Governors’ security details and police ‘mai guards’ for big men By Ropo Sekoni

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The question that is likely to still remain on the minds of most citizens is why governors elected by citizens in a free and fair election would need 62 security details, sixteen years after the exit of military dictatorship.

The police has recently announced its decision to cut security details for governors from 150 to 62. The decision was sequel to calls by President Buhari for liberation of hundreds of police men and women meant to protect the community from serving as Mai Guards in the homes and cars of powerful men and women in the society. The question that is likely to still remain on the minds of most citizens is why governors elected by citizens in a free and fair election would need 62 security details, sixteen years after the exit of military dictatorship. Citizens are also worried about thousands of police officers attached to retired ministers, commissioners, and even local government chairmen in a country where the only time citizens see police men or women is on highways and street corners where police ask motorists for their driving and vehicle permits, preparatory to extorting them.

In a way, the recent reduction of governor’s security details from 150 to 62 smacks of some commitment on the part of the IGP to the ethic of change. In the past sixteen years, governors and their wives, and often, children have experienced the generosity (or prodigality?) of the state. There was a time in the recent past when governors’ wives travelled with 40 security details and aides on the same day their gubernatorial husbands were on another assignment that required at least 60 state protectors. Should children of such governors also need to be somewhere else at the same time, they too were entitled to police men to secure them on their way to clubs, bars, or friends. It is still a common sight to see governors alight from their cars in the midst of 50 or more security details, even now that change is in the air.

A few years ago, the governor of Dubai was featured on CBS 60-minute Sunday documentary, riding a horse and stopping to talk to citizens and driving his own car and stopping to chat with citizens. It was a moving scene of love and admiration between the ruler and the ruled. When asked why the governor would risk a foolhardy mingling with citizens without heavy police protection, he said that there was no reason for him to fear those whose interest he was working to protect and promote. In the governance style that we have in Nigeria, it certainly will be suicidal for most of our governors to see their guests off from their sitting rooms without tens of security details suffocating them and their guests. Such behaviour is typical in most post-colonial African states from Cairo to Cape Town and from Dakar to Dodoma. Our rulers in post-colonial Africa still see themselves as successors to the colonial governor and district officer who needed to be protected from the wrath and jealousy of blood-thirsty primitive natives God had brought them to Africa to civilise.

The mention of jealousy of colonialists by the colonised is not to imply that there is no jealousy or even envy between those who rule and those who are ruled in Africa in the post-colonial moment. In countries under military rule, the rulers need protection against the electorate whose elected governments they displace by violence, more so when such military dictators repeat the political and economic sabotage of the state for which they dismiss elected civilians. Given the bellicose nature of multiparty politics in Nigeria, especially the hostility between ruling and opposition parties in a system that is characterised by an electoral culture in which the ruling party sees remaining in power as a life-and-death matter, post-election politics often requires that winners be given adequate protection. The need for special protection for governors and other holders of political appointments may not necessarily have anything to do with the behaviour or policies of governors. Even in a properly constituted democratic government, it may be foolhardy for governors with people-friendly policies and programmes not to take precaution, as the thugs of political parties that lost elections are still around to cause mayhem.

It is thus understandable that governors be given adequate protection, but 62 security details are still too many in a country with less than 400,000 police to protect 180 million citizens, not to talk of state and personal property that requires round-the-clock protection by security personnel. I have heard those who said that 62 security details should not be considered too outrageous, if we truly recognise that our governors, regardless of the quality of their governance require protection against evil doers. Reducing governor’s security staff by 88 per governor leaves the country with additional 3,168 to return to the general pool to protect citizens. This is also a good time to seek more rationalisation in the allocation of state security personnel to non-gubernatorial big men and women as personal security guards.

The IGP ought to know (and if not, needs to be reminded) that there are thousands of citizens perceived by the government as value-added super men and women who have police protection in their homes, cars, as well as in the cars of their spouses. In many cases, such police men are seen carrying the bags of their oga’s wives to and from the market, standing behind them in party halls, and standing at the doors of beauty parlours each time such wives of extraordinarily value-added men choose to paint their nails. Under the category of men and women of political power, the culture is that those who had served as ministers, commissioners, speakers, and in other ‘high-wattage’ political offices have police attached to them for life. The list includes surviving ministers from governments overthrown by military dictators since the sudden end of Balewa’s government for unacceptable level of corruption. Even individuals who served under military governments in what is considered in the country’s political culture as larger-than-life capacity between 1966 and now are also being protected at the expense of the state. Even three months into the government of change, members of the previous executive and legislature are still being protected by police men in cars that have no tags and those that carry NASS plate numbers.

There must be a better strategy for protecting citizens who had held political appointments before than just reducing the number of security staff attached to them. While governors and current ministers may have some reason to fear for their lives, there is no reason why the state should be spending taxpayers’ money on special protection for individuals who ordinarily should not be in harm’s (or ‘arms’?) way months and years after leaving office. In an ethos of equality before the law and equal opportunity for all citizens, there is a need for the new National Security Adviser to think anew about how to make former political office holders feel at ease after leaving office.

There is also no logical reason to be renting government security staff to economic giants or billionaires who also feel unsafe, to the extent of requiring special police to watch over them in their living rooms and bedrooms. In the universities twenty-five years ago, vice chancellors did not have policemen running around them and their wives. But today, a vice chancellor without a police orderly is a rarity. Even some vice chancellors of state and private universities are now seen in public with police orderlies sitting beside their drivers on highways while it is impossible for any citizen to get police to respond to stress calls.

There is so much advantage that advances in technology can provide to support governments’ efforts to protect the life and property of current and past political office holders, more so that electricity supply is improving by the day. Electronic surveillance, home alarm systems, security presence in communities rather than in the homes of individuals with political or economic power are some of such devices to release thousands of police men working as Mai guards for politicians to protect communities.

NATION