March 4, 2021

State or Federal Community Police?

In the United States, just as in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Spain, States are empowered by law to establish local police agencies with authority to conduct law enforcement activities and criminal investigations. These agencies domiciled in the department of transportation, marine patrol or natural resources work independent of the federal law enforcements, but both complement each other to prevent and/or solve crimes within the U.S.

Hawaii in fact has four Police Departments all funded and run by the State. Hawai’i Country Police Department, Honolulu Police Department, Kauai Country Police Department and Maul Country Police Department carry out highway patrol functions within each of the State’s five Counties. These exist mainly as a remedy to the archipelago geography of the State – consisting eight major islands, which makes it hard to get from one municipal jurisdiction to the other by road.

In the US still, just as in the United Kingdom and others, “community policing” exists but not as a structure. It is rather a strategy of policing that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of communities. The central goal is to build relationships with the community through interactions with local agencies and members of the public, creating partnerships and strategies for reducing crime.

Community Policing by definition does not involve communities owning and running military or paramilitary organizations as in the case of vigilante or neighborhood watch structures that play auxiliary roles to conventional police. It neither requires government recruiting members of a community into the conventional police system and posting them within the communities.

When the clamour for State Police in Nigeria started during the 2011 constitution review process, the idea was to establish local intelligence departments that will carry out Police roles – detecting, preventing and/or investigating crimes that fall within the powers of States. It was to shorten the chain of command peculiar to federal police systems which tends to slow response and reaction to crime.

Proponents of the bill envisaged a Police system where State governors had powers to direct securities to react during peace breach, instead of waiting for federal officials to approve deployment to crime scenes. They also envisaged a police system that would employ community policing strategies – relating mutually with communities to detect, prevent and solve crimes, using operatives that are familiar with the local terrain.

This was to reduce the tendency for compromise and/or failure due to weak knowledge or appreciation of one’s area of posting. The concept was not to build federal police contingents within communities as is being proposed by the federal government. The FG’s idea is to recruit “special constables” that will work on part-time within their local communities to complement the regular Police. Their orders, strategies and supervision are expected to come from the Federal Police hierarchy. This somewhat reviews the complications of the existing system, rather than remedying them.

More complicating is the likelihood of “invader” community members riding on this structure to threaten host communities, or acquire more lands for themselves. Government has in recent times directly or indirectly recognized invaders occupying annexed communities, even providing them security and social amenities. A case in point is the political campaign visit to, and/or registration of people from such areas for voting.

Another instance is the recent establishment of a school in Rankum, a Plateau native community attacked, taken over and renamed ‘Mahanga’ (watchtower in Hausa) by herdsmen. The school built by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Sustainable Development Goals was named after a Fulani leader – “Ardo Mamuda Primary School” contrary to the country’s education laws. The location of the school based on official files reflects the new name given to the village by the violent acquirers, ignoring its original native name.

The recruitment of the personnel for the “community policing” structures does not define “community” as one’s place of origin. This therefore heightens fears that such forceful community owners who are reported to still attack and threaten surrounding surviving native communities will not be exempted if not already shortlisted. Recruiting members of an annexed community into such federal bodies certainly legitimizes their stay, and empowers them to further victimize the already suffering victims of their continued mayhem.

Already, Miyetti Allah Kautal Horre, a Fulani cattle breeder association has announced moves to plant “vigilante” all over Nigeria. The outfit is expected to fight kidnapping, banditry and cattle rustling, officials say. However, Fulani herders have been more indicted in these crimes than any other ethnic group in the country. In fact, early September, an extraordinary meeting of Northern Nigerian herders in Minna, Niger State reportedly resolved to use these crimes to takeover native territories in Southern Kaduna.

This could have made sense as mere criminal activities which the majority of the herder community is opposed to, thus justifying the establishment of a vigilante, or recruitment of same into the community Police Force, regardless of their locations. However, hardly have Fulani leaders exposed criminals among them, or cooperated with security agencies to find them. Instead, many of them have comfortably settled in communities that have been forced to evacuate by the same criminals that they claim to want vigilante to fight. In other instances, they have justified or covered violent crimes by their kinsmen.

With the herders rated among the deadliest ‘terrorist’ groups in the world, the fear of many is that government allowing or approving any structure with the semblance of a military organization that can be influenced or controlled by them might legalize illegal arms already in their possession. These weapons have often been used with or without provocation, and without any military cover to threaten or attack unsuspecting native communities. Getting police licenses would likely provide them cover to use and likely acquire more of such weapons unchallenged.

Perhaps, government reverting to the initial bid, and approving a structure that is funded, run and supervised by local authorities might be more beneficial. Presently, top among challenges peculiar with the existing federal intelligence system is inadequate funding. Acquiring more manpower without the operational tools might be unproductive.

Authorities have allocated over N3billion for the start of the structure. However, recognizing that such allocations are sustainable, government is making moves to transfer the funding of the community police structures to states while still maintaining control over them. This already causes frictions as governors consider that to be working for the federal government – paying operatives they cannot control.

Indeed, the argument that governors might use such structures for political gains if given full powers over them is reasonable, but not when proper checks and balance is maintained. The structures are to be owned by the State not the Governor. There is a limit to what executive officials can do in a functional democracy.

Again, depriving state executive officials powers over the new Police system does not hinder abuse. Many of them still hire securities to intimidate others. The best strategy therefore should not be to withhold such powers, but to hand them with strict conditions, strengthening the federal law enforcement and judiciary system to clamp down on any individual or group, regardless of status or influence when it matters.

Giving full powers over such structures to states gives a sense of ownership and responsibility, and knowing that the safety of their citizens including families of government officials is only guaranteed with a functional security system, they will do everything to make it work. Some of these structures already exist in states and are doing well to complement federal securities. It will be counter-productive to want to take over their ownership as the FG is proposing with the Southwestern Amotekun regional security outfit. It would equally be more wasteful to take over their jobs using a federal system, in addition to the likelihood of a clash.