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Governor Obi’s Donation Of Vehicles To The Nigerian Police Force (NPF): Great Prognosis But Wrong Prescription

As a citizen of Anambra state, I am disturbed by much of the news emanating from my state especially within the context of environmental security. And I think that my feeling reflects the sentiments of majority of our citizens not only in diaspora, but at home who are distraught and traumatized by the current situation.  It is evident that one of the major challenges that the state government faces currently is how to combat the menace of violent crimes, especially kidnapping.  The scourge is so unnerving that sometimes you wonder how people live their lives in utter state of fear and uncertainty.

As a citizen of Anambra state, I am disturbed by much of the news emanating from my state especially within the context of environmental security. And I think that my feeling reflects the sentiments of majority of our citizens not only in diaspora, but at home who are distraught and traumatized by the current situation.  It is evident that one of the major challenges that the state government faces currently is how to combat the menace of violent crimes, especially kidnapping.  The scourge is so unnerving that sometimes you wonder how people live their lives in utter state of fear and uncertainty.

The senseless murder of Dr. Ogbo Edoga, an American-based financial expert in his country home is too fresh in our memories. The fear and anger it wrought in our hearts is palpable. It is preposterous that a man that resided in the safety of the United States-- with its attendant stress-- could be slaughtered in his country because he volunteered his time and resources to assist in the improvement of his community. I have tried in my quiet moment to make sense out of the nonsense and failed because it defies common sense and logic. One wonders whether the perpetrators of his murder understood the ramification of their conduct. His mortality implicates a much broader security concern in the entire Southeastern section of Nigeria. Governor Peter Obi—as the Chief Security Officer of the state-- has made investment in divergent respects to combat this menace including, but not limited to the destruction of various structures identified as operational bases for these criminals. The governor’s donation of over fifty (50) vehicles to the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) for purposes of strengthening its capability to respond to the state’s security needs is evidential of this commitment.  His efforts are commendable, but truth be told, these efforts lack the potentiality of addressing the current challenge in the long haul.

The Bigger Question
 The gesture raises interesting intellectual and practical questions: would the Police Force effectively utilize the vehicles for what they were intended? Are there possibilities, even remotely, that the vehicles could be used to move the police personnel to more lucrative locations to extort money from the public? Or better still, could they be used to broaden the process of harassment and intimidation of the citizens of the state?  As much as Governor Obi deserves our congratulations for actively committing to addressing this question, it is my considered opinion that it is the wrong prescription for an illness that has an awful prognosis. I hold this opinion for the reasons that I would state presently. But let me be clear from the outset that Governor Obi is not alone in this desperate and obstreperous position to deal with an essentially localized social malaise. Most of the other state governors are also caught up in the same morass. For instance the threat of Boko Haram in the Northern part of the country is still active. Perhaps, it could be characterized as sectarian violence. But there is a thread of commonality that runs through them--a state of environmental insecurity-- that threatens the community’s well-being. And like Governor Obi, the governors experiencing this pattern of insecurity have provided material and financial support to the NPF. In some cases, particularly the violent situation in the Northern states where Boko Haram operates with audacity, the federal government has stepped in to deploy the Army. While all these efforts are laudable, they still do not touch the core issue.

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For some time, concerned citizens, including state governors have engaged in a futile and unending polemics about the propriety or otherwise of establishing a state police force. From what I gathered from the local media, the governors of the Northern states have repeatedly opposed the move. I am yet to read of any intellectually-sound basis for such opposition. As much as they reserve the right to disseminate their opposition, which is right for democracy, such debate should not constrain those states that desperately need it and can foot the bill to have it. Anambrarians are known for their entrepreneurship and the state needs secured economic environment for businesses to thrive. The state government in turn expects these businesses to pay taxes which the state government needs to run the governmental affairs. If commercial activities in Anambra state should grind to a halt for security reasons and the citizens who are the job creators and professionals are not able to support the state government by taking their businesses, energies and ideas to Lagos, Abuja or elsewhere, would the Katsina state governor, for instance, be graciously disposed to provide the salaries for Anambra state civil servants?

In addition, how do we contain the future economic and social implication of this dynamic in the entire Southeast?  This question may sound pedestrian, but it underlies the argument that I am trying to advance. The least that a responsible state government could do is to provide a safe atmosphere for its citizens to conduct their daily lives. Insecurity in Anambra state presents a social and economic challenge. It is a uniquely Anambra state issue distinct from the issues confronting, say Kano state or Adamawa state. The point being that the question of state police should not be shut down simply because governors from a section of the country are opposed to it. How would it feel if the governors of the Southeastern statse are similarly opposed to the deployment of the army to the hot spots in the North? They could not because sectarian violence is not within the purview of the security interest of the Southern states. This is what makes us a federation because of the uniqueness and divergence of the issues and challenges. Our one-size-fits-all approach to most issues in Nigeria is part of the reason we take one step forward and twenty steps backwards.

Every responsible and responsive government strives to provide for its citizens good road networks, functional health facilities, working drainage and sewage systems, safe drinking water including security to lives and property among other things. I do not anticipate that anyone would second guess Governor Obi for building and equipping a health clinic for my community, neither would it be a subject of debate if he provided my community with a sewage system that works because that is the expectation of the citizens from their state government.  It would border on idiocy and waste of precious moment to conceptualize that anyone in his right mind would protest if the same government provided security to my community as well as to other communities in the state because it is government’s obligation. I do not see any difference in the provision of these essential basic services and there does not seem to be any justifiable reason for a state government to provide some and ignore the others. It does not make sense. I am aware that most communities in the state have security structures in place and they are effective. The reason they work is that the people appropriated ownership of the security structures. I can say unequivocally that most villages in the state are safer than urban areas because of the watchful eyes of the village vigilantes.

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Do we really need the Nigerian Police Force?

The fact of the matter is this: Anambra state does not necessary need the presence of the NPF if the state government could provide the security it needed in the state. The state could establish an outfit for policing purposes. It does not need to be called a police force. Call it vigilante group or anything, but for goodness sake, let us have some sanity in our state. One can only imagine the result that would trail the establishment and deployment of a professionally-trained and disciplined security outfit that is organic (Peoples’ Owned), with the personnel made up of the men and women from the state.   I can bet on this that the challenge of violent crimes and kidnapping in the state would be history. In addition, it would provide employment opportunities for thousands of the unemployed roaming the nooks and crannies of Anambra state.

Besides, the ownership character of the outfit would attract legitimacy and respect to the body because we are now talking about “Our own policing outfit” and not the “Nigerian policing outfit.” The NPF conjures an image of an agency suffering from legitimacy challenge and a poster child of corruption and dysfunction. I should not be perceived to be advocating for confrontation with the NPF. Rather, I am suggesting a system of joint-policing, a system that encourages cross-policing arrangement with the NPF, a complementary security body that would support the efforts of the NPF. This structure would close the lacuna created by the NPF’s ineffectiveness and nonchalance. When the Nigerian Constitution provided for a national Police Force, it envisaged an effective security agency. But when the agency is wanting in performance and good track-record, what should be the recourse?

A call for a different approach to law enforcement
 I have repeatedly heard the argument that the NPF’s lack of equipment and materials has correlational linkage with its lackluster performance. I disagree.  Even our military lacks equipment and personnel. That argument is comatose, sterile, destitute of empiricism and intellectually fraudulent because (1) we have heard it for too long and it should be retired and (2) it does not engage the broader and critical question of the perception and relationship of the officers to their job. Policing has never been perceived as a form of community service in Nigeria.  This explains the lack of relationship and accountability to the community where the police officers work. Policing is a more involving undertaking than we realize. As someone wrote, it “reflects community values and community assumptions about how to exercise authority, maintain appropriate behavior and relationship, and support community life.” And because the current system does not incorporate these normative values, it deserves to be reconstituted.

A major challenge to progress and innovation in our governance is the unnecessary waiting for the validation of the action of the state governments by the federal government.  Recall the hullaballoo that trailed governor Tinubu’s government attempt to create more local governments in Lagos state. That brief period provided a rare opportunity for state governments to join forces with him not only to assert their authority, but to interrogate the extensive powers of the federal government. But they all backed off and governor Tinubu was left high in the cold to fight what was a constitutional and legal battle that would have potentially benefited everyone today and posterity. We do not seem to recognize opportunities until they slip through our grips. Current state governors are fixated on jockeying to be the next president of Nigeria at the expense of creative governance. For that reason they thread softly on controversial matters and project a facade of not being confrontational with the federal government.

No one desires to be labeled a sectional leader. But who would fault result-oriented governance? The issue of kidnapping in the Southeastern states would never be solved if we continue to wait for the federal government. It is about time the governors of the Southeast came up with inventive ways to deal with their unique problems. Initially, the federal government would kick and fret. I would be naive not to acknowledge it, but one thing is certain; if the security personnel are professionally trained, if they are not used for purposes of intimidation of political opponents or supposed enemies, if crime and kidnapping rates could be reduced by such deployment, the citizens of Anambra state would throw their weight behind their state government. Put differently, if these arrangements yield positive results, they would shore up the lost image of the NPF. No one wants to sleep with one eye open.

The federal government on its part would not have any option but to tag along because a problem that defied their comprehension has been solved.  And besides, it is a cost-effective way of fighting crimes instead of deploying a whole regiment of the Armed Forces to provide security. Again, it would serve as a model for other states to replicate. We will all benefit from this experiment if it succeeds.  After all, states have inherent powers to care for their citizens. If history is any guidance, great changes that have moved societies and peoples do not come by way of compromise most times; they come by way of confronting a situation headlong. And like the “Nike” attitude, “just do it”, and do it well.

Sampson Chukwunwike Ojukwu,
SJD (Cand), The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.
May be reached at [email protected]


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters