Around this time last week, a visitor to this country would have thought that the country was at the risk of disintegration, with the weight of anti-federalist words in the air, because of the order from the Ondo State governor that people without permission to be in the state’s forest reserves vacate the premises. If any of such visitors were to return to Nigeria today, a week after the threat of fire and brimstone that included threats from various sociocultural organizations, such visitor would have exclaimed for experiencing physically the Nigerian Factor of compulsive ‘a-logicality’ or unpredictability.
To think that what almost set the country on fire last week, according to the communique at the end of the Akure meeting, was the claim that the words of Governor Akeredolu about the need for trespassers to stay out of the state’s forest reserves were misconstrued. The good thing is that many Nigerians who understand that this is the only country we have would have slept better since the visits of governors from Ondo and Oyo states to President Buhari, where some requested for additional anti-riot police.
Now that the people of Ondo State and their supporters across the land and members of Miyetti Allah and their supporters can breathe better is a good time to give a little more attention to the roots of whatever must have gone awry two weeks ago in Ondo State—things that should have happened to the nation’s security that could have been nipped in the bud the problem that nearly shook Nigeria to its foundation two weeks ago. A Yoruba proverb that had appeared frequently on this page in the past; Bi omode ba subu, a wo iwaju, bi agbalagba ba subu a woeyin (If a toddler trips, he or she looks to the front for help, but if an elderly person trips, he looks back for the cause) becomes useful for today’s discussion. In which direction should those ruling the country have looked to avoid the rise in political temperature in Akure and even in Ibarapa in the past two weeks? Or what should the governments at the subnational levels—state and local—do to prevent putting the country under stress over proper management of subnational land, going forward?
One point was missed at the Akure meeting or during visits of Southwest governors to the president after the meeting: restating the call for subnational policing. We have lived with avoidable contradictions in the country for too long and the crisis of the last two weeks in Akure and Igangan are traceable to our-head-in-the-sand approach to security in the land. In most parts of the world, governments have more and better access to state-of-the-art knowledge about just anything than other institutions. In Nigeria, the fear of change instilled in the nation’s psyche by military rule and civilian beneficiaries from the current military-authored constitution has also encouraged those who govern Nigeria at all levels to settle for a culture of ruling from one crisis to another, rather than doing something novel that can move the country forward.
No government institution illustrates this attitude better than the country’s system of policing. British colonizers left a keep-the-natives-peaceful police system to protect the national government while allowing subnational governments to protect life and property at the subnational level. Without any deep study, military rulers demonized subnational policing and transformed the colonial police into a monopoly police that is an anathema in federations and even in many countries with unitary constitutions. And the rest is history.
If there is a matter that should arise from the recent rapprochement between the governors of the Southwest and Miyetti Allah, it is the need to recognize the importance of multilevel policing that would allow states to have police to protect life and property at the subnational level, without state governors having to wait for the 500,000 national police hired to protect the life and property of over 200 million Nigerians and state property like forest reserves.
People calling for subnational policing are not necessarily noisemakers that many political leaders call them. They may be some compass that political leaders may find useful, if they want to avoid the kind of rattling of the nation that took place in Ondo and Oyo states two weeks ago. It is nice to be optimistic about the rapprochement in Akure, but it may be foolhardy to believe that we have put the matter of farmer-herder violence and other forms of crime such as kidnapping and banditry to rest permanently, even though this writer and many other believers in the advantages of multinational federalism would have wished so.
One important group that was absent at the Akure peace meeting is that of international or foreign Fulani herdsmen. From the response of many leaders from federal and subnational governments to complaints in the last few years about violence against farmers and increase in the number of AK-47-carrying young herders across the country, one point that frequently surfaces from government quarters is that most of such killers are not from Nigeria. There is, therefore, a good reason for Ondo and other states to have an autonomous security response to such foreign herders whenever they appear in the country. Rather than thinking that the view that many violent herdsmen in the country are foreigners, governors should be empowered to prepare for such reality, as security leaders have done in other countries.
In a book, Leading Policing in Europe: An Empirical Study of Strategic Police Leadership by Bryn Caless and Steve Tong, the issue of preparing for future policing that can respond to changes in Europe revealed that new crimes arising from technology and globalization call for new thinking in individual EU countries and in the larger federation of states itself. It is important for political leaders, especially in a large country like Nigeria, to borrow knowledge from other countries faced with rising number of crimes and additional policing in a fast-changing world: cybercrime, public order, internal terrorism, illegal trafficking, transnational organized crime including external terrorism, etc. Is the current one-stone-to-kill-all-birds policing system in Nigeria suitable for the new world that is distinct from the one confronted by British colonizers when they created the Nigeria Police Force?
This is a time for Nigerian political leaders to act in a way to suggest that the worldviews and human behaviour once held by military rulers in the country has started changing, given the exposure they receive from international training. So have civilians in Nigeria with awareness of wht is happening other parts of the world been changing. Had Akeredolu or Makinde had a state police designed to protect life and property in each state and one that is fully equipped to provide security, there would have been no reason for the governors to wait this long to prevent their states from being overrun by violent herdsmen—national or international. I heard President Buhari warn ECOWAS leaders the other day about the importance of reinforcing security in the region. But Nigeria as one country with about 45% of the population of ECOWAS needs such advice, even for home use.
For over one year, Nigeria’s borders had been closed to its neighbours, yet there were enough foreign Fulani herders in the land. As ECOWAS grows, at it should do for the sake of the region’s economic development, there will be many more foreign Fulani, Yoruba, Creole, Wolof, Bambara, and many others in Nigeria. As part of the human family, many of such people will come here to improve their livelihood legally while some will be criminal-minded. Does Nigeria have a police system to protect the giant of Africa from its historical duty as the region’s largest country? No, if Nigeria does not have reliable security in its subnational space.
There is no better time for the ruling party, the opposition party, President Buhari, and the national and state legislatures, and governors to come to terms with the reality that the Nigeria Police Force needs help from subnational police systems that is better empowered than the current Amotekun. The country has seen enough insecurity in the last few years to continue believing that one central police can meet the security challenges facing the country, now and in the future. We need subnational police that will save state governors from waiting for trespassers to settle in forest reserves before ordering them to leave and prevent private citizens, like Sunday Igboho, from having to protect the life and property of members of his natal community that is a tax-paying part of a larger federation.
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