As the bill for the creation of state police passes a second reading in the Senate, a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prince Richard Ozobu, expresses anxiety that the force may be used to harass and intimidate several millions of Igbos resident outside the South-East geo-political zone, writes MIKE UBANI.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Police Affairs, Senator Abu Ibrahim, recently expressed misgivings over the possibility of passing the State and Community Police bill now before the upper legislative Chamber of the National Assembly.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, the lawmaker who represents Katsina South Senatorial District, said state governors might use State and Community Police to indiscriminately arrest and prosecute their perceived political opponents.
The bill, titled, “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill, 2018”, was sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West), and 75 other senators.
The Senate had on July 4, 2018 directed its Constitution Review Committee to put in motion a machinery to amend the Constitution to allow for the creation of State Police.
Not a few say the current effort by the legislature to establish State and Community Police stems from the wholesale killings of innocent people across the country, especially in Benue, Taraba, and Adamawa states by suspected Fulani herdsmen and armed bandits.
The strident argument in some quarters is that state and community police would reduce or eliminate the spate of killings in the land, since the police personnel would be indigenes of their states of operation, and so would naturally operate in familiar terrains.
Though Prince Richard Ozobu, a chieftain of Ohanaeze, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, agrees that the establishment of state-controlled police force would enhance security in the land, he however, expresses deep fear that such police force would be injurious to the interests of Igbos resident outside the five South-East states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.
He told The AUTHORITY in an interview that the establishment of State and Community Police Force would make sense if recruitment of the police personnel is based on residency rather than indigeneship, as is the case in other climes.
He said that the over twenty-five million Igbos who live and do business outside Igboland, especially in the northern parts of the country, risk harassment, bullying and arrests by men of the would-be state police force over imaginary offences.
He advised that for State and Community Policing to be realistic, the relevant sections of the Constitution should be amended to adopt residency rather than indigenship as criteria for recruiting personnel into the state police force.
He said: “State and Community Police will not be good for the Igbos because fifty per cent of our people reside in northern and western parts of the country, and except you allow any of them who want to join the police force in their states of residence to do so, my fear is that Igbos will not get justice in the hands of police men who happen to be indigenes of those states.
“We have not forgotten how indigenous police men in the then Northern Nigeria, disallowed politicians from the defunct Eastern Region from campaigning in the North during the First Republic, and this episode will repeat itself if we go ahead to establish State and Community Police.
“You can see that the former British colonies such as India and Pakistan adopted the Federal Police system because they have diverse ethnic, cultural and religious groups.
“The inherent dangers in state police accounted for why the British colonial masters encouraged Federal Police system on the eve of their departure from Nigeria.
“Nigeria cannot operate State and Community Police at this stage of our development because governors, local government chairmen, the very rich or those who have political power at all levels of governance could use the State Police to subjugate the poor masses, or even the middle class in their own states or local government areas.”
He queried: “Will the State governors have the money to pay State police officers so they could do proper policing?”
According to him, “many of these state governors hardly pay salaries,” adding that the level of infrastructural development in most states is appalling.
Prince Ozobu who studied and lived in the US for several years before returning to Nigeria, explained that recruitment into the city and state police of that country is based on residency rather than state of origin.
He said: “It is the residents that constitute the city police force in the US, not necessarily indigenes.
“Members of the state police are hired by the government of the day in the state (and they are limited to state highway patrol).
“What you may call the Federal Police is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) whose personnel are concerned with inter-state crimes.”
“If you adopt the city police system in Nigeria, it means, for instance, that Igbos who constitutes the majority in the ‘Sabon Gari’ (Igbo quarters) area of Kano State, would form the nucleus of police personnel in that area of the city.
“And with that kind of arrangement, the safety and security of Igbos would be assured, since they have their kith and kin in great number in the city’s police force.”
According to Prince Ozobu, the Federal Police system, for now, would serve the interests of all Nigerians, given the fact that the force is made up of personnel from the various ethnic groups in the country.
Beyond that, he said that the present structure of the Nigeria Police Force, allows for either complainants or accused persons to take their matters from the lowest to the highest rung of the force.
“In the present police structure, If a Yoruba man or an Igbo man is not satisfied with how an area police command handles his case, he may move on to the state police command, or the zonal police command, but that may not be possible in a state-controlled police force,” he said.
According to him, many police officers today are highly trained, and many of them too are disciplined, saying they are capable of doing effective policing if given adequate tools to do their work.
He said: “The level of education of our police men and women today is higher than what it used to be. Today, many Divisional Crime Officers, and Divisional Police Officers are lawyers.
“We have highly experienced police officers, and many of them are university graduates, and that has brought about tremendous improvement in law enforcement.
“This issue of creating State Police which the National Assembly is championing is self-serving. The legislators should go back to their various constituencies to feel the pulse of their people on the issue of State Police.”
He advised the legislators to make a law for the establishment vigilante at the state and community levels to assist the police to protect lives and property.
He said: “Instead of creating State Police, the legislators should encourage the establishment of vigilante groups in communities and states of the federation to help the police secure lives and property.
“Under proper training and working in agreement with the Police, members of the Vigilante can carry guns. The vigilante groups should be headed by retired army and police officers.
“The members of the vigilante should be trained to recognize and report unfamiliar faces they see in their environment to the relevant authorities.”
What stands today as the Nigeria Police Force, was first established in 1820. The force is currently the principal law enforcement agency in the country. If the idea of creating state police force sails through in the National Assembly, the powers of NPF would inevitably be whittled down.