The suggestion by former Deputy President of the Senate and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review in the 6th, 7th, and 8th Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, that the surest and handiest approach to restraining the demons of insecurity prowling the length and breadth of the country remains state police and that the Constitution cold actually be amended in 10 days or less to achieve it, has, expectedly, set tongues wagging. While the overwhelming majority are excited at the prospects and wished the leaders of the country and stakeholders could listen and even want it as a matter of today, many have equally wondered why the lawmaker believes that the nation could achieve in 10 days what he should have done in the 12 years that he piloted constitution amendment at the federal parliament.
The good thing, though, is that, at least, unlike in those days when advocacy on decentralised policing was largely resisted by most political stakeholders and generally dismissed with a wave of the hand or even derided, an overwhelming majority of Nigerians are now seeing the present and imminent dangers in running a federal state with a unitary police. For one, the Nigeria’s Governors Forum appears game.
Indeed, Ekweremadu has actually been on this project for well over a decade, but the political leadership of the country across party lines behaved like the ostrich. I was with him at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra STate, in March 2013 when he delivered the annual lecture, titled “Policing and National Security in Nigeria: The Choices Before Us.” The subject resonated in his lecture when he returned to the same arena to speak on the subject of “Constitutional Review in a Multi-ethnic Society.”
I was at the Banquet Hall of Aso Presidential Villa where decentralised policing formed part of his paper, “Strategies for Evolving a People’s Constitution,” at an event attended by virtually all the political stakeholders in September 2012. I was with him at the Osgood Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Canada, where the need for decentralised policing was a major part of the paper, “Nigerian Federalism: A Case for a Review,” which he delivered there in April 2012. In fact, from Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, where he spoke on “Constitution Review in an Emerging Democracy: The Nigerian Experience,” in April 2014, to New York, where he spoke on “Constitutionalism and the Challenges of Leadership in Africa: An Evaluation of Tested Models,” in October 2017, the UK Parliament, where he spoke on “African Politics: The Dynamics and the Lessons,” in January 2018; and to his innumerable interventions at the floor of the Senate, his interviews, et cetera, and countless press statements, Ekweremadu has been one of the few voices wailing in the wilderness on the need for decetralised policing that would include state police.
He has in the process tried to disabuse the minds of naysayers. I remember his February 2018 back piece in Thisday newspaper entitled “A Vote for State Police,” and his appearance on Channels TV around the same period wherein he addressed, point by point, the fears and arguments against state police.
Over the years, our legislative chambers have become funeral homes of sorts with daily lamentations and a minute’s silence in honour of terrorism, banditry, armed robbery, et cetera. During a two-hour debate at the floor of the Senate over the massacre and arson wrought by bandits in Shinkafi LGA of Zamfara State in November 2017, Ekweremadu warned: “We are still treating the symptoms of insecurity in this country. We are using Panadol to treat malaria. We should devolve more powers to states and create state police. We can no longer shy away from this issue.”
In the wake of the June 2018 arson and massacre of over 100 by suspected herdsmen, the lawmaker, while expressing his pains that “innocent people, who voted us into power to protect their lives and property are losing their lives and their property because we have refused to take the correct steps,” predicted that “the sad news is not only that many people have died but also that more people will die unless we take the right steps of putting the right security architecture in place.” How right he was.
Although he piloted the process that broke the jinx of amending the 1999 Constitution in 2010, resulting in numerous successful amendments, every push to amend the Constitution to create state police was defeated, sometimes even at the level of the Committee on Constitution Review. I think it was in the 6th or 7th Senate that the move was defeated by a single vote at the committee level. Unfortunately, unlike the executive where the views and intents of a governor or President is hardly opposed, a presiding officer, whether at the committee level or plenary, does not vote, except to break a tie.
Chicken comes home to roost
Today, the chicken has come home to roost and who would blame Ekweremadu for venting his frustrations during the inauguration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Committee on Electoral Act and Constitution Amendment, which he is also the chairman?
He said: “It is unfortunate that the rain, which some of us shouted on top of our voices, forewarning the nation against and even proposed policies and sponsored bills to avert, is now beating us heavily.
“I rallied my colleagues and together we sponsored the Bill for the Creation of State Police in the 8th National Assembly. I am equally sponsoring a Bill for the Creation of State Police in the current Senate.
“Unfortunately, we do not appear ready yet or show a sense of urgency to stem the tide of insecurity or rebuild our economy through the decentralisation or devolution of power.
“So long as we run a dysfunctional centralised policing, for that long will our insecurity-induced pains and losses continue to rise. The community policing initiative is illusory, cosmetic, ephemeral, inorganic, and will certainly not change anything.
“It is either we do the right things to get the right results or continue to do the wrong things and live with the consequences of our choices, as is presently the case. We must also have it at the back of our minds that things will probably get worse.”
The 10-day panacea
The good new, however, is that the 10-day trajectory to state police, which Ekweremadu proposed, affords the nation an escape from the hole of insecurity in which it is presently trapped. Although it sounds so improbable, Ekweremadu has broken it down, convincingly. But that is if we truly see our condition as a state of emergency and if the political will is there. The other good thing is that the governors are also now demanding state police, to pull their states from the brink.
He explained: “First, we have to understand that the Constitution allows us as a parliament to regulate our proceedings. Remember that what the Constitution requires is that for you to amend any part of the constitution, you have to come through a bill. You need a two-thirds majority of each chamber of the National Assembly. Then you go to the states to get at least one-third of each of at least 24 states voting in favour of such amendment.
“So, if you now introduce the bill on a Monday, for instance, you can actually do First Reading, Second Reading, and Third Reading the same day under our rules.
“In fact, you can actually finish this particular Constitution amendment to decentralise the police in one week or less than 10 days.
“All you need to do is to suspend that section that says you must take the first, second, and third readings on three different days.
“So, if you suspend the rule, you take the first reading, then the second reading is the debate. After the reading you send it to the committee. That committee can actually be a Committee of the Whole House and everybody will now contribute. Because it is already a bill, we can now take it clause by clause that same day. When it is now passed, probably the third day, you now send it to the state assemblies.
“But before all those, there has to be a meeting of the governors, the President, the leadership of the National Assembly, the Speakers and principal officers of the state assemblies. That way, once the political will is there and its is agreed at the meeting that this will be done, everybody will now be waiting to play his part. Of course, at the meeting, the President will guarantee that he would sign it.
“Once the National Assembly is done with the bill in two or three days, it will be sent to the state assemblies, which are already waiting for it because this is a national emergency.
“Of course, the only role required of state assemblies in constitution amendment is to vote yes or no. After voting on the fourth day, they make a return on the fifth day.
“On the same fifth day, the National Assembly sits again to ratify what the states have done. On that same day or the sixth day, it will be sent to the President for assent.
“So, it can be achieved in maximum 10 days, if we really want to do it. If we now agree that it is the way to go to pull our nation from the brink, believe me, we can achieve It”.
To those still in doubt, he referred to the events of 2010. “How many days did it take us to amend the Constitution to handle the issues arising from the late President Musa Yar’Adua’s illness? First, we did the Doctrine of Necessity to enable the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to take over because there was no provision in the 1999 Constitution at the time to handle the situation. Thereafter, we came back to do the necessary constitution amendment. And it took us just a few days.
“During the Yar’Adua administration, when there was an urgent need to amend the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Act, we deed it in just one day,” Ekweremadu emphasised.
Will the nation heed the proposal or will it jettison it for the umpteenth time? We wait and see. But whatever choice we make will define the survival and wellbeing of the entity called Nigeria. And as Ekweremadu warned again, things will probably get worse if the nation’s leaders continue to play the ostrich.