Opinion: Crime has grown sophisticated in Nigeria and the Law has not

The heat is on in Nigeria, with the 2019 elections around the corner and security is a concern. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has been in the spotlight since the last quarter of 2018, stemming from issues allegedly around their interventions in politics such as the upheavals at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, the arrest of political activist, Deji Adeyanju on 28 November 2018 while leading a protest questioning the neutrality of the NPF in the elections, and most recently the incident of Nollywood actor, Gideon Okeke, who shared on social media how he was beaten up on December 08, 2018, by police officers from the Maroko Police in Lagos.

In this last quarter of 2018, there was also a major development – the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari on the increase of the salaries of the NPF as well as the improvement on their welfare package. This is a welcome development as it has the potential to boost the morale and performance of the NPF, an institution charged with the responsibility of protecting lives and property.

The issue of police brutality in Nigeria has been of great concern to many. In its 2018 report, Amnesty International cited human rights abuses inflicted by the security forces in Nigeria such as forced detentions without trial, torture and harming of persons, rape and sexual exploitation, massacres, and the impact of police force order 237 which condones the use of ‘lethal force’, among others. These incidents question the mandates of the security sector in Nigeria – should citizens run to them for solace or run from them? Ironically, Nigeria in its peacekeeping operations in other countries has been lauded as one of the best examples in the world.

It is in the bid to address some of these concerns that security sector reforms have been ongoing in the country. A particular issue is that of reforming the NPF to be more accountable, responsive, people-oriented, professional, with respect for human rights and dignity, better funded, non-discriminatory against any person, and well trained and equipped to solve contemporary security problems in the country. This is what the Police Reform Bill, being sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, seeks to achieve. It takes a holistic review of the Police Act of 1943 which has had very few amendments to some of its sections, in order to come up with a modern, ‘Nigeria Police Act’ which can address the current security issues in Nigeria.

Speaking at the public hearing to review the Bill which held on December 05, 2018, at the National Assembly Complex Abuja, supported by the Policy and Legislative Advocacy Centre (PLAC) Senator Na’Allah said, “crime has grown sophisticated in Nigeria and the law has not”. In attendance were lawmakers, members of the Police Service Commission, the Nigeria Police Force, Market Women Association, the Prisons, the Senate Committee on Police Affairs, development partners, several civil society organisations (CSOs) and the general public. The meeting was chaired by the Senate President Bukola Saraki, who was represented by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah.

Highlights of the day included the issue of community policing, appointment of one Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) vs. Appointing 7 DIGs (which is the current practice), and the appointment of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) – the Bill seeks to establish a transparent and thorough application and selection process including a tenure of up to 5 years for an IGP.

Also on the front burner was the issue of suing the NPF; a new section proposed by the NPF for introduction into the Bill. It suggests that the IGP/NPF should not be sued at random but be notified of the intention prior to the commencement of any legal action.

There were also recommendations from other stakeholders such as retired Supreme Court Justice, Clara Ogunbiyi, now a member of the Police Service Commission, who warned that the proposal in the bill on qualifications and removal of the IGP is contrary to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.

Among other recommendations for areas of improvement in the Bill as provided in the joint memorandum submitted by Civil Society Organisations such as African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development, British Council Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Project in Nigeria, Community Policing Partners, Citizens Gavel, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, Nigerian Policing Programme, e.t.c., were alignment with international rules and ethics of policing (codes of conduct, respect for human rights); alignment with ongoing reforms within the Nigeria Criminal Justice Sector (guidelines concerning arrests, searches and detention e.t.c.), proper funding and performance management, effective community policing, and gender mainstreaming in the section on Guiding Principles, in order to hold the NPF accountable

Gender issues in the NPF are a significant concern. It is important that thorough consideration is given to the different needs of men and women in the NPF, including the language used in the Police Act which refers to all police officers, suspects and the arrested, as men. If the NPF is to align with international standards as well as adhere to the Gender Policy of Nigeria, the NPF Gender Policy and Nigeria’s commitments to instruments such as the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on the involvement of women in all humanitarian, peacebuilding and security processes, then it behoves that all discrimination against women such as the dismissal of an unmarried female police officers who gets pregnant, or the prohibition of married women from joining the Force, are pulled out and reviewed  prior to the passage of the Bill and assent by the President.

On a final note, the time has come for the NPF to be revamped and live up to its mandates and motto: THE POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND. A proper review of the Police Reform Bill is one of the steps in the right direction of reforming the Nigeria Police. If assented by the President before the end of the 8th Assembly, it has the potential of setting new standards for other security agencies in Nigeria since as it is said, ‘the police is the mother of all forces’.

Nneka C. Egbuna is a Women Peace and Security Agenda Advocate.

She can be reached on [email protected]

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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