Confronted with dire security threats, the Nigerian government is, as usual, seeking to compound the problem. The recourse to the establishment of a National Guard as espoused by the Minister of the Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, is wrong-headed and misses the point. The solution to rampant insecurity and the failure of policing requires more robust and practical measures such as devolution of law enforcement and extensive reforms of the security apparatus.
Hosting the Adjutant-General of the California National Guard, United States, David Baldwin, in Abuja, Dambazau said Nigeria was considering setting up its own National Guard “to fill the gap between the operations of the military and the Nigeria Police in tackling security challenges and emergencies.”
As part of measures to deal with raging national epidemic in kidnapping-for-ransom, armed militancy, piracy, sabotage of oil and gas and power infrastructure, gangland violence and terrorism, the proposal may sound alluring to the unwary. After all, well-armed Fulani herdsmen, cattle rustlers, terrorists and ethnic militia have laid waste to parts of the country while inter-communal violence springs up intermittently across the land. In the 12 months to December 2016, 51 cases of kidnapping were reported by the police in Lagos State alone. Up north, the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan, in a December 2016 report, claimed that 808 persons were murdered in violent attacks on 53 villages scattered through four local government areas of Kaduna State, while 16 churches and 1,422 buildings were torched in the long-running rampage by Fulani herdsmen. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation reported 1,447 incidents of pipeline vandalism in 2016 after losing 643 million litres of petrol worth N51.3 billion in 2015 and 52,000 hectares of land devastated in 2014.
Kidnappings, sectarian violence, armed robbery and gang wars have overwhelmed the police, necessitating the deployment of soldiers to 30 of the country’s 36 states by late 2016, according to a tally by SBM Intelligence, a research and intelligence firm. In the North-East region, the military have taken over security as they battle the resurgent terror group, Boko Haram, just as the Joint Military Task Force battling militants and saboteurs in the Niger Delta region is a military operation.
In these circumstances, Dambazau’s guard venture looks tempting, but in reality it is misplaced. The truth is that Nigeria’s security challenges are not insurmountable: it only requires sensible and practical measures commensurate with its peculiar circumstances. Indeed, a former military dictator set up one which was promptly disbanded by his successor who viewed it as a personal praetorian guard.
Dambazau misunderstood the roles and provenance of the US National Guard. It is a unique organisation that has its roots in the individual militias of the colonies that voluntarily came together to form the USA. Today, it is a military organisation that forms part of the reserve components of the US military, with a majority of its members holding civilian jobs and serving in the air wing or infantry corps of the guard. Yes, with units in all 50 states and four territories (including Washington DC), the guards are available to each state governor in times of disasters, widespread riots or general breakdown of order that overwhelms the police. They are, however, not policing units or deployed for normal law enforcement; instead they are regularly deployed in supporting roles to US military forces on foreign deployments.
Nigeria does not need a National Guard. Dambazau, like the government he serves, is reluctant to admit that law enforcement is failing here because of the existing centralised system. The country needs an effective and devolved policing system, not another supra-national military force to drain resources and deliver oppression. The centralised Nigeria Police Force simply cannot cope with today’s challenges. Dambazau’s guest, if asked, would have told him that the US is served by 17,985 separate state and local police forces in addition to over 120,000 full time federal law enforcement officers. In all federal and even unitary countries, local policing is the standard and efficient means of law enforcement. Canada similarly has multiple federal, provincial, city and county agencies with seven provinces voluntarily contracting police services to the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Instead of another inefficient, corrupt and oppressive bureaucratic cost centre, the Federal Government should immediately reform and restructure the police. It is a rotten edifice, many of whose personnel are addicted to corruption. It is over-centralised, heedless of the example of unitary United Kingdom that has 45 territorial and three specialised police forces, not counting numerous local community policing volunteer units.
Security is not all about uniforms, arms and ammunition. A corrupt police cannot be effective. The police have complained repeatedly of under-funding; a government that cannot fund its existing agencies has no business seeking to establish additional agencies. The deployment of almost a third of police personnel to guard duties for public officials and individuals is now the subject of a messy public war between the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and a senator, Isah Misau.
Buhari should order a complete overhaul of the NPF and coordinate with the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution to allow for state police. In the interim, he and Idris have all the necessary leeway to effectively decentralise the police and grant state governors greater control over state commissioners of police.
There should be an end to the creation of money-guzzling agencies. Instead, fund the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps that is saddled with pipeline security and the Federal Road Safety Commission while giving effect to community policing. Police should be well-funded and equipped to handle all types of threats except repelling foreign invasion and armed insurrection that the military are statutorily responsible for.
Some of the security challenges — communal violence, Fulani herdsmen rampage, militancy — require two-pronged approach of strong and impartial law enforcement and redressing institutionalised injustice.
For now, government should discard the National Guard idea, which was rightly shot down in its first incarnation, while it should also veto the ill-advised Nigerian Peace Corps bill passed by the National Assembly in July.