The order by President Muhammadu Buhari that military checkpoints across the country be dismantled is understandable given that the job of internal security belongs to the police and the military have enough on their plate with the territorial integrity of Nigeria threatened in the North East.
The military’s job therefore is to protect the country against external aggression even though they may be engaged, when necessary, to help quell internal insurrection, as the case may be, after which, the men should return to the barracks.
The President must have given the order, apparently, to re-focus the military on their primary duty of national defence; while at the same time urging the police to assume their statutory duties. That the order was the outcome of a meeting between the President and the chief of defence staff, service chiefs and director of military intelligence over insecurity in the country automatically shows it was a well considered position, but one which needs to be ex-rayed in the light of the nation’s peculiar security challenges.
Without doubt, the President’s position is the ideal. But given the dire security situation in Nigeria today, before the military is totally disengaged from internal policing, certain measures should be put in place in order not to expose the citizens to greater danger than they are already living with. The police, for instance, should be properly equipped, motivated and strengthened in number. The Nigeria Police Force as it is today cannot handle the nation’s security challenges. There are capable officers and men in the Force’s ranks but the number is not enough, the structure is weak and equipment is non-existent.
To ensure effectiveness, the Force has to be reorganised. In the immediate, mobile police patrols should be deployed to undertake more tactical and effective surveillance on the highways. And more men must be recruited. Once the police are given the needed instruments for their job, they can deliver. The Force performed beyond expectation during the recent general elections, meaning that the problem often lies in the fact that the officers and men are not well equipped and poorly motivated.
The Nigerian military have to concentrate on their core critical security challenges, especially attacks on the country. At present, their attention would seem diverted from the external aggression the nation is facing with men needed on the frontline being deployed for internal policing. Certainly, the military needs to face Boko Haram squarely and tackle militancy in the Niger Delta.
Unfortunately, however, the crimes that brought the military to the checkpoints have also continued to fester. Robbery, kidnapping, proliferation of small arms, among others, are still rampant. Nigeria should, therefore, devise a strategic plan to deal with all these issues, especially an alternative strategy aimed at uplifting the operational capacity of the police, even as the withdrawal of soldiers from checkpoints is a desirable ideal.
The fact is that Nigeria is grossly under-policed. With about 377, 000 policemen in a country of more than 150 million people, it is clear that a huge gap exists and for which the people suffer. Besides, the technological infrastructure that can aid security work is non-existent. Worse still, a large number of members of the police force are attached to private individuals of means or station as security guards. Not long ago, a former inspector general of police disclosed that over 100, 000 policemen are on illegal duties nationwide. When this number is removed from the number of policemen in the country, it means that the number of policemen actively on duty is a little over 200, 000!
Of course, the case is ever more compelling for the decentralization of the police force. Until Nigeria has a police force that is decentralized in the true sense of a federal state and capable enough to effectively police the entire country, taking the military off internal security duty may be dangerous. There are even vulnerable flash points in parts of the country that cannot be left unsecured for a moment and the military may be needed in such places.
Given the size of Nigeria and the high wave of crime in the country, the local governments, states and the Federal Government should have separate police departments which, of course, collaborate in the interest of the people of Nigeria.
That soldiers have had to join in internal security duty of the police is the greatest advertisement of how under-policed Nigeria is and the best case for a decentralisation.
In the end, the order to remove soldiers from the checkpoints should be a wake-up call on the nation’s authorities to do the right thing.