Sunday, July 21, 2019 5:28 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
The Federal Government has kicked off a whirlwind of visits to a number of leading traditional rulers in Nigeria. This is aimed at what it called securing the peace and effective maintenance of law and order across the country. In connection with that, President Muhammadu Buhari has given Vice President Yemi Osinbajo the task of bringing up a synergy among the federal, state, and local governments and traditional rulers.
On Saturday 20 July, Prof. Osinbajo kicked off the wide consultations with key traditional rulers in Ogun State. He was with the Awujale of Ijebu Land, Oba Sikiru Adetona and the Akarigbo of Remo Land, Babatunde Ajayi. In the words of Osinbajo: “One of the things that Mr. President has spoken about is the role of traditional rulers in maintaining peace and security in their own locality. As you know, they are the closest to the grassroots, to their communities. And one of the critical things that we expect is that even with our community policing efforts; we expect that there would be some interventions between the traditional rulers, the community police and some of the other efforts that they are making to improve intelligence to understand what is going on. We need to know who is where and what exactly is happening all around, so that these can then be transmitted to the security agencies.”
With the way bandits, kidnappers and terrorists have held the nation by the throat, this is a welcome development. That is the acknowledgement that traditional rulers or the grassroots have a role to play in security matters.
Before the colonialists came, the different nationalities had different ways of securing their territories: Karnem Bornu, Oyo, Benin, the Igbo, Ijaw, Efik, Itshekiri. Among the Yoruba, for example, there was division of power: The Oba held executive power; the Oyo Mesi, legislative; Ogbonis and the Priests, Justice and the military was headed by the Aare Ona Kakanfo, the Generalisimo. At the micro level, the hunters, headed by the Balogun, was in charge of security. He had the Esos (guards) who, like the present day brigade of guards, that protected the king and secured the borders. Also, the Ilaris and Ajeles were like the European district officers who oversaw the dependencies.
That Osinbajo expressed that the grassroots are needed shows that it is the people at that level who know the geography of their own areas, the inhabitants, their history, their proclivities to either be pious or criminal in nature and the intruders that just came to town. In other words, the hunters can be of great advantage, the way Governor Ayodele Fayose, when he was in power, used them against the Fulani herders killing the Ekiti farmers.
The role of the Agbekoyas in 1968 to 1969 in the Old Western Region is a great example of grassroots mobilisation against any form of oppression (that time, it was against heavy taxation). Led that time by Mustapha Okikirungbo, Tafa Popoola, Adeniyi Eda, Adeagbo Kobiowo, Rafiu Isola and Mudasiru Adeniran, the Agbekoyas, according to Adedoyin Tella in connectnigeria.com had a charter of demands:
The removal of local government officials pillaging their villages
The removal of some Baales
A reduction of the flat Tax rate from $8
An end to the use of force in tax collection
An increase in the prices of cocoa
An improvement of the roads leading to many villages
The efforts by the government to crush them with force failed woefully. In fact, a lot of myths were woven around how they rendered soldiers and cops powerless! However, as Tella narrated, the release of Chief Obafemi Awolowo helped to quell the riots, as he negotiated directly with the movement’s leaders.
A recent example was the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) which was a loose group of militants formed in Maiduguri to help fish out Boko Haram members from their hiding places. The Bakassi Boys, a group of youths in Anambra fought against crime (thought hoodlums entered their ranks, making the organisation to be subjected to public criticisms). They later rebranded as Anambra Vigilante Service. The most recent example was how the
Lagos State Police Command that declared Gani Adams wanted in 2001 decided to collaborate with him and the organisation he leads, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in 2017 during the terror imposed on the people of Ikorodu by Badoo boys. This collaboration was brokered by Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Edgar Imohimi.
Here lies the crux of the matter. The Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, establish state police. At a point, there was a disagreement between President Buhari and Osinbajo on the matter. As reported by The Punch of 13 November 2018, Osinbajo said in a lecture titled, “Restructuring and the Nigerian federation,” in Lagos:
“On the security question, we must establish state police; there’s no question, at all, about that. Today, the challenges that we are facing are enormous. A federation of 200 million people and a state cannot control its own police; there must be state police. That doesn’t mean that there will not be federal police. The federal police will remain for borders security, elections, to check smuggling and so on. But we must still have state police and community police. Today, many of the state governments pay the police. That just shows you that whether we like it or not, it is the same governors that are even paying anyway. We cannot say that a governor is the chief security officer of a state when he has no control over security in his state. So, there is a strong case to be made.
However, Buhari countered in an interview with the Hausa Service of the Voice of America: “We must carefully look at the position of the nation’s constitution on the issue of state police before we take a final decision on the matter. If the constitution allows state police, so be it. But don’t forget that many times the Federal Government gave out what we referred to as bailouts to state governments for the payment of workers’ salaries. How many states can pay salaries promptly? And you want to add more financial burden on the states? It is not proper to employ a person, train him in how to handle weapons and then refuse to pay him – you can imagine what would happen in such situation.”
While the two leaders should, in the interest of Nigeria, harmonise their positions, there are many reasons that Nigeria needs state police and why this will work:
First, most crimes are local. That is why many states have come up with some forms of law enforcement personnel. In Lagos, LASTMA officials enforce traffic rules; Kano has the Hishbah or Shariah police and others. Secondly, state governments now heavily fund Nigeria Police. They buy and give them vehicles Armoured Personnel Carriers, ammunition and others.
Joint task forces in flash points like Maiduguri and Ikorodu have the locals as members. Lastly, it is the locals who know where the desperados are that can fish them out.
In an article, “State police: Learning from history” Oluwole Ogundele of Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan wrote: “The Nigeria Police Force was established in 1820 when Calabar was the capital of what later became Nigeria – a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural geo-polity of about 923,768 square kilometres. But before the country’s entanglements with Europe, starting from the mid-15th century or thereabouts, the various ethnicities occupying the broad territory had their own indigenous knowledge systems of peace promotion or maintenance of law and order. Two of these security control mechanisms entail the activities of local hunters and secret societies. In other words, rural communities depended heavily on hunters (great ‘surveyors’ of the local landscapes) for policing among other things. It is important to note here, that most rural Nigerian communities still depend on hunters for security purposes. Similarly, such secret societies as the Ogboni and Ekpe among the Yoruba and Efik respectively were well known for fighting crimes and criminality during the pre-colonial and early colonial periods. They were the guardians of domestic and public morality.”
He added that the above secret societies were good in detecting crimes and punishing criminals or wrongdoers in accordance with local customs and ethics. These indigenous law enforcement agencies, as he argued, fell into disuse in the face of European proselytism/cultural domination during the colonial period. “However, local hunters retain some elements of their role as police officers up to now especially in the rural settlements. This means that local police and policing were not new to Nigeria right from the pre-colonial period (starting from 1861).”