Lack of Political Will: Bane of Police Reform in Nigeria

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By Okechukwu Nwanguma

No Genuine Commitment to Reform

In 2016, the World Internal Security and Police Index ranked Nigeria’s police as the world’s worst in a global survey of 127 countries, with an overwhelming 81% of respondents saying they had paid a bribe to a Cop in the past year. Many of these bribes happened at makeshift roadblocks set up by SARS officers, in order to extort drivers and passengers. The same year, Amnesty International found that SARS “perpetrate[s] acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against detainees in their custody, on a regular basis”. The problem is that, successive Nigerian governments lack genuine commitment to Police reform. They only pay lip service to Police reform. Otherwise, why is it that successive administrations show penchant for setting up one or more Presidential Committees or Panels on Police Reform, only to shelve the reports and fail to implement the recommendations, despite the huge resources spent in the work of the various Committees? Setting up Government Committees, became a pretext to evade responsibility. It is said that when government does not want to do anything about any problem in Nigeria, it sets up a Committee. From the 2006 M.D. Yusuf-led Presidential Committee on Police Reform, to the 2008 Danmadami- led Committee, to the 2012 Parry Osayande-led Committee, to the 2014 Uwais-led Political Conference report which also touched extensively on the Nigeria Police, and many others, there is a surplus of reports and recommendations for Police reform. The problem is that government lacks the will to implement them. The reason for government’s lack of will to implement far reaching reforms, is a different subject-matter altogether.

A Historic Culture of Impunity

Between 2008 and 2011, NOPRIN, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Police Service Commission (PSC), the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) and the National Committee on Torture (NCoT), organised series of Public Tribunals on Police Abuse across the geopolitical zones of Nigeria. The tribunals were aimed at providing opportunities for victims or their representatives and survivors of Police abuse, to testify before a panel of eminent persons about their experiences and to seek redress and justice. The public tribunal was intended to give voices to the numerous victims, relatives of victims, survivors and witnesses of Police abuse across Nigeria, and to assist them to seek and secure remedies through the use of mechanisms of internal control and external accountability. It was also aimed at mobilising eminent Nigerians, to join the campaign to end Police abuse of human rights in Nigeria.

The tribunal found that impunity remained the order of the day, in many Police stations across Nigeria. This is unacceptable, in a democracy. Many Police officers involved in human rights abuses were left unpunished, while their victims were denied justice.

The tribunal identified some specific issues and concerns, which are similar to many of the issues and concerns we are still faced with today. That despite enormous efforts and resources devoted to police reform in Nigeria, patterns of Police abuse and misconduct persisted. Impunity was the order of the day, and political authorities lacked the will to implement genuine Police reform in Nigeria. Other findings include:

• The Police continued to trample upon citizens’ rights to life and human dignity, by continuing to resort to torture as a tool of interrogation of suspects. Criminal suspects and other citizens were daily subjected to Police brutality, inhumane and degrading treatment.

• The right to be presumed innocent, was routinely disregarded.

• Police officers failed to inform suspects of the charge(s) against them upon arrest.

• Police continued to flagrantly abuse the rights of women, to be protected from sexual harassment in police custody. Cases abound of rape and other forms of sexual violence and abuse of female suspects and detainees, by the Police.
• Police also arrested and detained under-aged children in adult detention centres.

• Police continued to take bribes to release suspects on bail, despite notices of “No payment for bail” boldly displayed at Police stations.

• Incidents of accidental discharge continued to occur, and led to the brutal and senseless killing of several innocent people. Police often did this either as a show of force or power, or due to lack of knowledge about use of weapons, or even sheer impunity. Sometimes, the plea of ‘accidental discharge’ was used as a cover up.

• Appropriate authorities failed to investigate cases of Police abuse and misconduct, and to ensure accountability for abuses. Instead, Police authorities covered up the misdeeds of their officers.

• The tribunal noted with concern, the practice whereby Police officers were hired by individuals to settle personal scores, in matters that were purely civil. There were frequent cases where some Police Officers embarked on odd hour arrests, acting in commando fashion and disturbing the peace of the whole house, in cases of simple assault.

Road to Police Reform

• The current efforts to inquire into numerous allegations and complaints of Police brutality and especially, against particular operatives, including those contained in several petitions by several organisations and individuals and in reports by notable human rights organisations, with a view to bringing officers to account for abuse, corruption and misconduct, is a welcome first step. While these inquiries are ongoing in different States and at the Federal level, government must ensure that security agencies henceforth, operate with civility, responsibility, professionalism and restraint and avoid more acts of brutality or killing. If abuses continue, it will lend credence to public doubts about government’s sincerity to end abuse. Government must start building confidence, and ensure that the outcomes of these public inquiries will be made public, and the recommendations for justice, redress, accountability and reform are implemented.

• The State judicial panels of inquiry must be transparent, independent and firm in their work. They must look into all cases and allegations of unlawful detention, extortion, torture and other egregious abuses committed by any of the personnel of the units across the States.

• The panels of inquiry must review all cases involving the disbanded SARS, IRT, STS and all other Police units, and audit all the funds and properties confiscated by them either as exhibits or illegally converted, and determine to what extent some or all of these were stolen by the Police officers involved. Such funds and properties must be retrieved, and returned to their owners.

• Police officers must be trained and retrained on the various laws and legislation that will improve Police conduct and operational effectiveness, including the Anti-Torture Act 2017, Force Order 237 and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, as well as the Guidelines for Law Enforcement Agencies on Covid-19 Enforcement, among others, to enhance their professional efficiency

• Police recruitment procedure must be reviewed, to ensure that it does not leave room for misfits and criminals to find their way into the Police. Politicians must be stopped from interfering with, and compromising Police recruitment.

• It is instructive that among the five core demands put forward by the #ENDSARS protesters, is increase in Police salary, so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens. It must however, be noted that Police welfare goes beyond increasing salaries. Intimidation of officers by their superiors; Police promotion corruption, and shortchanging Police officers through withholding or tampering with their duty allowances, must be addressed. Police promotion must be based on merit, and done as at when due. Payment of allowances, insurance, housing, health benefits, education for the children of Police officers and other such welfare packages, must be guaranteed to humanise the Police and enhance morale. Improving welfare, will also be a means of fighting corruption.

– Okechukwu Nwanguma, former National Coordinator, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN); currently, Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC)