On the 5th of December, 2018, Nigerians from all walks of life trooped to the National Assembly to participate in the Public Hearing on the Police Bill organised by the Senate Committee on Police Affairs.
A similar event which also held earlier in the same year (by the House of Representatives) presented a rich array of stakeholders who were interested in police reforms discussed passionately the need for lasting reforms for the Nigeria Police Force.
These events and the trajectory of the Police Bill dating back to more than a decade marked a historical watershed in the drive to position the Nigeria Police for effective mandate delivery. At the public hearing, promises were made by the Senate Committee on Police Affairs to ensure the speedy passage of the Bill before the end of the 8th Assembly.
The outcome of the 2019 general elections and the transition into a new assembly, fears are abound as to the possibility of this Bill of high public interests, going the way of earlier efforts and not reaching its logical end. It is now a matter of urgency in the interest of the public and for the Police institution for the Committees to fast track every legislative action (having passed the first and second readings) and to get the President to sign this Bill into law before the end of the 8th Assembly.
Distinguished members of the 8th Assembly need to note that earlier legislative efforts on the Police Reform Bill have been slow to reach this stage; thus, getting to this point presents a great opportunity (a low hanging fruit actually) for this assembly to make history in laying the foundation for a new Nigeria Police.
The public interest generated by the Bill is clearly linked to the changing landscape of security challenges in the 21st century and the need to have a police that is adequately trained and equipped to address 21st century policing challenges. Equally important is the fact that the Bill itself is fundamentally people and service oriented. In the last couple of years till date, Nigeria is facing an increase in the scale and dynamics of threats to public safety. These recurring threats have overtime called to question the capacity of the police to effectively tackle these challenges in line with its primary functions (in the 1999 Constitution) as the principal state security actor responsible for internal security.
Further, there is an urgent need for the Police to redress its image with the Nigerian people; hence, the Bill has as one of its objectives to make the Nigeria Police people-friendly. Currently, the picture of the Police in the eye of the public is an institution that is allegedly seen as corrupt and lacks respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizens it is mandated to protect. The unprofessional conduct of some personnel of the Police has overtime contributed to this image and to make a section of the citizens’ resort to other means to solve policing challenges. Section 33 of the Bill for instance dwells extensively on profiling and for the Police not to arrest persons based on some characteristics are in view of the increasing spate of police brutality on citizens. It is also for the same reasons and in creating synergies with the community in solving security challenges that the Police Bill seeks to create community policing forums and boards in Section 60 to endear the Police to the people.
The Complaint Response Unit of the Nigeria Police as we see it is still a federal structure largely housed at the Force Headquarters. Thus, Section 77 of the Bill seeks to mandate the Inspector General of Police to establish police complaints response units in all state commands. This will support greater accountability for the conduct of police personnel at the local levels and also encourage citizens to play active role in the policing of their communities. Accordingly, the Bill seeks to re-activate the mandate of the Police Service Commission through external accountability of the Police. The primary functions of the PSC remain to discipline, promote and recruit personnel for the Police (other than the IGP) and this stands as one of the winning points of the Bill. The PSC therefore through this Bill when passed into law will regain its lost glory and eliminate that common public perception of an oversight institution that merely rubberstamps decisions coming from the Nigeria Police.
As development practitioners, we indeed recognise that some gender reforms have indeed taken place institutionally; however, the legal framework operating the Police institution till date is replete in policy and practice gender discrimination in the Nigeria Police. This Bill seeks to eliminate all forms of institutional discrimination against female police personnel and potential female candidates into the Police. The Bill if passed into law will provoke lasting gender reforms across the police to effectively respond and address the security needs of the citizens-women, boys, girls and men alike.
Complementarity and alignment is key in reforming Nigeria’s criminal justice system for which the Police is a gateway. This Bill therefore aligns some of its key provisions with those of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015. Some recommendations in this regard at the public hearing also alluded to the need for prosecuting police personnel to be trained lawyers who understand the technicalities of the legal and criminal justice processes and the need to treat suspects with dignity.
While the security of tenure for the IGP and the standardisation of appointment seem to be a controversial topic given the position of numerous speakers at the last public hearing, security for the office of the IGP is in the best interest of Nigerians. Current practices which includes appointment and dismissal of the IGP by the President alone does not portend well for Nigerians, for the Police itself and for sustainability of reforms in the Police. Policing at this point in our nation should be deliberate, well planned and strategic with each new IGP assuming office with a strategic plan and a strategic direction of the NPF within the tenure of his office.
This strategic framework will also enhance a system that ensures all stakeholders key into the framework and play their role in improving the Police. Policing should therefore not be an ad-hoc arrangement. Security of tenure guarantees that the IGP will be solely focused on policing Nigeria and not be at the mercy of the President. Accordingly, the Bill when passed into law will seek to ensure laid down guidelines are followed in the event of a possible dismissal of the IGP.
Nigeria needs a new kind of policing in the 21st century. To that end, we cannot afford to continue using a policing system with a legal framework of over seventy (70) years (albeit piece meal reforms programs) for addressing modern policing challenges. Regular training and retraining of the Police in specialised programs and encouraging a culture of specialisation in policing will go a long way to reposition the Nigeria Police for effectiveness. It is also time for the relevant committees and the Police institution to revisit recommendations made by earlier Presidential Committees on Police Reforms and the CSO Panel led by the CLEEN Foundation to bring glory to the Nigeria Police and to the country. The Police Council as proposed by the Bill and in other recommendations by Committees on Police reforms, when operational, holds enormous promises for effectively responding promptly to policing challenges as they arise.
As a concerned Nigerian, my final message to this Assembly is that Nigerians are still hopeful that this Bill will be passed and will get the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to sign it into law before the end of the current legislative year. Therefore, every legislative action and urgency should be accorded to all pending bills that will guarantee a safer Nigeria and a more responsive Police for its people. For development to thrive in moving Nigeria to greater heights economically, socially, culturally and otherwise, the Police institution must be effectively equipped to rise up to the challenges of modern day policing. Similarly, the current policing culture must be changed to a responsive and accountable police institution where citizens are treated with dignity and the Police operate within the principles of sound democratic policing.
Our dear lawmakers, we are at the threshold of making history with the Police Reform Bill, pass it into law before the end of this Assembly.