The Nigerian Police Force is governed by a colonial law, which has seen no comprehensive review since its initial promulgation in 1943. Since 1999, following the return to democratic practices in Nigeria, several efforts have been undertaken to review the Police Act to provide a legal framework for the ongoing reform initiatives. The review started in November 2004 and was undertaken by an interagency committee comprised of police, government and civil society representatives. It involved several stages of public consultation and a legal audit of all the laws engaging the police. A draft bill was discussed and approved by the interagency committee before it was finally presented to the House of Representatives towards the end of 2005. Between 2005 and 2018, many other drafts were presented to both chambers of the National Assembly. However, the 8th Senate has expressed its will to consider and pass a new Police Act and other Police Reform bills within two weeks. One of the key omissions from the current Act is a Code of Conduct that includes the prohibition of torture. The Bill contains a full Code of Conduct in line with the United Nation’s Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. Article 5 of the Code of Conduct states that, “No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The Bill incorporates the human rights provisions in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), which were basically drawn from the Nigerian Constitution. In recognition of the demonstrable link between unlawful and arbitrary arrest and the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, the sections of the Bill relating to arrest are drafted to incorporate safeguards, including strict guidelines on what constitutes a warrant for arrest and judicial review that will prevent the misuse of this provision. We shall come to this point later. In addition, measures to improve the effectiveness of the Nigerian Police, such as training and upgrading the requirements for recruitment and performance measures are also included. The Bill also makes a provision for police funding and an annual policing plan which must be linked to funding to ensure accountability for cost and performance, just as human rights provisions and accountability mechanisms ensure accountability for conduct.
It is also instructive to note that positive policy initiatives, such as community policing, are also incorporated to guarantee the long-term sustainability of such programs and insulate them from the whimsical and capricious political leaders. Perhaps the thorniest issue of the review is that of the political accountability of the police. Under the current Act, the Inspector General of Police is appointed and accountable to the President who has overall operational control of the force. This is in line with existing constitutional provisions, but clearly compromises the independence of the police force, leaving it open to political manipulation by the executive arm. The new bill amends sections to grant the Police Council an advisory role in the appointment of an IGP by the President, set out procedure for removing an IGP and the grounds for such removal as well as give security of tenure to the IGP, this is necessary to extend accountability and promote accountable policing in Nigeria.
RESTORING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE POLICE FORCE
We return to the sections of the Bill that deal with unlawful and arbitrary arrest, torture and ill-treatment of detainees. The way officers of the Nigeria Police Force conduct themselves during arrests of alleged offenders of the Law, or during breaches of public peace and order, invariably places them in conflict with the freedoms guaranteed by a democratic nation-state. A Police Officer is not expected in a democratic nation-state to pull his gun while apprehending defenceless offenders of law, nor is he expected to push citizens into custodial black holes, without proper procedures or without entering records of arrest or detention of an apprehended offender. In a decent and sane society, the Police institution is expected to have records of those kept in its holding facilities, or of those who are unfortunate to either pass through its holding facilities or serve out punishments as a result of breaking the law. A Police institution that takes recourse to brute force rather than applying practices consistent with the law only ends up diminishing its own authority, and losing the public confidence in the process. As the scholars, Jinsik Pak and Julak Lee argue, “the low level of law and order is one of the examples that show the low extent of public confidence in police authority. Many scholars and police officers agree that citizens’ distrust of their police authority is the fundamental reason that leads to a trend whereby both the law and police power are ignored, and it weakens the capability of a police authority to fulfill its own duties for the maintenance of law and order”. They are right in their argument; and in a way they also help to center the argument that public confidence in the police authority is the key to promoting successful law enforcement strategies for securing public order, law and peace.
The question we pose here is this: how can the Police Reform Bill 2018 restore public confidence in the Police Force? First, as we noted in the foregoing, the Bill specifically states in its commencement provisions that it seeks to create “a more efficient and effective Police Force that is based on the principles of: accountability and transparency; and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. The Bill, therefore, purports to establish “a Police Force that is more responsible and responsive to the needs of the general public and entrenches in its operations the values of fairness, justice and equity”. The Bill captures the essentials of public confidence in the operations of the Police Force by seeking to “reposition the Police Force to uphold and safeguard the fundamental rights of every person in Nigeria in its operations; bring about a positive change in the public perception of the Police Force by ensuring that its functions are carried out in a manner sensitive to the needs and well-being of the general public”. One manner of ensuring change of perception and imbuing public confidence in the operations of the Police Force is by ensuring proper and lawful arrests generally, without unnecessary restraints, conducting lawful searches of criminal suspects, examination of suspects, and detention of suspect in humane holding facilities, with their rights to bail secured. Second, modern policing cannot be complete without recourse to risk-averse strategies for reducing crime, understanding the re-offending records of ex-offenders and exposing potential risk re-offenders. All of this can only be possible in a legal framework that recognizes the place of “Criminal Record Registry” in law enforcement and in combating crimes. There are “across-the-board” benefits accruing from keeping records of spent convictions as institutional “Central Criminal Records” also allow employers, for instance, to routinely check the criminal records of their employees or prospective employees, at least with anti-discrimination mechanism built into the legal framework to forestall abuses. In underscoring the importance of criminal records in combating crime, the Bill proposes to establish a “Central Criminal Records Registry at every state police command … which shall keep and transmit all records to the Central Criminal Records Registry”. It also provides that “the decisions of the court in all criminal trials are transmitted to the Central Criminal Records Registry within thirty days of judgment”.
Finally, it is vital that members of the National Assembly endorse the proposed Bill to ensure stringent safeguards to protect human rights and a positive legal framework for meaningful police reform in Nigeria. It is also vital the Police and the Executive branch of government work together with both arms of the National Assembly to pass this bill, which will benefit every Nigerian. The media and civil society must lead the charge in pushing for the passage of the bill before the end of the legislative calendar of the current National Assembly.
Abdul Mahmud & Okey Nwanguma are Police Reform Advocates