The move to repeal the Police Act is in order

The recent passage, for the second reading in the Senate, of a bill to repeal and re-enact the Police Act of 1943 is a step in the right direction. Highlights of the bill include modernising an institution established under colonial environment and imbue it with a renewed mandate to protect and safeguard the lives and property of Nigerian citizens; establish guiding principles to ensure efficiency and effectiveness; instil accountability and transparency in its operations; defend and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people while partnering with other security institutions.

In endorsing the bill and asking the National Assembly to work towards its swift passage, we must commend several civil society groups who championed it, especially the movement led by Mr Segun Awosanya (@segalink). While the challenges facing the Nigerian Police are deeply rooted in its history, reforming the institution has become a necessity, especially given that several of its men and officers now seem to be more comfortable doing guard duties at the residences of members of the political and business elite than in fighting crimes.

Ordinarily, the duties of the police are to maintain law and order in the society, protect lives and property, prevent the commission of crimes and where committed, detect those responsible and bring them to justice, using the instrumentality of the law. Unfortunately, from deploying military troops to quell civil disobedience to using them to fight armed robbery, kidnapping and sectarian violence, the police as an institution has practically been relegated into irrelevance in roles that are constitutionally theirs. Yet, we cannot continue to outsource policing duties to an already overstretched military.

Over the years, government funding of the security sector had dwindled owing to shortfalls in its revenue profile. Subsequently, it had set up several committees to suggest the way forward. Regrettably, however, none of the reports and recommendations of the committees had ever been comprehensively implemented. The result is what we are now dealing with: a police force that cannot defend its own against violent hoodlums.

With a public hearing on the new bill expected to be held by the National Assembly, several other issues are bound to come up. But even at that, we must also recognise that there is a strategic relationship between the well-being of the police and the security and safety of the nation and the citizens. In many cases, entitlements and benefits of officers killed in the line of duty remain unpaid for years, leaving their families and dependants to the vagaries of the harsh social and economic situations in the country.

As we have stated in the past, even those Nigerians who for one reason or the other do not like the police must admit that what they do is a dangerous job while the welfare scheme is abysmal. Yet, it is only when we take due care of the rank and file that we can legitimately demand that they perform their duties with optimum zeal. A demoralised police force cannot fulfil that duty.

In the several attempts at reforming the police over the years, various committees have been established by successive governments but they have mostly been dominated by former police officers. It is therefore no surprise that their reports have often focused on increasing policing capacity in the areas of personnel strength, materials for work and welfare. Meanwhile, experience from other jurisdictions has shown that much more is required for the police to win the confidence of the people and be more efficient and effective at performing their core functions. Until we succeed in building a modern police, able and equipped to tackle the emerging security challenges, we cannot have sustainable peace in the country.