Thursday, 2 June 2016

Is The Proliferation of State Vigilantes, Security Task Forces in Nigeria Not Tantamount To State Police Through The Backdoor?

Introduction: The unprecedented security challenges in Nigeria – Boko Haram insurgency (albeit retiring), marauding herdsmen attacks, militancy, wanton incidents of kidnap for ransom and extortion, amongst others, has birthed a blossoming vigilantism industry or state security task forces as some states call them to fill the void created by overwhelmed and ineffective central government-controlled conventional security agencies. There’s a perennial debate in Nigeria whether or not to permit state control of police or ‘State Police’. For the sake of clarity, regional or State police is hereby defined as a kind of decentralized police service under the direct control of a regional or State government rather than under the direct control of the federal government as dictated by Section 214 of the Nigerian 1999 constitution. This essay argues that the trend in State Vigilante outfits portend we already have a semblance of ‘State Police’.
This write-up highlights the salient merits of State Police and also tries to allay concerns over State Police while also proffering possible avenues of funding State Police Units. If regional or ‘State Police’ operates in Canada, the United States, the UK, Australia, India, why can’t it work in Nigeria?
 
The Vigilante Group of Nigeria
The Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) was reportedly founded in 1983 and registered with the Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC) in 1999 with the mandate of ‘’assisting the security agencies and government in prevention and detection of crime, apprehension of offenders, preservation of the law and order as well as protection of lives and properties’’. The idea to adopt the VGN was mooted to President Obasanjo in 1999 he was not quite keen about it. Consequently the VGN was resuscitated and inaugurated in 2008 by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s government. During its inauguration, President Yar’Adua said, ‘’the establishment of the VGN was in line with ‘recommendations of the United Nations (UN) on community, public security and safety’, adding that the police is trying its best in a very harsh and hostile environment’ yet effective security of the country needs the collaboration of groups like the VGN’’. The Vigilante Group of Nigeria is said to boast of over five million officers and men in the six geo-political zones of the country. In 2015, about 1,200 members of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) reportedly underwent intelligence gathering and counterterrorism training to enable them discharge their duties effectively.

State Vigilante Outfits in Nigeria

In the North-East and North-West, the Civilian JTF is renowned for assisting the Nigerian military in counter-insurgency operations against Boko Haram. In 2013, the Zamfara state governor – Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar was said to have purchased rifles, weapons for Vigilante groups in the state. The Kebbi State Vigilante group deployed about 12,000 personnel during the 2015 general election. In Abia state, South-East Nigeria, the governor – Okezie Ikpeazu resurrected the dreaded and hitherto retired Abia Vigilante Services (AVS), popularly known as Bakassi Boys. Aftermath of the recent onslaught by supposed herdsmen on Nimbo community, Enugu State, the state governor – Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and royal fathers resolved to reactivate vigilante groups in the state. To match words with action, the governor swiftly doled out N100 million towards this vigilante initiative. Given sporadic pastoral-farmers clashes, the Benue state governor – Mr. Samuel Ortom is reviewing the State vigilante laws to give traditional rulers ‘more specific roles in security issues in their domains’. In the South-West, the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and Oodua Defenders Union (ODU) play informal security roles. Angered by a callous attack credited to herdsmen which claimed the lives of two people in Oke-Ako in Ikole, Ekiti State, the State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, on Monday, 23 May, 2016 reportedly declared war on rampaging herdsmen, banned free grazing in Ekiti and ‘’ordered security agencies and local hunters to gun down herdsmen seen terrorizing the people’’. Governor Fayose donated a Hilux truck and the sum of N5 million to the local vigilante group operating under the aegis of Association of Ekiti Hunters to enable them secure and defend their domain. In Imo state, the state Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha formed the Imo Security Network (ISN). In Bayelsa State, the Governor Mr. Seriake Dickson inaugurated the Bayelsa State Waterways Security Patrol Task Force. According to the State governor, the “Security agencies are up to their task, but we feel that a committee like this made up of people who know the waterways and some of the players along the creeks should be put together to give timely information to the security agencies’’. Not to be outdone, a Bill to legalize vigilante groups is been debated at the Lagos State House of Assembly. The proposed Bill is titled: “A Bill for a Law to Establish the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Agency for the Regulation and Control of the Vigilante Corps Activities and for connected Purposes”.

One’s understanding of the permutation playing out is that unless the state governors have unrestricted control over the VGN structure in their state, they may prefer to opt for an outfit directly answerable to them.

Strong Institutions, Checks and Balances Will Curb Abuse

Sometime in 2014, the Nigeria Police opined it will screen and monitor the various vigilante groups in Nigeria. But nothing suggests the police is doing this. As President Obama once said, Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men. The 50 states in America have their various state police. The United Kingdom boasts of Scotland Yard (for England), Welsh Police, Northern Ireland Police, Scottish Police and sub-constabularies. Why is the Mayor of London not accused of using Scotland Yard to witch-hunt his political adversaries? Simple answer is: because institutions are not apron strings of individuals in Western climes! No man-made system is perfect. All that is needed is constant adjustment for perfection. To ensure quality control, a standardized national training curriculum will help. Also we need to put checks and balances in place which will guard against abuse, ensure the vigilantes play by the rules, that they respect human right, are trained in line with global best practice, eschew jungle justice, extrajudicial killings. A case of such extrajudicial killing is the one that happened in Ogun State where a member(s) of the Vigilante Service of Ogun State (VSO) reportedly shot dead a student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, one Moruf Raji and a staff of MTN Nigeria, Mr. Akeem Usman. 

Need For Superior Argument, Robust Debate Over State Police

Instead of ramming prejudices down the throat of Nigerians, please let’s have a robust debate over State Police and let superior argument prevail rather than allow tyranny of fear to stifle dissent, advancement? Is the proliferation of vigilante outfits, state government owned security task forces not tantamount to having state police through the back door? I have always been and will continue to be an advocate of superior argument. Take the remote and creek nature of the Niger Delta as a case study to demonstrate the advantages of State Police. It is easier for residents of that area to know the in and out, Appian Way and security hotspots than a Borno indigene federal police officer just transferred from Borno state to serve in the Niger Delta. Secondly, for a police officer native of that area, there’s no language barrier, he or she can easily blend with folks and glean intelligence. On a related note, during my first degree university days, the military students were informally part of the school security network. As fellow students, we knew the bad boys, cultists and were pretty abreast of goings-on in the university compared to an outsider. Another classic scenario, prior to alleged Fulani herdsmen attacking Nimbo community, Enugu State, the Governor – Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi reportedly passed intelligence of an impending attack to the Enugu Police Commissioner but for whatever reason, the later didn’t act promptly. Some claim probably because he was waiting for ‘clearance’ from his boss (the IGP) who is ensconced in a posh office in faraway Abuja, about 450 kilometres from the crime scene. Knowing how things work in Nigeria, even the IGP himself will have to gauge the body language of the Presidency before intervening for fear of losing his job. It follows that as far as the security architecture in the state is concerned, Governors in Nigeria are more like sitting ducks, paper-tigers.

The former Governor of Ekiti State, now minister of solid minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi is an advocate who believes in the advantages of State police. He asserted during an interview with Punch Newspaper of Wednesday, September 12, 2012, ‘’I will continue to fight for state police”. According to Fayemi, “the future of Nigeria depends on security and, as such, it was high time the country considered the establishment of state police. He said: ‘My position on state police has not changed. I do not see any evidence on the other side that can change my position. I am not talking as a politician. When I talk about state police I am talking as a security expert, which is my own area and I am not playing politics with it. I have a PhD in this area and I know what obtains everywhere in the world. For our police to become efficient, we need to function efficiently as it is done everywhere in the world where you have a federal system. In the United States, Australia, Canada, India and everywhere there is a federation, the police exist at the local level, even at the city level; you have state police and federal police’’.

Antagonists of State Police

Stemming essentially from a reactionary disposition, antagonists of State Police also bandy what they claim are the disadvantages of State Police. The former IGP, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar was quoted as saying, ‘‘Nigeria was not ripe for State Police’ and that ‘’the position of the Nigeria police before now on the issue of state Police has not changed.’’ Desirous to pass a message that the status quo is a fait accompli, he went further to say with an air of finality, ‘’Nigeria is not ripe enough for a state police, period!’’ It is obvious that his assertion was not grounded in superior logic but probably self-serving. If the federal government and antagonists of state police claim the state governors will abuse it that also means the federal government takes advantage of the status quo. 

We are witnesses to how seemingly ‘stubborn’ or ‘uncooperative’ DIG’s, AIG’s, State Commissioners of police in Nigeria are abruptly transferred prior to elections by their boss in Abuja. It happened in Ekiti, recently in River State amongst others. There are also instances where the IPO (investigation Police Officer) handling a case is arbitrarily transferred say from Lagos to Kano. Of course the case s/he is handling suffers and shoddy prosecution ensues. If we are not yet ‘ripe’ as some claim, for state police, how about some kind of regional police force? If antagonists insist governors will abuse state police, then it also holds that the President should cease appointing the IGP nor should the IGP be answerable to the president. Perhaps the Senate or the State House of Assemblies (if State Police holds), should screen and appoint the police boss and have oversight function over him? By the way, what does it mean to be ‘ripe’ for state police and how long will it take us to be ripe for it? Is Nigeria ‘ripe’ for democracy? Why are we then practicing democracy foisted on us by the West and not recourse to our primordial traditional monarchy? 

The Police Should Concentrate on Law Enforcement, Community Policing

In the West, it is an aberration for police officers to guard private businesses or escort celebrities, moneybags. That is the work of the private security professionals. That should be the situation in Nigeria. The Nigeria police should concentrate on their forte, constitutional role of law enforcement, community policing, working the beats. Insecurity, crime, unprecedented kidnapping for ransom and extortion permeates Nigeria because a large chunk of Police officers in Nigeria will rather lobby, ‘settle’ their bosses to be attached as orderlies, aides to politicians and their concubines than to do regular police work. This is unacceptable. Every Inspector General of police that comes on board boasts to withdraw police personnel from politicians but the situation relapses sooner than later, some say after ‘settlement’. Do the maths; each of the 36 Nigerian governors (including their wives, sometimes concubines) is entitled to plausibly 40 police personnel. The 109 senators, the House of Representative members, federal ministers, State House of Assembly members, the 774 Local Government Area Chairmen, senior Judicial officers, retired senior police officers, influential businessmen, to mention but a few, all relish in the number of police orderlies at their beck and call. Take a cue from the British Prime Minister who goes to eateries, boards public transport devoid of retinue escorts (of course a couple of plain clothe security officers will be tailing but not the manner of display, ‘show of force’ they call it, we put up in Nigeria). 

On Funding State Police 

If it is okay for state governors to fund the federal-controlled police, provide gadgets for them then why can’t the state police commissioner be directly answerable to the governor who is supposed to be the Chief Security Officer of the state? Many states in Nigeria already have State Security Trust Funds in place. An example is the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF). The Lagos state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode recently donated security equipment and vehicles worth billions of Naira to the Lagos state Police Command and the Rapid Response Squad. Just as Telecom giant MTN donated patrol vehicles, security equipment to the Lagos State Security Trust Fund lately, other corporate organizations too can key into this as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Most neighborhoods in Nigeria pay one form of neighbourhood security levy or the other. All that is needed is to organize this system very well. Another good example worth exploring is to borrow a leaf from the UK where police forces are funded through Council tax payments.

Bring Private Security Professionals Into The Mix

On the other hand, this writer submits that it is high time the private security industry in Nigeria was rejigged in line with global best practice by establishing an independent regulatory body which is the global best practice. This will enable private security professionals in Nigeria to compliment the efforts of mainstream government security agencies in internal security. Restructuring Nigeria’s private security industry will surely enhance security, professionalism and also have a multiplier-effect on job creation. Another thing that calls for debate is the issue of whether or not private security professionals in Nigeria should be allowed to bear arms in view of the abysmal insecurity ravaging Nigeria? Our proposal advocating for an Independent Regulatory Authority for Nigeria's Private Security Industry submitted to the Minister of Interior, General Dambazzau is handy in this regard.

Conclusion:

Skewed federalism, institutionalized byzantine bureaucracies which vests unprecedented powers (sometimes in the hands an incompetent apparatchik) ensconced at Abuja is our bane in Nigeria. This trend is also a recipe for tyranny, erodes efficiency. As they say, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Nigerian federation, instruments of governance needs radical restructuring, true federalism some call it. Let the federal government be in charge of external affairs, defense/military, immigration, the Department of State Security (DSS which is analogous to the FBI), the national intelligence agency (similar to the CIA), customs service but devolve more power, the police inclusive, to the federating units. From the foregoing, writer submits that the benefits of a State Police outweigh the niggling weaknesses.

Written by:
© Don Okereke
(Security Analyst/Consultant, Ex-serviceman, Researcher, Writer)

Follow me on Twitter: @DonOkereke
June, 2016