Who should control the police: The President or governors?

  • Femi Falana (A Senior Advocate of Nigeria)

Section 214 of the constitution established the Nigeria Police Force to maintain law and order in the country. It is the only police force in the country. Contrary to the general belief, it is not a federal government police force, but a police force for the federation.

The NPF is headed by the Inspector-General of Police, unlike the armed forces which are headed by the President. On the appointment of the IG, the President is required to consult with the Nigeria Police Council. The Nigeria Police Council is constituted by the President, IG, Police Service Commission Chairman and the 36 state governors.

The IG has the power to grant licences to people to bear arms. What stops a state governor from applying for 10,000 licences for a security outfit set up to guard the people resident in a particular state?  If the IG refuses to grant the licenses, his decision can be challenged. From time to time, oil companies recruit security personnel and send them to police colleges for training. They are known as spy police. If private companies can have their security personnel trained by the police, why have state governments failed to take advantage of such opportunities?

Section 214 (1) of the constitution, which provides for the establishment of the NPF, has banned any other police force in the federation or any part thereof. But in violation of the provision, the National Assembly has set up the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to exercise the powers of the NPF. Other agencies of the Federal Government, whose operatives have been permitted to bear arms, include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt  Practices and other related offences Commission, Nigerian Prisons Service, Nigeria Customs Service, Department of State Services, etc.

State governments ought to have taken advantage of the creation of other ‘police forces’ by the Federal Government to make a strong case for the establishment of state police. Alternatively, since rich and powerful individuals are licensed by the IG to bear arms, state governors should have applied for licences for the operatives of the security outfits established by their  state governments. Indeed, it is doubtful if state governments are aware that they can apply to the President to apply for spy police who will be trained by the NPF.

Section 220 has mandated the National Assembly to enact a law to provide for compulsory military training for Nigerian citizens. Pending the enactment of the law, “the President may maintain adequate facilities in any secondary or post-secondary educational institution in Nigeria for giving military training in any such institution which desires to have the training.”  In view of mounting insecurity in all parts of the country, state governments should encourage heads of some selected educational institutions to apply to the President to provide military training for operatives in the state security establishments.

However, many citizens are opposed to the creation of state police for the fear that it may be used to haunt political opponents of some state governors. I know a state governor in the South-West who once had a killer squad headed by his Chief Security Officer, a police officer. One of the unarmed citizens mowed down by the illegal squad, was a world bank expert. All efforts to prosecute the suspects, who were indicted in several killings of unarmed citizens by the squad, have been frustrated by the state government. The story is the same in a few other states in the country. To that extent, the fear of the possible manipulation of state police is genuine.

To avoid a situation whereby the abuse of police powers is decentralised, we do not need a state police force. To police the society, what is required is the establishment of community police service. The service will be founded by the state governments and superintended by an independent state police council of five members. The members should be accredited representatives of the state government, labour, women, youths and the business community. The service will police the state and see to the enforcement of all the laws enacted by the House of Assembly. The success of the Civilian Joint Task Force in the counter-insurgency operations in Borno State has proved that the best way to police a country is to recruit, train and equip young men and women to operate in their own communities.

The colonial practice of posting police officers to operate outside their states or regions is counterproductive. Every police officer should operate in their community, speak the local language and mix freely with the people. Without understanding the cultural background of a people, a police officer cannot successfully gather intelligence which is a sine qua non for carrying out security work.

  • Balarabe Musa (A former Kaduna State Governor)

People are divided in this country and I think it is better we have a central control of the police; but we should have a meaningful central control. We should not take the risk of having state police because our leaders are not politically mature to use state police in the right way. We have had the experience of how the police were misused by some state governors. You cannot imagine what will happen if the police then comes under the direct control of state governors. We should not have the state police.

  • Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora (A former Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly)

You have to approach this issue within the context of our political system. Under a true federalism where you have the different tiers – the federal police, regional police, state police and local police – there will be devolution of control and power. There will be no clash.

But in our situation, the Inspector-General of Police is under the control of the Presidency. You also have the commissioners of police in the different states. Where we have a crisis is when you say the governors in each state are the chief security officers and yet, they do not have control over their commissioners of police. The CPs are responsible to the IG. That creates some kind of dichotomy.

I think that if we were running a true federal system, while the IG would be under the control of the President, the state commissioners of police should be under the control of the governors.

  • Abubakar Tsav (A former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State)

I think the President should control the police. This is because some governors are very powerful and they may use the police against their political opponents. It happened in some states where certain people committed some offences. In some cases, if the offenders are members of their parties, they don’t allow the police to arrest or prosecute them. You will find criminals, who should be in jail, released to go. You can even go to the prisons today and you will find that only petty thieves are the ones serving jail terms, while the hardened criminals who should be in jail and political thugs, are set free. They do what they like and nobody has the power to arrest them.

  • Yomi Ogunnusi (A former member of the House of Representatives)

The present constitutional structure of the police obviously shows that the Nigeria Police Force is not equipped structurally to flush out crime or forestall the breakdown of law and order. The security of lives and property should never be the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government. Everyone has a stake in the security of a nation. This explains why countries such as India, Japan, the United States and Australia established community policing in their genuine quest to keep the crime rate at a minimum level. Nigeria can take a cue from these countries. I initiated the state policing bill when I was in the House of Representatives and I believe it should be passed so that the insecurity pervading the country can be checked.

  • Frank Odita (A former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State)

The police as of now are a federal parastatal, and the chief security officer of the country is the President. However, the commissioners of police, in their respective states, should be responsible to the governors. This is because the governors are the chief security officers of their states. It is important that this relationship is purely on the basis of the rule of law and transparency. It should not be abused to serve political means. This is how things should be. The commissioners of police should be attending to the governors and helping them with  the issues of security, just as the governors assist them with the provision of equipment.

I think as the chief security officers of the state, the governors should be getting reports and updates from their commissioners of police on the state of security in their domains. Police commissioners should also be members of the state security council.