Posted by News Express | 14 November 2013 | 4,669 times
The issue of state police has for some time now stirred much debate across Nigeria. In this interview with News Express, frontline rights activist, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, a former Federal Commissioner with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), explains why state police is imperative for Nigeria.
News Express: What is your assessment of the security challenges affecting the daily activities of the government and the people?
Onwubiko: The insecurity, a situation of breakdown of law and order all across the country, is disturbing. It has almost reached a near state of anarchy in some parts of Nigeria. In the entire north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, parts of Taraba and even in the middle belt, the type of security challenge that people face in those areas is quite enormous and it is high time that all hands must be on deck to check this trend. The reason why it is imperative that both the government and members of the public are sufficiently mobilised and sensitised to play their roles collectively to see that Nigerians live in peace and tranquility is that when you have a situation where there is a total absence of peace, where there is anarchy, lawlessness and unprecedented violence, including fear of the unknown, it is quite difficult to attract any meaningful investment. Nobody will like to hold his or her life savings in an environment that is not peaceful; every investor will like to put his or her money in a very peaceful and tranquil environment where they can maximise profit and turn over on their investment.
Nigeria is at a very terrible stage when it comes to employment opportunities, for over 80% of our populace and over 90% of the younger populace in Nigeria are out of job. So opportunities for wealth redistribution in Nigeria are shrinking by the day and this high state of insecurity and tensed atmosphere all over the country has not helped to ameliorate the economic hardship that Nigerians face. This insecurity is not really a problem in the north alone, even in the southern Nigeria, we have manifestations of other crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping. The young girls are living like endangered species in the hands of the lawless male adults who are on the rampage, raping, maiming and destroying young girls. That also constitutes a very serious security challenge.
Over time, government has been doing so much with regard to security. Do you think they are really on top of the situation?
Government has not done anything serious in tackling insecurity in Nigeria. Government has just been shouting in the media that they are doing so much but they have just done an aspect which is physically confronting armed terrorists that they can identify by sending soldiers to confront those armed insurgents in the parts of northern Nigeria. Government has also declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. These are hot beds of terrorism and government has adopted military tactics to seek to crush these terrorists but that is where it has ended. That is not a sustainable way to fight insecurity in any country that desires to build a vibrant democracy. The most efficient strategy for fighting high crime rates is for the security infrastructure of the country to be modernised and upgraded to become sophisticated. It basically lies on the capacity and the ability of members of the armed forces of that particular country to see that the operatives of the Nigerian Army, Police and other security personnel to be adequately trained and equipped to be able to track terrorists before they strike. That is the best way to solve terrorism in the country – by having a very effective intelligence-driven security mechanism; it is a very workable way of solving these challenges and most importantly, you cannot reduce insecurity.
You cannot check crimes and criminality in Nigeria if the present near comatose state of our judiciary is allowed to continue. In a situation where several violent criminals are arrested because of one thing or the other, because of total absence of the needed manpower or resources for proper science-driven investigation, these people end up being set free in the court of law because Nigerian lacks modern and 21st century compliance DNA-testing facilities and equipment. As a matter of fact, the Nigeria Police Force lacks all these; it is indeed empty. It is just almost close to the Boys Brigade we used to have in time past and that is the reason we have high crime rate and we must get those basic things in order for Nigeria to retain her right of place in anti-crime strategies.
Do you think that the security agencies in the country are carrying Nigerians along in the fight against criminality and terrorism?
No, they do not do that. They tried to make efforts to see how they can improve the military-civilian relationship in the last couple of weeks. You will observe that the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army has staged series of workshops and interface talk shops between some stakeholders, civil service communities and the military, to see how they can fashion out a more sustainable military-civilian kind of relationship but that is not enough, that is just cosmetic and certainly not the best way to go about it. The best way is for the governments to re-organise the Nigeria Police Force to ensure that high premium is placed on recruiting Nigerians that are among the best in their respective fields of endeavours. The police need to be sufficiently staffed with people who have the academic wherewithal, who are able to withstand a 21st century crime strategies because the criminals we have presently in Nigeria seem to be more advanced academically than the police that are chasing after them. It will not be balanced if the police forces are filled with bunch of illiterates who ran into the Police Force as a form of last resort. The police force in Nigeria ought not to be the way it is presently; it is just like a source of employment, an avenue to provide meals for people who do not have self confidence. The Nigeria Police Force is supposed to be modeled after the police institutions that we have in the United Kingdom and America where we have some of the best brains joining the institutions. If we have a police force that is equipped and made up of people that are educated and morally sound, and crime free individuals, you will begin to have greater interaction and greater trust from the civil populace.
I guess this is where the government comes in. Why do you think they have not duly equipped the police force even when the country can afford it?
I think Nigeria, for over 50 years, has never practised good governance. We have never had a government that paid greater respect to the principles of accountability and transparency. If we have had this opportunity of building anti-graft institutions that will monitor how public expenditures are incurred, and managed, we would not have gotten to this stage that we are in whereby we now have a near collapsed Nigeria Police Force. It was this same kind of lawless scenario and indiscipline and lack of supervisory mechanism on the part of the government and oversights that have allowed the police to deteriorate to this sorry state up to the point that not too long ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu successfully arrested a serving Inspector General of Police in the person of Mr. Tafa Balogun, who was convicted by an Abuja High Court for theft of over 19 billion naira belonging to the Nigeria Police Force. So it is not as though the Nigeria Police Force is so financially constrained but even the little that is provided for the upkeep of the Nigerian Police have disappeared into the private pockets of the hierarchy. Thus it is a question of having an effective mechanism for checks and balances and the National Assembly is expected to cover this yawning gap; they are constitutionally empowered to play the oversight role but, unfortunately, it appears the members of the National Assembly are not living up to expectation. The respective police committees that they have as representatives in the senate are expected by Nigerians to keep the Police officers on their toes to ensure that whatever money released for the upkeep of the police is actually spent for the purpose.
As it is presently, that kinds of strict adherence to the rules of financial disbursements at the level of Nigerian Police is equally absent to the extent that even the pension funds created through the contributions of serving police officers who had hoped that when they retire, they would be able to get some kind of payment as pensions from what they have saved overtime, a total of over 32 billion naira was said to have been stolen just by one person – not to talk about other billions of naira that have been entering into the pockets of other persons in very high offices; even a serving permanent secretary was recently indicted and prosecuted for the disappearance of billions of naira belonging to the Nigerian Police Pension. So you can see that the Nigeria Police Force is not broke; what they lack is discipline. Also, the Nigerian polity as a whole is yet to see the anti-graft agency that is independent, effective and proactive and that is fearless because if we have this kind of agency, you will see that the Nigeria Police could be professionally run.
President Jonathan has promised to improve the welfare of the police personnel . . .
Well, it is a welcome development. The President of the country, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, is the man that gives the final directives through the Inspector General of Police on how to enforce rule and order in Nigeria. Thus, if he has suddenly realised that the police needs improved welfare, I think it is a good statement. However, we have had similar statements being made by previous presidents over time, so Nigerians now know better that some of these statements are mere political statements that are not marked by commitments and political office holders have not shown enough political will power to mark their words with actions thus Nigerians are waiting to see that the president marches his words with actions.
A lot has been going on the issue of state policing; what is your take on that?
One of the effective ways of resolving the insecurity problems that we face in Nigeria is for us to look at the possibility of experimenting with state police being used by some of the developed economies of the world. We gained our independence from the British colonial masters and most of the things that we do are borrowed from abroad, including the presidential system of government. In some ways, even the Americans have the state police, and even though crime is very high in America, you will agree with me that the efficiency of the law enforcement is second to none in that country. It is same in Britain where they have the Metropolitan Police. If the presidential system of government that they practise in America is good enough for us, why will the state police that they practice not be good for us, too?
People who are opposed to creation to state police do not really have any point. Another major point is that for over 50 years, we have had only one single national policing institution. How have we fared in matters of law enforcement? Zero. The President has acknowledged that some of the policemen that we have are not even trained properly. We all recall how shocked the President was when he found out the state of the Police Collage in Ikeja, Lagos. Some of the police recruits were sitting on the bare floor while some of them did not even have toilets and these are the same people we are expecting to guard against crimes effectively in the nation? It does not go that way, which is the reason we have a high rate of extra-judicial killings. These people are not properly trained on how to handle weapons, thus slightest provocation make them to open fire on the innocent Nigerians and that is why lots of suspects in police custody are unjustly killed because the police do not have adequate implements that will aid them to carry out good investigations. Thus, state policing for now looks like the only way police deficiency could be handled.
Do you think that the states can handle all that go with state policing?
Yes, they can. This is one of the ways to correct the present anomaly in the country, whereby we practise confederation and claiming to be a federation. We are just lying to ourselves, else how come a community that is so endowed with mineral resources and crude oil would be the most disadvantaged, and the most under-developed and grossly marginalised part if the country, whereas other parts of the country that do not have this kind of mineral resources are doing relatively well? It is because we have a distorted kind of federalism. What stops the Nigerian federalism from allowing the Nigerian communities to control their resources and pay their kind of limited royalties in form of taxes to the federal government as it is practised in the US? So we must have to restructure our revenue sharing mechanism and introduce a legal framework to allow for resource control.
The yuletide is gradually approaching. Are you of the view that the police is ready to tackle the criminal activities this yuletide?
They are not ready. We do not have a working police force in Nigeria. What we have is a ceremonial police who are busy carrying handbags for the wives of the governors and wives of the local government chairmen. That is all they do. They are also busy caging some people who are seen as opposition elements to the President. They are best at stopping the G-7 Governors that oppose the government thus they are only there to service the powers that be in Abuja so we do not even have a police force. So for this yuletide, we are going to see the same kind of stop and search mechanism that they use to extort money from people, especially those of us that will travel home to the East for holidays. They should be ready to encounter a bunch of people who just wear uniform as Nigeria Police that are ready to extort money from the people and this must stop especially if we hope to avoid a revolt in Nigeria because Nigeria will get to a point where they will say no to all these extortionist practice by the Nigerian Police. This also is one of the reasons why we have terrorism going on in the North because they felt that the police harassed, intimidated and killed one of their members. So if the Nigeria Police Force is not better structured, then the illegal activities of the police operatives could cause a revolution in the near future.
•Photo shows Onwubiko.
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