While reacting to the escalating levels of violence unleashed by some herdsmen on some communities and farmers in some States of the Federation, a socio-political group, Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) has called for a state of emergency to be declared in Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and Zamfara States. The Group also condemned calls for the establishment of State Police, claiming that ‘it would be a recipe for disaster and an oppressive and manipulative tool in the hands of governors’. These are indeed some of the most curious, strange, and outlandish recommendations from any group in the country considering the dire times Nigerians live in.
State of emergency? For what purpose? To serve whose interest? The interest of democracy or the selfish agenda of a few persons who want to impose their puny will on the collective will of the people through undemocratic means? Has there been a breakdown of law and order in the states in question? Have the governors failed to rise to the defence of their people? If anything, it is the Federal Government that has failed the states by not providing enough security on life and property.
The issues canvased by the CNG are clear. The tenor of the discussions in the country supports the creation of State Police through a Constitutional amendment. The security challenges which Nigeria currently experiences cannot be dealt with with the anachronistic policing system which is in place now. Indeed Nigeria is the only country in the world that practices a unified command of policing in a federal system of government. Elsewhere, apart from State Police there are other levels of policing, ranging from Local Government to Community Police. There are also specialized Police Forces in some instances. The advantages of localized Police Forces have been well documented. The strongest reason is the familiarity which locals have with their environment. As a result, infractions or potential sources of insecurity are quickly dealt with.
The unified command system which Nigeria runs has failed. Fittingly, the APC which is the ruling party in the country, led by President Muhammadu Buhari has come around to accept State Police. It is the right thing to do. It is the right way to go. The fear that state governors would manipulate the Police under their control to intimidate their opponents can be allayed once constitutional and legal frameworks are created to check excesses at any level. For example, some of the excesses of the Nigeria Police controlled by the Federal Government have been checked through actions in the law courts. Also, when approved, there will be Federal and State crimes and each Police Force would know and respect their boundaries. It is also instructive to note that local policing is currently in practice in some states through vigilante and civil defence groups. Sometimes they are even more effective than the regular Police Force.
A state of emergency is conceived by framers of the Constitution as a last resort in any society. In spirit and practice, when a State of Emergency is declared, civil liberties are often at risk. This is antithetical to the democratic culture which nigeria has practiced successfully and consistently since 1999. The situation in the four States mentioned does not call for a suspension of civil liberties and all political structures. The source of dispute between farmers and herdsmen can be handled when the will is summoned. Right now, that will is absent. The ends of justice are being toyed with by the near-official cover-up of criminal acts by unlicensed gun holders. Where in the world does a Minister of Defence assert that herdsmen who took the laws into their own hands and killed hundreds of innocent citizens did so in self defence? In other climes such a Minister, as a representative of the collective interest of the people would be asked to resign, coming in the wake of the Benue massacre that was a most insensitive, lawless and irresponsible statement.
Cattle-rearing is a commercial enterprise. It is big business around the world. Billions of dollars are invested by the owners. They seek and buy land anywhere they do desire. The state never acquires land for them. The current situation where cattle graze on the crops of farmers is unacceptable. It is increasing tension in the country. The idea of state-created cattle colonies is also a misnomer. Ranches are the best option under the circumstance.
The Federal Government should set in motion the machinery for reviewing aspects of the 1999 Constitution with a view to entrenching the ideals of true federalism. All vestiges of the unitary system of government which were inherited from the nation’s unhealthy romance with military governments should be expunged from the Constitution. After the amendment, only states that can afford State police and are interested may create them. Cattle owners should be encouraged to create ranches with support of loans from Agricultural Banks like other farmers have done. As for the call for a declaration of a State of Emergency, it is spurious and off target. Justice, fairness and equity for all should be the watchword of the Federal Government in order to foster the spirit of harmony among the different ethnic groups that make up Nigeria.