Can We Trust State Governors? – Ayisha Osori

Can We Trust State Governors?

Mon, 23/07/2012 | AYISHA OSORI The Tuesday Column

It is a bad idea for Nigeria to amend the constitution to provide states with powers to create their own police. The ongoing ‘to be or not to be’ discussions regarding state police can be resolved with the answer to this question: can we trust the current model of state governors in Nigeria today? The word ‘model’ is used deliberately because, by and large, they have similar interests and attitudes especially towards dissent, opposition, accountability to the public and democracy.

As the constitution review train moves across the nation, with hearings, retreats and calls for memoranda, there are a few common themes consistently topping the chart: state police and new states. Ironically, these are tied to the role of state governors. It is the governors and those who dream of becoming governors who want state police and additional states, and nothing is scarier than these two prospects in Nigeria today. We, a nation going bankrupt with outrageously expensive federal and state governments with little accountability, want even more states the faster to drain our finances and we want to give governors who are not accountable to us even more powers by providing them with their own armies.

Unfortunately, it is easy to be sympathetic to the governors’ argument for state police. The stranglehold that the presidency has over the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) makes independent and effective decision-making difficult within the police commands at the state level and the quality of service is poor. This is compounded by cross-postings which supposedly limit the crime-fighting powers of the police because they find themselves being part of communities where they cannot speak the language or understand the customs. Now more than ever, having highly efficient, and well trained police is critical as Nigeria faces different security threats ranging from terrorist attacks to kidnappings, and so it would seem that there is a genuine desire to be able to improve security across the states.

But there are good reasons for Nigerians to distrust the management of state police by governors. One, most governors are not really democratic. Today, there are at least 27 states that have not held local government elections in five years. Their refusal to allow local government elections to hold in their states is directly tied to a desire to control all the resources which come to the state and the fear to relinquish control. They are scared that if local government elections are held, the opposition might win some LGAs and they would lose their number-one bargaining chip – delivering presidential elections. The sad argument that we have heard — that the state governors are trying to protect their LGs from corrupt chairs — is laughable because it is the responsibility of the governors and their political parties to field better candidates unless they are suggesting that all Nigerians are corrupt. Besides, if there is evidence of corruption, then, there is a process of indictment, prosecution and punishment – it is not for the governors to arbitrarily decide to truncate democracy at the grass roots, in a bid to protect funds which they do not give us any account for.

Two, most of the states have inter-communal conflicts ranging from the severe (Plateau, Kaduna) to the constantly flaring up (Ife-Modakeke and Umuleri-Aguleri) and the mild and building up (Kogi, Benue etc). So far, none of these conflicts has been successfully resolved nor does it look like the governors have the ability to be unbiased. What security is there that these state police will not become armies targeted at the opposition?

Three, many of the governors abuse their powers, openly or in secret. So far Dariye, Fayose, Turaki, Kalu, Nyame, Nnamani, Boni Haruna, Ladoja, Abdullahi, Saraki, Alamieyeseigha and Igbinedion have been investigated or had allegations of corruption made against them and, for all we know, the list should be much longer. There are those who find it hard to accept any dissent with their actions or policies regardless of how well-meaning the criticism. Are these the types of characters we want to trust with state police?

The short answer to ‘Can we trust the governors with state police?” is ‘No, we can’t. This weekend, at the senators’ constitution review retreat in Asaba, Senate President David Mark gave his endorsement to state police. According to news reports, he said “the fears expressed that governors would use the police as instrument of oppression could not undermine the huge benefits that would accrue from it”. Sadly, the report did not say what these benefits would be but if they are in line with the oft-repeated complaint of state governors that the NPF are not efficient in their duties, then, the solution is not state police – the solution is police reform. If the governors are sincere about their desire to protect the inhabitants of their states, then, they should exert the influence of the Governors’ Forum to prevail upon the FGN to implement at least half of the recommendations made by the four different police reform committees we have had in less than a decade.

We cannot be sentimental about this decision. State and community police are laudable goals and would help us achieve the type of federalism we want to ultimately operate. But, we are not there yet. Nothing works the way it is supposed to in Nigeria and, in that context of do-or-die-politics, the arrogance of power and corruption in government, there is good reason for us to believe that the majority of governors will abuse state police and take Nigeria even closer to the brink that we have been dancing close to for a while.

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