Insecurity: Okiro insists on regional police

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By Cosmas Omegoh

One-time Inspector General of Police, Mr Mike Okiro, has faulted the present structure of police.

He described it as unitary while  contending that it encourages the fight against insecurity. 

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He asked those clamouring for state police to perish the idea, warning that it is a dangerous tool in the hands of reckless governors.

Mr Okiro advocated what he called the Canadian police model, which will see both the federal and state government sharing roles. 

Aside that, he advanced a home-grown model which will see the Federal Government paying police salaries, while the state governments equip the personnel, and exercise some control over policemen in their respective zones. Excerpts:

Amid clamour for state police, what is your take?

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Initially, I never supported state police, looking at the history of Nigeria. You recall that many years ago, we had local government police, regional police and so on. If you look at the history of Nigeria and the roles of those police with regard to the problem in the then Western region around 1965, you will appreciate why after the civil war, the military felt that there should be a unified police system for Nigeria. That was done so as to move away from the regional police to the present Nigeria Police Force. But with the clamour for state police, one will think that with the benefit of hinge sight, and history, the idea of taking the police back to the regions will be a negation of the federal police. That said, I’m of the view that we should still have a federal police for some reasons. One of such reasons is that if some states are not able to pay teachers’ and civil servants’ salary, they might as well not be able to pay the police; because the numerical strength of the police in some states is larger than that of the civil servants. Therefore, if some governors are unable to pay the civil servants, is it the police they will be able to pay? If they fail to do that, you can be sure there will be anarchy. But the way things are going now, I have come to do a rethink. I believe that state governments that are able to equip their own police should do that. It is against this backdrop that I’m  advocating the Canadian model of police. In Canada, they have the Mountain Police, the Regional Police. In Nigeria, if we adopt the Canadian model, the states would employ the police. They will work in the state while the Federal Government pays their salaries. The states buy equipment for their police; then such equipment are used in the state. That spares states the problems of being unable to pay salaries.

Won’t states falsify police personnel figures to get more money from the FG?

No, the states will not be able to do that. The police will be paid using their BVN. Now, you cannot inflate the number of civil servants in the states because that has been checked. And so, no state can influence the number of police officers for the purpose of getting more money from the Federal Government. The number of police men can be easily ascertained. There will be a nominal role. These days we have NIN, we have BVN, so no one can do that. And so, there is no way someone who is not working can collect salaries.

 What is your Regional police model?

I wrote a paper sometime ago when I was the chairman, Police Service Commission. It was tabled before the Council of State for discussion, but nothing came out of it. In that paper, I proposed that since we have six geopolitical zones, we need to have six zones, each headed by a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) from the zone.  Now, instead of having state police, we have a geopolitical police system with a DIG in charge, take for instance, Northwest. We will have the police men from the area working in the zone. That means we can post policemen from Sokoto to Zamfara, Kano or Kaduna, within the same zone, with a DIG in charge. Then the seventh zone will be domiciled at the Force Headquarters. The most senior DIG will be at the headquarters to stand in for the IGP in case he is away. The DIG takes charge; the AIGs will be in the zones. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) at that time didn’t like the idea. So, he went on to canvass against it. Although I was invited by the Council of State to discuss this, it didn’t see the light of the day. Now, I advocate that we can adopt either the Canadian model or my own type of geopolitical police model. If we have the geopolitical police model in place, Kano in the Northwest, for example, will not be asking for state police, the same for Kaduna. So, the clamour for state police will die naturally. This model will help to address the peculiar problems in each geopolitical zone. Each command will tackle its own problems in the best way it can bearing in mind that every DIG in charge knows the challenges of his zone. The officer in-charge of Northwest zone knows the problems in Zamfara. He can move men from Kano to Zamfara. That will bring the police a lot nearer to the grassroots.

What are gains of regionalising police?

One of the advantages is that the police officers in the zones will know and understand the language of their respective zones. They will know the culture of the zone, and the geography of the zone. Compare that to posting a constable from Sokoto to Bayelsa –someone who cannot swim. And you place him in a state where he has to go in a boat to make an arrest? And he cannot speak the language? Surely, he cannot be as effective as the man from Bayelsa or Rivers State. With a zonal DIG from the area, the idea is super. Secondly, recall that the governors have been complaining that they are the chief security officers of their states, yet they cannot control the police. Because of this, many of them turn their backs on the police because they want the commissioners of police to do certain things, but they will not do that. So they don’t equip the police. Now, truth be told, the Federal Government alone cannot equip the police. Most state commands are often depending on the governors. I was once a commissioner of police myself. I depended heavily on the governor – to get fuel and patrol vehicles. APCs were bought by the governor. Sometimes when my men were going on special duties, the governor paid them; the Federal Government couldn’t pay. This is my own experience as a commissioner of police. Oftentimes the governor gave us money; our men were asked to go to a particular fuel station to fuel their vehicles. That was what we were doing. Then the Federal Government was not equipping the state commands enough. As the commissioner of police, I was given N350,000 for vehicles in a quarter. Where would that go? But the governor was helping out.  So, what the governors are saying is that if they cannot control the police, they cannot spend their money on them. But if we can adopt this zonal model, a governor can say ‘okay, since we are within this zone, I will bring my money.’ Not just for my state, but for the zone because the zone is like a human body. If the head is hurting, the leg will feel it. So, if state A within a zone is weak, other state can help out. That is the advantage of this zonal arrangement, rather than having state police or retaining the current federal structure.  


What are the financial and personnel implications of regional police?  

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With this arrangement, the Federal Government will be paying the salaries of policemen as usual, while the zones will equip the force. The added advantage is that the Federal Government now has a lesser responsibility of buying APC, helicopters etc. Here, the DIGs will be answerable to the IGP. But if there are issues, or if a zone is in need, the IGP can send a special force to the affected zone. If there is a matter to be investigated, or issues beyond a zone or cuts across zones, the IG will come in. Take, for instance, if an itinerant criminal living in Abuja commits a crime in Sokoto and, flees to Lagos, such matter can be handled by the IGP. So, the issue of payment of salaries will still remain the responsibility of the Federal Government while the zone equips them. That is where the Canadian model comes in.

How would governors then have a grip now on police?

With this geopolitical police arrangement, the DIG is there, close to the governor, always accessing situations in states in his zone, discussing with the governors, and taking immediate action once there is a challenge. If the problem overwhelms him, he can ask for assistance from the IGP. If the governor gives the commissioner of police or the DIG an instruction which the latter reasons does not go well with the country, he can refer the matter to the IGP.  

Is that not going back to the same old system?

There are ways to look at it. They say he who pays the piper calls the tune. When a governor takes care of the police: equip them, buys them vehicles while the Federal Government pays their salaries, you can be sure that the DIG or commissioner will not go contrary to his dictates as far as it is not against the country itself.

What are the drawbacks of state police?  

If we have the state police, and a governor of party A recruits its operatives, pays them, equips them and appoints the commissioner of police, that same governor, for instance, can order the police chief to arrest the chairman of party B, and he has to do so. If his fails to do that, he is sacked the next day. That is where my proposed zonal arrangement comes in. It will control the excesses of some governors. We cannot say that all the governors are good or bad. But surely, among the 36 of them, some will be trying to over reach themselves and become reckless. So, my model will bring in a kind of check on the governors and deny them 100 per cent control of the police. With state police, we are bound to see people being rewarded for party patronage. Thugs and party members will be recruited to state police; non-party members will be excluded. In this case, we are going to have a Force within a Force. This will run contrary to the course of justice, equity and democracy. I see the governor using the state police to victimise people and running them out of town. 

But does fear of governors negate the  essence of state police?

Everything that has advantages has its own disadvantages. Here, the disadvantages of having a state police overwhelm its advantages, bearing in mind our peculiar situations. In some countries in the Americas and Europe, their cases are different with regard to their own peculiarities. There, the state police system works perfectly. But it is going to be different here. 

So, what can we do to mitigate abuses?

There are issues we can manage, and some we might not be able to mitigate looking at our political situation and economy too. There is no way we can go away from  the governors using commissioners of police they employed to go on an over drive. That is bound to happen. Take, for instance, governors can frame up their opponents and charge him to court. I agreed that the individual might eventually get redress, but before then, he would suffer immensely.

So, how would the geopolitical police  change things? 

In the face of the rising insecurity, the urgent need to address it, and the fear of governors misusing state police, I’m optimistic that my model of policing remains the answer. First, it will douse the agitation for state police. Then, it will remove the long arm of the federal police. It will stop this idea of posting policemen to where they will not be effective. Out there, the governors will equip, and support them. When I was the IGP, for instances, I started the police anti-terrorist squad, and trained the members. Some governors were interested in them, and tried to equip them on their own, while some were not.  At some point, a problem arose in one of the states. The governor wanted me to deploy the anti-terrorist squad. But one of the governors said, ‘IGP, I put down my money to train this squad. Where was the said governor when I was doing that?’ If we have the state police, and a governor trains the operatives, buys them equipment and there is a problem in state B, and you want to move the police to such state such governor will resist that. He will say ‘they are my men. I employed them, I pay them.’ Now, if a suspect commits a crime in Kano and runs to Kaduna, the Kaduna command might say ‘sorry ooo, we cannot use our money to investigate your matter.’ So, we still need a federal police that is partly funded by the states. That is why I insist my zonal model is the answer we need.