By Omoniyi Salaudeen
As Nigeria continues its steady drift towards the abyss or at best, an informal self-help arrangement, borne out of the failure of the Federal Government to provide adequate security for its citizens, there is now a fresh debate about the imperative or otherwise of having a state police.
The newly launched Benue State security outfit by Governor Samuel Ortom again stirred the raging national discourse.
Ortom’s decision to float the state security outfit known as Community Volunteer Guards followed the escalating trend of terrorism and banditry in the country which had earlier compelled some state governors to declare support for self-help initiatives, as well as liberalization of arms bearing.
The Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari, was the first to take the bull by the horns when it became obvious that the federal-controlled security operatives had been overwhelmed by the activities of the bandits and terrorists.
In his argument in support of self-help, Masari had said that it was morally wrong for people to submit meekly to the hoodlums without any attempt to defend themselves, adding that “it is the people’s gentle submission that emboldens the bandits to continue with their heinous activities. He said the state government would help those who plan to own arms to bring an end to banditry, noting that the number of security personnel is not enough to tackle the situation.
“It’s Islamically allowed for one to defend himself against attack. One must rise to defend himself, his family, and assets. If you die while trying to defend yourself, you’ll be considered a martyr. It’s surprising how a bandit would own a gun while a good man trying to defend himself and his family doesn’t have one.
“We’ll support those who come with the initiative to procure arms because residents need to also complement the efforts of security agencies. These people (security agents) don’t have the number to protect the people.”
Also, the Zamfara State governor, Mohammed Matawalle, frustrated by the rising security concern in the state, made the same declaration in support of self-help, directing residents of the state, particularly farmers, to acquire guns to defend themselves against marauding terrorists and bandits.
Consequently, he ordered the Commissioner of Police in the state to issue licences to residents willing and fit to bear arms, to protect themselves against armed criminals.
A statement by his Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Magaji Dosara, added that the state government would distribute 500 forms to each of the 19 emirates in the state for those willing to obtain self-defence weapons.
He also disclosed that the government had ordered for the recruitment of 200 additional Community Protection Guards (CPG) in each of the 19 emirates to boost their manpower and capacity to tackle banditry and other crimes in the state. This, he stated, was in addition to the formation of additional paramilitary units to boost the operation of the state’s community protection guards.
The statement reads in part: “Government has henceforth, directed individuals to prepare and obtain guns to defend themselves against the bandits, as the government has directed the state Commissioner of Police to issue licences to all those who qualify and are wishing to obtain such guns to defend themselves.
“Government is ready to facilitate people, especially, our farmers, to secure basic weapons for defending themselves. The government has already concluded an arrangement to distribute 500 forms to each of the 19 emirates in the state for those willing to obtain guns to defend themselves.”
Benue State has also had its fair share of the sour taste of herders/farmers’ attacks in recent times causing incessant loss of lives. Governor Ortom said that the continued attacks on communities in the state by Fulani herdsmen and the killing of innocent people were due to a hidden agenda of the aggressors and the failure of the Federal Government to nip the crisis in the bud.
Ortom, while launching the Community Volunteer Guards with about 500 personnel drawn from the 23 local government areas at the IBB Square, Makurdi, the Benue State capital, pledged that his administration would legally procure AK-47, AK-49, and other sophisticated weapons for the group.
“Given the fact that the Federal Government has consistently failed to disarm the Fulani terrorists who have continued to maim and kill our people at will, the state government is going to apply for a License to legally procure AK47, AK49, and other sophisticated weapons for the Benue State Volunteers Guards to enable them to tackle these murderous terrorists effectively,” Ortom said.
Northwest states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto, Katsina and Kebbi are currently the epicentres of terrorism and banditry in the country. So are the North-central states of Niger and Benue.
Some of these states have had to resort to the creation of state security outfits due to the failure of the Federal Government to heed the people’s agitation for the decentralisation of the policing system in the country.
Now that states are gradually gravitating towards informal security outfits or self-help initiatives, as the case may be, the general concern now is the looming danger of the worrisome trend amidst the seemingly insurmountable security challenge facing the country.
All through human history, the security of lives and property is the primary responsibility of every government. To this extent, therefore, the inability of the Federal Government to effectively perform the onerous task of securing the lives of the citizens has been described by some security experts as a fundamental index of a failed state.
According to the dictionary meaning, “a failed state is a state whose political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control. Though the roof has not collapsed, life is no longer at ease in the country.”
Caught in the webs of controversy between the need for state police and state-funded security outfits, concerned stakeholders disagreed as to which is the better option.
They are, however, unanimous in blaming the current threatening food security in the country on the activities of terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers, stressing the need for urgent action by the relevant authorities to ensure the sanctity of human lives.
Mr Olalekan Jackson, a renowned security expert, while expressing reservation for both self-help and state security outfits in an interview with Sunday Sun said: “In every part of the world, the formal security system is controlled by the state, local and Federal Government in the best option. It is the present situation of the country that is pushing everybody towards self-help or state initiative of forming security outfits.
“When citizens lose confidence in the state, they seek self-help; whereas self-help can only lead to anarchy. Besides, with the rising level of poverty in the country, possession of firearms cannot only be for self-defence alone, it will be used for other criminal activities. At the end of the day, it will lead to more sophisticated banditry in Niger, Katsina, Zamfara, Benue, Kaduna, Kebbi, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa, as well as Ondo State because criminal elements will hide under the guise of self-defence to acquire firearms to do kidnapping. It cannot result in any good thing in any society, particularly in Nigeria.
“For me, Nigeria, as of today, is a failed state. It is a failed state not only in terms of security, but also economically. Food insecurity is rearing its ugly head in every part of the country. This is because people who are producing food in the Northern parts of the country can no longer go to their farms.
“Unfortunately, I am not an advocate of state. This is not because it is not good, but because it won’t be affordable. If state police is approved now, I doubt if we can find more than two or three states in the country that can effectively fund state police. The kits alone will run into billions of naira. Is it the states that cannot pay the N3,000 minimum wage that will fund state police?
“The way out is to strengthen the Police Council to support the federal police. Police Council comprises the president, the ministers, and all the state governors. If these people can work together, what they need to increase the number of police we have to about two million. At present, we have 350 policemen to police over 200 million people. Out of this figure, almost 50,000 are with the so-called VIPs. Out of the remaining 300,000, you will still find about 50,000 within the Aso Rock and also as attaches of ministers and others. In all, we have less than 200,000 to police over 200 million people.
“Most of the states are hiding under the shadow of state police to recruit into security outfits. What these people do in the afternoon is different from what they do under the cover of darkness. They may end up robbing the people they are employed to protect. Apart from Rivers and Lagos states, there is no other state that can afford state police. If we force them to do it, by the time they cannot pay salaries for two or three months, they will use the arms they bear to fend for themselves.
“Let us not deceive ourselves, when two terrorists or bandits come in full force with superior weapons, one thousand state security outfits cannot withstand them. How do you confront a lion with a cat? It is not possible.”
Chief Chekwas Okorie also kicked against the formation of state security outfits, warning that the trend would spell doom for the country. “With a country as large as Nigeria and population over 200 million people, the best option which has been canvassed, but which unfortunately no government has listened to is state and community policing. It’s what is done in most developed democracies in the world. And that will save us from these private armies that are being raised in the name of fighting insecurity. The danger of setting up all these outfits is that they can actually be turned into a real fighting force. And that will spell doom for Nigeria,” he said.
According to him, state police and community policing is the best option to tackle the security challenges confronting the country.
“I am really very worried that the Federal Government has not seen the need to formalize and institutionalize the formation of state police and community policing as the surest way of making every citizen a stakeholder in security matters.
“Policing the vast area such as Nigeria by the locals who are trained for that purpose and who are recognized by law is the best option. That is what other countries are doing to secure their lives.
“I don’t see any serious challenge in funding the state police. In the first place, the vote we are spending to run police from the centre to every part of the country is enormous. In fact, what we are looking at is the entire restructuring of the country so that there will be a review of the revenue allocation. By the time we do a proper restructuring, revenue allocation to the centre will reduce drastically.
“But some people feel that it serves their purpose of domination to have a centralised policing system in the country with all our diversities in terms of culture, language, religion, and all that. It is not working, it has failed us over time and it is about time we reversed what others do. We are not asking that the wheel should be reinvented. When you have community policing not even a single forest will be left unprotected. There will be nothing like an ungoverned area. There will be no space for camping of terrorists or invaders. With the current system, they can stay one month in the forest undetected and from there launch their attacks,” he said.
Frank Kokori, however, faulted Okorie’s argument, insisting that local security outfits are more in a better position to police the local community because of their knowledge of their environment.
He said: “I am 100 per cent in support of the state apparatus. Amotekun, for instance, has been doing its best in the Southwest. And since the Federal Government is deaf to the whole clamour for state police, anyway the states can protect their people, they should do it. If they like, they can call it vigilante, but they should be armed so that they will be able to protect themselves.
“There is no law that says the states cannot protect themselves. I am not happy with states that have not done it. I am not happy with my state – Delta State. I call on Governor Ifeanyi Okowa every day to do it, they have not done it. Every state should actually key into it and finance it. They can find an orthodox way of arming them in the same way the bandits acquired their arms so that they won’t go and confront terrorists with AK-47 with dane guns.
“Look at the food shortage we have in Nigeria today. If the farmers in the North and in the South can go to their farms, Nigeria cannot be hungry.
“All it requires is set a good state security outfit to do proper profiling of the people to be recruited to be sure that they are not criminal elements. Every community knows its committed compatriots.
“Don’t you see what the states are doing for the police? At times they buy over 100 vehicles. Do you know how many millions they spend in buying those vehicles and equipment? Yet, the police are always reluctant to go into the bush. But the vigilantes know their environment. The hunger we are having now in the country is a result of farmers’/herders’ clashes. And the powers-that-be at the federal level is treating them with kid gloves. The states should wake up. It is only in the Southeast where they are using it to fight themselves instead of fighting the criminals. I don’t support what they are doing. They should go into the bush and fight the herdsmen.
“Normally, there will be some bad eggs among them. But since it is community-based, if you are a criminal, people will know you. Community people know their bad elements and the good ones. So, the community cannot recruit criminals into the vigilante. There are some ex-policemen and ex-military men who are of good character and are volunteers in the communities. All it requires is to properly organize them and assist them financially. They are better off securing their environment than the police.
“Before now, I was against state security outfit, but today I am not against it. It is only fanatics or fundamentalists who will tell you that we don’t need state security outfits. We need them the way we are now. In developed countries, central and local police work together to fight evils. That is how it should be.”