigeria’s democracy and bestrode Nigeria’s political space from 1966 -1999.
Until 1966, regional and national police forces existed side by side.
In 1966, the Nigerian military seized power and disbanded regional police ‘’due to corruption, poor training, low standards, and political partisanship’’.
The military ruled Nigeria for 29 of Nigeria’s 48 years as an independent state, abusing and militarizing the police in order to sustain authoritarianism.
Patterns of police killings and excessive use of force have been documented by local and international human rights NGOs. Police oblige motorists to stop and then shoot those who refuse to pay bribes.
For the average Nigerian, encounters with the police are negative and public confidence in the force is extremely low.
Regional police forces reflected the federalism of Nigeria. The resort to regional security networks such as Amotekun in the South-West, and similar other regional and state security outfits also reflects, not just loss of confidence in the ability of the Nigeria police, as presently structured, to secure Nigeria, but more importantly, Nigeria’s federalism.  Therefore, States clamoring for state police also reflects the federalism of Nigeria.
The current practice of overcentralizing police control in the hands of the president who could use the police for political purposes, including silencing all opposition voices has proven to be a costly mistake for Nigeria. Often times the police have colluded with groups and taken sides depending on what benefits their political patrons.
The Call for State Police
In its 2012 report, the Civil Society Panel on Police Reform noted that previous government Committees on police reform rejected calls for State police. It noted that some of the reasons giving for such rejection included the claim that local police forces were misused by politicians in the past, or that state police will lead to the break-up of Nigeria in the future. However, the Panel considered these arguments as mere mantras repeated by those who wish to avoid the hard thinking that the issue really requires. The CSO Panel was of the view that Nigeria needs to commence a much more informed debate on the subject, so that a rational and measured decision can be taken, which will, it is hoped, address the concerns raised by those opposed to state police. The Panel also considered that while the experiences of the past are important, they should be used as guides, rather than all-time barriers to the future establishment, composition, operations or control of State police in Nigeria.
In line with the recommendations of the Panel:  Government should establish a committee to work out the modalities for the establishment of State police in states desirous of maintaining state police, with a view to recommending the framework and measures that should be put in place to address the concerns against state police.
State Police should only be established on a basis of strict adherence to the principles of operational autonomy, and be based on sound professional practice in appointment, operations and control.
There should be defined parameters of cooperation which provide that where a state does not fully cooperate with its counterpart or the Federal Police on any matter the Federal Police should take over and deal with the matter as is common in other jurisdictions.
In conclusion, the renewed and ongoing discussion between the Federal Government and the state governments and their reported agreement on the necessity of having state police, is indeed ‘’a significant shift’’ and has brought back to the fore the debate about state police.
Civil society organizations should initiate engagement with the legislature to conduct informed debates in partnership with the media, towards amending the Constitution to allow for the establishment of State police and also produce a bill that will guarantee the establishment of independent and professional state police services.
Okechukwu Nwanguma is the  Executive Director, the Rule of Law And Accountability Advocacy Centre  (RULAAC) 
February 16, 2024
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