Police Reforms and the Jos Violence

The tears and corpses from the 6 March 2010 pillage of 3 villages near Jos are still fresh and the angst still runs deep, yet we have had a few irresponsible (if ironically insightful) utterances from those who have the responsibility of governing the space called Nigeria.

From the Senate that was quick to commend Goodluck Jonathan on his handling of the Jos crises, to Governor Jonah Jang who stated to the effect that he had no control over security matters in his state; it has been one thoughtless spiel after another.

I think some of these are insightful because they reveal the depth of ineptitude that runs through the crust and core of the ruling class in Nigeria. Governor Jang’s remarks about his security handicap however got me thinking about the need for a police reform in Nigeria and also peeved me to no ends for reasons I will explain in the following paragraphs.

The Nigerian Police is controlled centrally – against all the dictates of a true Federal structure of governance. So Police recruitments, deployments and disengagement are all done ultimately by the President, because he (or she) appoints the Inspector-General, who in turn is the overlord of the Police Force. This arrangement, inherited from the British who needed to exercise firm control over the colony, is long past-due for an overhaul. But like most things inherited from the British (with the notable exception of driving on the left side of the road), Nigerian rulers are unable to evaluate which structures need to be dismantled, which need to be redesigned and how these are to be done.

This Police control structure invariably creates an extremely powerful centre, which successive rulers have shown themselves incapable of managing efficiently, effectively and benignly. So the police has become a tool for exacting retribution from errant governors who have not toed the line drawn by Abuja. In previous military regimes, it was also possible to systematically emasculate the Nigerian Police Force by simply under-funding it from the centre. The authority of state governors can easily be undermined by an un-cooperative police commissioner, who by the way is the only commissioner in a state that is not appointed by the state governor.

The argument made by protagonists of this structure is that state governments cannot be entrusted with the power that comes with having the police force under the command of the state governor. This might be true, particularly if one thinks of the havoc individuals like James Ibori or Lucky Igbinedion could have wreaked if they had their respective state police commands directly under them. It however goes against the grain of reason when one considers that the governor of a state sits at the apex of the executive arm of government in the state and the police is the law enforcement organ of the executive branch. Quite literally, the governor then turn out to be a head that cannot control an arm, talk about failure of the nervous system!

The glaring Police failures and other security lapses across the nation however indicate there is a strong case to be made for having local constabulary forces of some stature which would be responsible for law enforcement and security in each state. One would have thought that with the obvious incapacitation of the governors in this regard, a reform of this nature would have been priority for them. Unfortunately, it seems Nigerians are saddled with 36 mortar-filled craniums for governors; governors who do not see the security of their respective states as important. Some bleached-to-a-mulatto governor in one of the south-west states was once said to have remarked that all the armed robbers in Lagos have relocated to his state!

Against this backdrop, I find Governor Jonah Jang’s statement about being handicapped on state security issues to be faecal nonsense. That state governors have considerable clout is visible in the manner of comatose-President Yar’Adua’s emergence from their ranks in 2007. In the past 4 weeks, they have also shown Acting President Jonathan (AP-JO) just how powerful they could be in blockading his march to the presidency and they only ceded when an additional allocation was reportedly made to them from the Excess Crude Account. If these brain-dead 36 Unwise Men (credit Ijeoma Nwogwugwu @ This Day) only used their clout in more responsible manner, the story of law enforcement and perhaps the Jos mayhem could have turned out differently.

My candid advice to Governor Jang, call Dr. Bukola Saraki to convene another round of the Governor’s Forum and make police reform the first item on the agenda. The interesting thing about this is that the same arm-twisting method (called lobbying) could be brought to bear to drive other aspects of Nigeria’s infrastructural development needs…. but please do not hold your breathe, for we are ruled by 36 Village Idiots.

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