“Here I am as a governor with a crown, but without a sword.”

The above quote isn’t from a Shakespearean play; though it sounds like something that could have come from the great playwright himself. Rather, it belongs to one of our own.

They are the words of the Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku. Words so vivid, with HD-like imagery; poetic even (one wonders if his Excellency dabbles in poetry by the side), because they (words) are alive; alive and pregnant with meaning.

He made this statement, on Thursday, from a place of frustration and helplessness in the face of the security challenges facing his state (63 people in his state were reportedly killed by suspected herdsmen last month.) He also stated that he has received notice of impending attacks on the state coming in 10 days, of which he has notified the security agencies. Their response to this critical piece intelligence prompted from him more insightful nuggets into the nation’s security machinery.

I will quote again, for his (the Governor) words paint a better and more telling picture (of the situation) than mine ever could. Hear him:

Here, we rely on people who, when you give them instructions they tell you to wait until they get clearance from above. Before the clearance comes from Abuja, you have lost hundreds of lives…

Pause; ruminate on that for a second. Now I’m sure you must be wondering, “What in the hell…?”, “Clearance?”, “Why and what for?” Logically, those are all valid questions. But to have a better understanding of the Governor’s words, recourse to the law is imperative; for there lie the answers, and even more questions.

The Law

The relevant law is the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). And chapter 6, whose provisions concern the executive arm (both federal and state) of government, is of importance.

Section 176, which establishes the office of the Governor, gives a precursor of the illogicality and confusion to come. Sub section 2 of it (s. 176) states: “The Governor of a state shall be the Chief Executive of that state.” On the surface, that provision seems clear and innocent enough, but when compared to section 130 in the same chapter, one sees a difference. Section 130 states: “The President shall be the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Federation, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.” Here, by including the title “Commander-in-Chief,” the President is given powers of controlling the nation’s security. Unlike our poor governors who are nothing but mere “Chief Executives.”

This section (s. 176) is even more telling when you consider that matters concerning the police and security agencies are contained in the Exclusive Legislative List (of the Constitution) only. You will find nothing pertaining to security in the Concurrent list. Nothing.

So, not only are our dear governors constrained to the sole title of Chief Executive of their states, but also, the Constitution cements this by ensuring that their state Houses of Assembly are prevented from making laws regarding security-related matters in the state. Check if you don’t believe me. It is there – in plain black and white.

To the more confusing part of this chapter: Part III: Supplemental. The provisions for the Nigeria Police Force are contained here. Section 214 creates the Nigeria Police Force, and in one sentence, also effectively prohibits the establishment of any other police force in the any part of the country.

My brother, that is is just the beginning of the problem. Let us go further.

Section 214 (2) (a) provides that the Nigeria Police Force shall be organised and administered by an Act of the National Assembly; the federal law-making body of the country.

Section 215 (2) provides that any “contingents” of the Force shall be under the command of Commissioners of Police of that state subject to the authority of the Inspector-General of the Police. An Inspector-General of Police who is appointed by the President. Note the phrase “subject to the authority.” In essence, these Commissioners of Police are reporting to the Inspector-General of Police, not the Governors of the states. And presumably and factually, taking orders from the Inspector-General, and again, not the Governors.

See the handicap our Governors face in terms of security yet? No? Okay then, you will soon.

The biggest handicap towards security in states: section 215 (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). At this point, keep in mind Mr Ishaku’s (Taraba State Governor) statement regarding the response of security agencies towards security threats, as stated above.

Section 215 (4) empowers the Governor of a state or a Commissioner whom he has delegated such power to, to direct the Commissioner of Police in the state to maintain public safety and peace within any area of the state where necessary, “and the Commissioner of police shall comply with these directions or cause them to be complied with.” The important word here is “shall”; not “may”, but “shall”! This means compulsion, with no room for choice. And the Supreme Court itself has interpreted it to mean its literal dictionary meaning. See Ngige v Obi (2006) 14 NWLR [Pt. 999].

Seeing as this provision of the Constitution is clear and without ambiguity, how does one then interpret, or even believe Mr Ishaku’s statement. The answer my friends is in the proviso to this section 215 (4). Yes, a proviso was added to this section. You think that’s strange? Wait till you read it…

The proviso states that before the Commissioner of Police carries the instructions of the Governor (pertaining to the maintenance of peace), “the Commissioner of Police may request that the matter be referred to the President or such Minister… for his directions.”

To my understanding, this means that a Commissioner of Police in a state cannot take any action regarding security threats in that state until the matter of which he has been directed to act (by the Governor) has been referred to the President, or any Minister for their own directions.

Mr Ishaku’s statement is now better understood.

It seems the Constitution itself requires the Almighty Abuja’s approval before lives and property can be secured.

But looking closely at the proviso, one would observe that it states: “the Commissioner of Police may…” The operative word there is “may”, not “shall”. And the word “may” has been interpreted by the courts to mean and connote discretion or choice, unlike that of “shall”. This would then mean that the Commissioner may choose not to request that the matter be referred to Abuja? (through the President or a Minister) And by s. 215 (4), he would be compelled to carry out the Governor’s directions.

If that would be the case, then why the need for the proviso in the first place? If a condition is to be attached to the performance of an action, shouldn’t it be mandatory rather than optional? Right? Somebody help me ask our lawmakers because I am confused.

The Opinion
It is sad to think that so many lives have been lost because of this security protocol created by an unnecessary, ambiguous piece of legislation. One understands better now the cries of our governors for a state police system. Section 215 is just an example of one of many changes that need to be effected in our polity. It is illogical that a Governor who is in charge of the affairs of a state is not in charge of the security of that state. It simply makes no sense.

Comparatively, in the United States, which also practises a federal system, the Governor of a state is the Chief Executive as well as the Commander-in-Chief of the state. The latter title is given because the Governor controls a reserve kind of army called the State Defence Force in the state. This Force is solely under the control of the state and the Governor, and cannot be federalised. The Governor also has the power to arm it (the Force).

Also under the control of the Governor is the National Guard (an Army reserve), but this outfit is federal in nature and can be taken over by the federal government. Interestingly, the US Constitution does not authorize the federal government to execute general police powers; this is left to the states. Unlike our own system.

As a matter of urgency, the National Assembly should look at that section (s. 215), and make the necessary amendments. The preferable option – state police – might not come anytime soon. So, an amendment would suffice in the interim.

One can only wonder if the tragedies in Benue and Taraba (and tragedies of years past) could have been mitigated, or even averted if this constitutional quagmire did not exist.

Protection of lives and property should be vested in the Governor or whomever he delegates such duty to. It follows by virtue of the political system we claim to practise. It follows by logic as well, considering the level of insecurity facing all corners of the nation.

Waiting on the federal government for protection might be a late and futile exercise like Mr Ishaku so vividly stated.

Give Mr Ishaku a sword. Give the Governors swords.

Lottanna. Attoh Esq.