Ever since judicial panels were set up across the country to investigate cases of police brutality and other related crimes – including the Lekki shooting – several attempts have been made to frustrate the panels’ efforts to get justice for victims. One typical example is the freezing of the bank accounts of those at the forefront of the #EndSARS protests, including two youth representatives on the Lagos panel. Now, it is the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) taking a big step to stop the activities of the panel.
On Thursday, December 3, 2020, the news started making rounds of how the Nigerian Police filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the judicial panels of inquiry from probing cases of police brutality.
In the suit; the Nigerian Police Force, through their lawyer, O.M. Atoyebi, argued that the establishment of the judicial panels by state governors to investigate the activities of the police force, violates “section 241(1)(2)(a) and item 45, part 1, first schedule to the constitution and section 21 of the tribunals of inquiry act.” They also argued that the action of the governors “is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.
The suit read in part: “A declaration that having regard to the provisions of Section a14 (1)(2) (a) and Item 45, Part 1, First Schedule, 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the Federal Government of Nigeria has the exclusive power to organise, control and administer the Nigeria Police Force.”
It is weeks after the panels started their investigations, and when more and more victims have come forward to narrate their harrowing stories, the Nigerian Police starts to quote parts of the constitution – knowing fully well that the panels were ordered to be set up by the presidency.
It gets more interesting knowing that there are too many reports of men of the Police force trashing the constitution during interrogations, arrests and when respect for fundamental human rights becomes a conversation.
Indeed, the fact that they are law enforcement agents does not mean they are above the law. Hence, they must be made to face the consequences of their actions.
Their argument also raises other issues that need to be addressed if this country must function properly. For instance, the portion of the 1999 Constitution which they quoted that says only the “Federal Government of Nigeria has the exclusive power to organise, control and administer the Nigeria Police Force,” should raise concerns over the need to decentralise the Nigerian Police to make them more accountable. It is about time we started clamouring for state policing for more effectiveness. Besides, how realistic is it to police a country as big as Nigeria from its capital?
The second issue that portion of the constitution raises is the need for constitutional reforms. Many people have argued that the 1999 Constitution has too many flaws that need to be reviewed or completely scrapped out because they do not cater to the needs of Nigerians as they ought to. No doubt, this is one of those flaws. Also, the constitution in many ways does not reflect the ideals of true federalism that Nigerians are calling for due to the over-centralization of things.
The very basis of the argument of the Nigerian Police amplifies that, and this is why we must keep fighting for the decentralisation of governance to achieve true federalism.