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No to state police, yes to parliamentary system

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The other day, President Bola Tinubu had a meeting with state governors which resolved on state police. This should not be surprising. Even as governor of Lagos State at the start of this Fourth Republic, Tinubu has been advocating for state police. In fact, even more, he wanted the restructuring of Nigeria. When his political party, the Action Congress of Nigeria merged with the Muhammadu Buhari’s party, the Congress for Progressive Change, and a splinter faction of the then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), one of their cardinal goals in the party’s manifesto was the restructuring of the country. They did not know that Buhari was the least interested in that idea even to the extent that he refused to look at the Ahmed el-Rufai’s-led report on restructuring.

Now that Tinubu is in the driver’s seat, he wants to implement the idea of states having their own police force. His government is not talking about restructuring just yet. It’s a hot potato for him because it may jeopardise his chances of winning a second term, and people like the redoubtable Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume are watching his every move. As far as the idea goes, the man who likes to promote himself as good at taking tough decisions is being politically correct here. So, as not to totally disappoint his political allies, he has dangled the idea of a state police.

To be sure, the police in Nigeria is exclusively a federal security agency. The constitution bars state governments from having police force. As it stands, for there to be a state police, relevant sections of the constitution will have to be changed to have states establish their police forces. And the National Assembly has given itself two years to complete the work of constitutional amendments. Add your own two years, if the reforms will not be skin deep.

REFLECTIONS! is against state police! I have been wanting to do an article in favour of the Nigeria Police Force, to help see how it can be more responsive to the people, but never got to gather adequate materials to sustain a favourable analysis on the force. Things are that bad in the force. Part of the decay of the force is caused by its owner, the Federal Government. This didn’t start today. One can trace it back to the time the Nigerian Security Organisation, the progenitor of the State Security Service (otherwise known as the Department of State Security (DSS), depending on which letterhead is handy!), was founded in the 1980s. Rather than strengthen the police force, nearly every successive government has helped weaken the force by creating pseudo agencies to do some aspects of the duties of the police. Apart from the DSS, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Federal Roads Safety Corp, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps are doing nothing but police duty.

So, rather than adequately resource the police force to provide quality policing duties to the citizens, we prefer to set up more agencies that end up dissipating scarce resources. Some of the agencies such as the DSS, EFCC and ICPC are better funded than the police. Has someone imagined what would have happened to the police force if all the money spent on all these agencies went to the police. The human capital, the equipment, the guns and ammunition, the buildings and other assets of these agencies put together would give the police a fighting chance of success in crime prevention and detection.

Not done with these replications, we now want to add another layer: state police. Many advocates believe that with state police, crime will be reduced. I do not share that sentiment. On the contrary, methinks that the situation will actually grow worse. In a sense, I see establishing state police as letting the genie out of the bottle. Currently, in theory, it is only the federal government that has the police force; the commissioners of police report to the inspector general of police directly or indirectly. In practice, our almighty governors run the police in their states. Police commissioners are at the beck and call of the governors. Because the commissioners ingratiate themselves with the governors, they do the governors’ bidding. Often, governors go to Abuja to lobby for certain police officers to be posted to their states as commissioners; they also go to Abuja to undo a police commissioner who doesn’t play ball. Yearly, states fund the federal police force to the tune of several billions of Naira. Much of the so-called security votes governors spend without any accountability are spent on the police and other federal security agencies. Vehicles, equipment and buildings are procured by every state government and publicly donated to the police. The commissioners of police regularly receive assistance from the state governments. Where this is not happening, the state of security in that state can only be imagined!

So, why am I against state police? Simple: we do not have the temperament for tolerance. Given the warp democracy we have been practicing since 1999, our governors have become demigods; they brook no opposition; maul down anyone standing in their way, treat state treasury as their inheritance, dispense favour only to those who worship at their shrines. Imagine an Nyesom Wike, an Ayo Fayose, a Bello Matawalle or a Godswill Akpabio with state police! If our governors misbehave at the rate they do without having state police, armed with police force of their own will only spell more trouble for perceived trouble makers.

As things stand today, how many states in Nigeria are economically and financially viable? No more than five; to be charitable. Apart from Kano and Kaduna States, the entire 19 northern states are in dire straits. In the south, one can only find Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, and perhaps Oyo States as being viable. This is without state police yet. Yes, one can argue that it would not be compulsory for every state to establish their own police forces; but we all know how politically competitive our state governors can be especially when it comes to establishing gargantuan projects with little or no utility value. Every state in Nigeria has state university, and apart from the Lagos State University and one or two others, the rest are just glorified secondary schools. In effect no more than three states in Nigeria can afford to have functional state police.

Has it occurred to us that a few states have yet to pay the N30,000 per month minimum wage (yes; you heard me: $20 a month!)? And some states are still owing civil servants arrears in salaries and allowances. Nigerian pensioners from almost all the states are still the most pitiful of people on earth, literally. Now, it is in this same environment that we want to arm hot blooded youths and then go ahead and pay them peanuts, and in some cases, owe them salaries. Will the states not be unleashing licensed armed men and women on their citizens?

How about the little matter of squabbles between state and federal police? There will be frequent supremacy fights as there will be the challenge of where federal might ends and where state police power starts. The usual fights between the police and the army (both owned by the same parent) should tell us what to expect if we have states establish their police forces.

Enough said on state police!

Parliamentary government
The 60 or so members of House of Representatives who voted to work towards a return of Nigeria to parliamentary government should be roundly praised. REFLECTIONS! has repeatedly stated that the current political system cannot deliver good governance to Nigerians. To be sure, Nigerians have been poorer since 1999. Yearly, millions of people are pushed into poverty. This is not to say that it is because we are practicing presidential system of government that is why we are poor; but it is a contributing factor.

Having been colonised by the British, it was their system of governance that Nigeria adopted at independence in 1960. Parliamentary democracy in Nigeria was punctuated by the military following the Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeokwu-led coup of 15th January 1966. The presidential system of government first came into existence in the country on 1st October 1979 when the Murtala Muhammed-Obasanjo military government handed over power to President Shehu Shagari. That system was sustained by the military government, led by Abdulsalami Abubakar, who handed over to the civilian government of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. Having experimented with the two systems, parliamentary and presidential, Nigerians can make comparisons and make a determination of the best of the two evils.

Fundamentally, not much will change in the living standards of Nigerians, regardless of whether one or the other system is in place. However, under a parliamentary system, the cost of governance will be drastically reduced, and the savings potentially applied to improve the economy for the betterment of the society. At the minimum, two things can be guaranteed: the excessive powers of the president and governors will be a thing of the past; and the money wasted on sustaining the bicameral National Assembly will be saved. The 2024 budget of the National Assembly of no more than 3,000 people (inclusive of the National Assembly Service Commission) is greater than the budgets of the poorest three states combined. I am being very cautious in being overly optimistic about parliamentary system being a magic wand because if Nigerians do not want it to work, nothing will happen. Where rule of law is not respected by the majority of the people, and where there are no consequences for wrongdoing, no matter the system of governance, the outcome will still be what we are currently experiencing.

I, however, have to praise the 60 members of the House of Representatives who are seeking amendments to the 1999 Constitution to transition from the current presidential system to the parliamentary system of government for their courage and foresight. Led by a lawmaker representing Lagos State under APC, Wale Raji, the lawmakers identified the need for reducing the cost of government, and robust policy debates among others as some of the reasons for demanding a return to the parliamentary system.

Titled, ‘The Bills proposing constitutional alterations for a transition to parliamentary system of government’, the bill was sponsored by the House Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda, and 59 others and read on the floor of the House during the 21st February 2024 plenary session. Thankfully, the 60 lawmakers are drawn from different political parties.

Said the group’s spokesman and member representing Kebbe/Tambuwal Constituency, Sokoto State, Abdulssamad Dasuki: “Our founders in their wisdom and in a political atmosphere devoid of compulsion, and having considered the interests of their native peoples and their desire to live together in a country where truth and justice reign, where no man is oppressed, and where all citizens live in peace and plenty, adopted the parliamentary system of government. That was the governance system of the First Republic, a period when legislative and executive powers were exercised by the representatives of the people in parliament and in the executive, and by the nature of the system, these representatives were accountable to the people.

“The collapse of the First Republic and the long stretch of military rule culminated in the adoption of a new system of government, theoretically fashioned after the presidential system of the United States but in practice, imbibed the uttermost attributes of military rule. No wonder the Nigerian President appears to be one of the most powerful presidents in the world. Over the years, the imperfections of the presidential system of government have become glaring to all, despite several alterations to the constitution to address the shortcomings of a system that has denied the nation the opportunity of attaining its full potential.
“Among these imperfections are the high cost of governance, leaving fewer resources for crucial areas like infrastructure, education, and healthcare, and consequently hindering the nation’s development progress, and the excessive powers vested in the members of executive, who are appointees and not directly accountable to the people”.

The parliamentary system, according to Dasuki, will potentially reduce “bureaucratic hurdles and foster closer collaboration between the executive and legislative branches. Our conviction is that a streamlined executive branch, which replaces the President and Vice President with a Prime Minister and Cabinet chosen from the legislature, could lead to a smaller central government, reducing salaries and administrative expenses. Because ministers, commissioners (at the state level) and supervisors (at the local government level) emerge from parliament, there is greater coordination between the executive and the legislature, just as there will be increased legislative scrutiny, which would make cabinet members responsive to the yearnings of the people and more accountable”.

Neither President Tinubu nor the leadership of the National Assembly needs fear of their political future in a possible return of the country to parliamentary system as the sponsors only hope to actualize their dream at a date not later than 2031. That is political pragmatism.

A Short Take: The Oronsaye Report 
I was glad when the federal government let it be known earlier this week that government was going to implement the Oronsaye Report. The report sought to streamline the number of government agencies mushrooming the entire landscape of the country. This will lead to a more nimble and effective government. Resources that are being wasted could be put to better use; duplication of duties by similar agencies would be eliminated.

The 15th November 2023 REFLECTIONS! entitled, ‘Needed: Oronsaye’s Committee to the Rescue’, advocated for a speedy implementation of the white paper on the report. It is heartening to know that the government has made up its mind to do so. My add would be that the ministries, departments and agencies that do not require repeal of extant laws should be quickly merged within a month or two before the usual cabals and the untouchables gang up to frustrate the move.

Esiere is a former journalist!

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