Magodo siege rekindles urgency of state policing
NIGERIA’S false federalism was on display when federal forces arrogantly hijacked a local dispute by deploying the police in Magodo, a private estate in Lagos State. In the ensuing battle for control, the head of the police team deployed from Abuja openly defied Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who visited Magodo on Tuesday in a bid to resolve the logjam. Undoubtedly, the defiance Abimbola Oyewole (a lowly chief superintendent of police) exhibited punctured the fiction that a governor is the chief security officer of a state.
Showing Indifference to authority, Oyewole exchanged words with Sanwo-Olu in full public glare. For two weeks, a police detachment had become an army of occupation in Magodo Phase II. Its mission: to enforce a 2012 Supreme Court judgement that the state government allocate 549 plots to the nearby Shangisha Landlords Association members.
Although the Lagos State Government is the authority to implement this, the Inspector-General of Police Usman Baba, and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami,bypassed the governor and deployed the police in Magodo. Baba and Malami overreached themselves. Many lawyers have described the action as an abuse of power. They have no justification to interfere in a land dispute in Lagos.
The siege led to the avoidable tension. With the support of the police from Abuja, the Shangisha landlords marked houses for demolition. This prompted the Magodo landlords to take countermeasures, including locking down the estate. Sanwo-Olu had intervened initially, but the police contingent refused to leave until the crisis peaked on January 3.
Nigeria’s is a warped, inverted federal system, where a mid-level police officer would brazenly disobey a state governor. Such behaviour is sustained by the impunity of the Federal Government, reducing the states to insignificance. In a natural federation, which Nigeria purports to be, this could spark a major disaster.
Admittedly, the past and present administrations in Lagos State cannot escape censure for mismanaging the Magodo land tussle. Sanwo-Olu’s offer to provide alternative 549 plots of prime land should have been made by the state government since 2012 when the Supreme Court delivered its judgement. The failure of successive state administrations to settle with the Shangisha landlords was reckless. This Led to the desperate,ill-advised recourse to Abuja. But two wrongs can never equate to a right. Baba and Malami are way out of line. To serve the needs of justice and especially for the sake of the innocent allottees and landlords/residents of Magodo caught in the middle, Sanwo-Olu should move quickly and resolve this tussle once and for all.
Essentially, however, the CSP’s disrespect reflects Nigeria’s hollow federalism. On paper, a governor is assumed to be the CSO in a state. In practice, a CSP, with the support of the central authorities, is more powerful than the governor. Oyewole said, “I am here on the instruction of the Inspector-General of Police through the AGF (Malami). I am too small or too low to call them.”That is why the police team from Abuja operated in Magodo without recourse to the governor.
It also demonstrates a governor’s weakness; as Sanwo-Olu explained,“They (policemen) are not from the Lagos State Police Command. They said they are from Abuja. I don’t know what other interest they have beyond keeping the peace of the country. This is not an expectation that I expect from them because they don’t have any business here.” Plainly, a governor is just an appendage of the centre.
Unlike other federations, Nigeria operates a single police force that answers primarily to the Federal Government. This is abnormal. There are no state police forces, or other layers of policing as operates in every other federation.
Emboldened by the distortion, the FederalGovernment has flagrantly abused its control of the police for long. Various incidents during the Fourth Republic attest to this. A sitting governor of Anambra State, Chris Ngige, was ‘sacked’ from office by a police team led by the late Raphael Ige, then an AssistantInspector-General of Police, in 2003. The governor was humiliated and held captive for 12 hours before the evil plan backfired.
Three former governors of Lagos (Bola Tinubu), Ogun (Segun Osoba) and Ekiti (Niyi Adebayo) suffered a near similar fate in 2004. Soldiers put them under house arrest in Adebayo’s father’s country home in Iyin-Ekiti. The security agents later claimed those detained were going for the rerun polls in four local government areas in the state.
At the height of his battle to form the New PDP in 2013, Rotimi Amaechi suffered a similar ordeal as the sitting governor of Rivers State. Security agents barred him from entering the Government House, Port Harcourt, on “orders from above.” Whenever there is an illegal federal operation, that is the normal language of the security agents. It was the language that the police resorted to in July 2020 when officers invaded the Port Harcourt home of the then acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Joy Nunieh, at night in a bid to arrest her. She was saved by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who openly confronted the state agents. The arrest of a politician, Uche Nwosu,during a church service in December in Imo State by a police crew from Abuja replicated federal impunity.
At every turn, Nigeria fails to learn its lesson. It was such blatant federal intrusion that triggered the collapse of the First Republic. The then Federal Government, led by the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, precipitately declared a state of emergency in the Western Region in 1962 over a local political faceoff and deployed federal police to the region. After ousting the jurisdiction and ruling of the Privy Council of London overnight via a rushed constitution amendment, it imposed an administrator on the region. The contrived crisis culminated in disturbances, and eventually, the bloody military coup of January 15, 1966, and the Civil War 1967-70. Nigeria has yet to recover from that misadventure triggered partly by federal abuse of power.
The current centralpolicing aberration, apart from its derision of elected governors, is a major factor facilitating insecurity.Withits single police, Nigeria isterrorised by Islamists, bandits/terrorists, Fulani herdsmen militia, kidnappers, and robbers. Stretched to the limit, the police taking orders from a remote centre are unable to secure the country or tackle local crime. Regrettably, Malami and the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.),regularly rail against the attempts to establish regional police forces like Amotekun and Ebube Agu.
All this calls for an urgent constitutional reform, a reality that is not lost on the South-West governors. Their chairman, Rotimi Akeredolu, again charted the way forward after Oyewole’s insubordination by renewing the call for state police. It is a ripe idea; achieving it however must go beyond issuing statements. Sanwo-Olu’s reluctance to launch the state’s arm of the Amotekun regional security agency is unwise. He should stop toying with the security of the state’s 22 million inhabitants and $84 billion economy.
Violence is threatening the peace of Nigeria. It mainly occurs at the community level. As such, the governors must be clear about having state police to end the reign of the criminals. Just as they showed their mettle by defeating direct primaries in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, governors should jointly mobilise the federal and state lawmakers to remove state police from the Exclusive to the Concurrent Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution.
For inspiration, the governors should take a cue from Germany, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and Sweden, where policing is devolved. By law, there are federal, state, county, Sheriff’s offices, and municipal police organisations in the US. Pragmatically, 48 police forces exist in the United Kingdom. Nigeria should learn from that or continue to wallow in insecurity and the impudence of federal officials.
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