by Philip Ademola Olayoku
The recent controversy that attended the reported dismissal of about 167 members of the Nigerian Police force, for absconding from their posting to join the counter-terrorism efforts of the federal government, was partly centered on the adequacy of the training and welfare packages of police officers in the country.
Without a doubt, these two major issues, alongside the constitution and administrative structure of such bodies as the Joint Services Board and the Nigerian Police Commission have remained contested issues with respect to effective policing in the Nigeria of today.
Apart from the internal challenges which the Nigerian Police Force is combatting, the public perception of the Force, both by the citizens they are meant to protect and observers from outside the country, is one in which the negative outweighs the positive.
The paradox that the institution is renowned as a major harbinger of corruption within the Nigerian polity is also charged with the responsibility of the detection and prevention of crime as well as law enforcement. The enormity of such responsibility, especially when considering the scope of operation in a country like Nigeria with an overwhelming population in comparison to the strength of its police force cannot be denied.
On the other hand, the fact that the attempt at repealing the Police Act of 1943 is just gaining traction with the proposed Nigerian Police Bill 2018 sponsored by Senator Ibn N’Allah is indicative of how the Nigerian state has just been paying lip service to police reforms over the years.
Even so, there seem to be no end in sight as regards the wait for the reforms of Nigeria’s police institution to restore their place of pride among the Nigerian citizenry, including their peers in the security sector. From the foregoing, it is important to explore certain important components of the current Bill before the National Assembly in appealing to Nigeria’s moral public to insist on the importance of passing this Bill before the cessation of the 8th assembly.
This is serving as a call to well-meaning Nigerians to insist that the members of the 8th assembly put national interest ahead of personalized gains of reelection amidst the controversy surrounding the ending tenure of the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
Perhaps, this apex position of the Nigerian Police is the best starting point in discussing the present Bill on the police reforms. While there were sighs of relief after the appointment of the new Police IGP Adamu Mohammed, the unstable conditions that led to the agitations of a possible tenure elongation of the former IGP by the President remains.
For example, the police reform Bill currently awaiting the report of the Committee on Police Affairs at the Senate recommends a five-year single tenure for the police IGP and a succession plan by reducing the number of Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGs) from seven to one. While the Police have stated at different fora that the need for effective administrative operations led to the appointment of 7 DIGs, there is a need to ensure that there is a clear chain in terms of succession.
This need for stability has also been consolidated by the recommendation of objective procedures for the appointment and removal of the IGP which includes an open process of application from qualified candidates, the appointment by the President who heads the Nigerian Police Council (NPC) and the confirmation by the Senate.
The removal is also a three-way process involving an allegation of gross misconduct, a thorough investigation by the NPC and a confirmation of removal by the Senate. In its opening sections, the Bill also seeks to address the challenges of the perceived threats of Police Officers among different Nigerian localities which were recently crystalized in the advocacy against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) through the #EndSARS movement.
For one, this arm of police is notorious for jungle justice with innumerable fatalities of innocent citizens through a paradox of jungle justice being perpetrated by an organ of the state. The repealing of a 75year old Bill is thus designed to ensure that the Nigerian citizens are able to go about their daily transactions without fear of inhumane treatments, including extortions, by the police while they carry out their stop and search duties; as provided for in the 2018 Bill.
For example, the Bill stipulates that the police gives a detained person details of his name, the police station he is attached, the object of his search and the authorization of his search. Accordingly, this search can only be conducted while he is in uniform or with a valid police identity card.
While the Vice President was proactive in catalyzing the SARS reforms through the National Human Rights Commission Panels on investigating complaints and making recommendations, the sustainability of such efforts can only be made possible through a legal backing in line with the provisions of the constitution.
The Bill also mandates periodic training for all police officers on both basic and specialized training for law enforcement with the IGP and the NPC charged with the responsibility of revising the duration and content of the training at least once in five years.
There is no gainsaying the importance that such training includes human rights training as well as on the maintenance of a Custody Management System on the conditions of suspects in line with the provisions of the law. This incumbent administration has been subjected to numerous criticisms based on the perception of the infringement on the constitutional rights of assembly and association of Nigerian citizens through the deployment of police officers to discard protesters.
The Bill seeks to cement an understanding between the Nigerian public and the police in securing public safety and order. The police are expected to abide by the constitution and treat all citizens fairly irrespective of economic, religious, political or ethnic positioning.
The disbandment of the congregation at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, which has been red-taped as ‘war zone’ is bemusing when one considers the symbolism of the fountain.
While I have personally witnessed the police providing security cover during protest marches, my little inquiry during one of numerous visits to the fountain surprisingly reflected the dissatisfaction of some deployed policemen to the region with answers such as ‘you think say we happy to just come siddon for here’ to mild protests of their infringement on my right to free movement.
Of particular relevance to the understanding between the police and the citizens they are meant to protect is the recommendation of the establishment of Community Policing Forums and Boards in the Bill, designed to synergize relations between the police and local communities through partnerships, effective communication mechanisms, joint community policing, transparency and accountability – including the creation of an adequate financial management system.
Not limited to this is the provision that the police abide by their code of conducts while on duty which includes abstinence from stimulants, intoxicating and psychotropic substances which could lead to misdemeanors while also putting in place mechanisms to investigate misconducts by the police through the creation of the Police Complaints Response Unit. The unit shall entertain responses from the general public, police officers and other law enforcement agencies.
The welfare of police officers was also prioritized in the Bill, especially as a complement to the Bill on Police Funding currently being considered in the House of Representatives. One of such provisions is the creation of a Police Reward Fund which is designed to reward exceptional officers who show gallantry in the course of discharging their duties.
Not least is the prohibition of gender discrimination through the elimination of conditions restricting women to the margins of NPF by redressing discriminatory provisions based on age, marital status, role specification, posting, training, access to firearms and pregnancy.
While it is impracticable to expect that the Police Bill will be magical in assuring impeccability in the Nigerian Police Force, what is obvious is that the obsolete colonial act of 1943 is an albatross to effective policing in Nigeria.
Nonetheless, the delay in the passage of this Bill is already threatening the successes achieved by a combination of efforts of the Civil Society, Members of the National Assembly, relevant government agencies including those at the Presidency, the NPF, Traditional Rulers, International Agencies and well-meaning Nigerians to string together a set of laws that would enhance adequate protection of lives and property in the country.
Even as the National Assembly goes about ensuring the speedy passage of this Bill as they pledged during the public hearing, it is important that the President prioritizes the good of the nation above momentary political gains in assenting to the Bill in spite of the distractions of this electoral period.
- Philip Ademola Olayoku is a Development Consultant in Abuja and a Senior Research Fellow of IFRA-Nigeria