No, I am not convinced”. That was President Muhammadu Buhari’s unequivocal response to a question on the growing call for introduction of state police in the face of widespread killings in virtually every part of the country.
The President had spoken to the Hausa service of the Voice of America (VOA) during his recent visit to the United States where he met President Donald Trump. Official overseas trips have become the only platform where Nigerians get to have insight into the president’s mindset when he speaks to foreign media. His major reason for not buying into the establishment of state police is the cost implication.
According to him, many states are currently unable to pay salaries regularly and cannot shoulder the additional burden of adequately meeting the financial challenge of providing the logistic requirements of a functional police. After the initial argument that Nigeria is not ready for state police as they could be manipulated by political leaders, proponents of this line of thought can no longer advance it given the fact that it is now puerile.
At a time that the police is plainly unable to cope with the multiple flash points in the country and the military is now actively engaged in every region, political leaders and experts have been stridently calling for a fundamental review of the country’s security architecture with emphasis on devolution of powers to the federating units.
The president’s flat refusal to acknowledge the fact that the present security structure has been completely overwhelmed by the evolutionary nature of crime and security challenges is founded on the anachronistic perception born out of the command and control perception of his military training that change and development can only be driven by a strong command centre. His argument that states are too financially unstable to fund their police is flawed.
First, the president wrongly believes that the present revenue collection and allocation system is cast in holy grail. He fails to realise that before the military introduced the current system where every state goes cap in hand every month to collect money from Abuja, each of the regions, as the federal structure was, had considerable control over its own territory. Each region had its own police which they adequately funded. This was down to the fact that the regions were only required to contribute 50 percent of their revenue to the federal purse while they controlled the other half.
The present revenue allocation formula has made the 36 states more like branches of a behemoth of a federal government with more than 60 percent of total federally collected revenue retained by Abuja. President Buhari refers to the so-called “bail out” his government has severally given to the states as proof that states are incapable of fending for themselves. By the his thinking, states are lazy and cannot be trusted to take care of its security needs.
But facts on the ground do not support this. Although every state command of the Nigeria Police Force is said to have its operational budget, no command can be effective without the overt support and funding by state governments. Virtually every state Commissioner of Police regularly runs cap-in-hand to governors for funds. Most operational vehicles, logistic equipment and sundry support facilities are provided by states. In effect, President Buhari’s argument is untenable. If states can fund the commands bar payment of salaries, the amount so expended can considerably provide for their own security outfits.
At a time that the nation is compelled to reinvent itself and review its administrative structure to meet contemporary challenges, the president’s stance is dangerous. By hanging to the flawed belief states are not capable of running their own police, President Buhari is merely laying the foundation for a rebuff of ongoing efforts to restructure the country. Since 1966 when the well articulated federal structure adopted by Nigeria’s founding fathers was dismantled by the military, the country has been tottering, floundering and under-achieving. For too long, revenue from crude oil has been papering over the cracks of a state steeped in a convoluted system that has denied it the manifest potentials.
Many antagonists of the search for a more perfect union had always anchored their stance on the status of crude oil which is controlled wholesale by the federal government. Of course, President Buhari, despite the manifesto of his party that brought him to power, has never hidden his disdain for any review of the federation that will weaken the enormous powers of the centre.
However, even the most ardent hawk of command and control governance is finally resigning to the undeniable truth that Nigeria will only continue to regress if it fails to reinvent itself. It will be a tragedy for the country if President Buhari wields his enormous powers as chief executive to derail the country from the honourable path of laying a fresh foundation for its re-engineering.
We totally disagree with the president on his narrow minded perception of Nigeria’s path to development. In the face of overwhelming acknowledgement that the present arrangement needs to be rejigged, President Buhari should stay faithful to his oath of office to steer the country on the path the people has chosen, not his.