By Dayo Benson
ONE of the urgent issues the Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN- led Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has to attend to before it leaves office next year is the plight of rank and files personnel in the Nigeria Police Force, who have qualified as lawyers, but the police authority has not recognised their new status. This is unlike their colleagues who qualified as medical doctors, engineers, and pilots. The latter categories have since been elevated to senior ranks.
Mahmoud’s predecessor, Augustine Alegeh, SAN, took up the matter with the police high command when it was brought to his attention, but it was unresolved at the time his tenure expired in August last year. At last year’s NBA Annual General Conference, AGC, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, the former NBA President broached the issue with the immediate past Inspector General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, who promised to do something.
Arase subsequently directed all police commands across the country to compile names of all junior officers who are lawyers. The names were forwarded to the Police Service Commission, PSC, headed by former IGP, Mr. Mike Okiro, who is a law graduate. Nothing has happened since 2016 when the names were submitted to the PSC. Buoyed by this development, and determined to push their case through, the junior policemen who operate anonymously wrote a letter to the current NBA President, asking him to take up their case where his predecessor stopped. The letter which catalogued the unsavory experience of lawyers in the Force, was delivered before the commencement of the just concluded NBA AGC, which held in Lekki, Lagos. They, however, did not stop there. Their colleagues who attended the conference followed up. They had an informal audience on the issue with Mahmoud during the event.
The policemen lamented that numerous efforts made to ensure the promotion of junior police lawyers who are in grade levels 4, 5, 6 & 7 have not yielded positive result. They described their situation as “deprivation, marginalization and discrimination against the inspectors/rank and files lawyers in the Nigeria Police, who are the ‘foot soldiers’ in the Police. We go to every length and breath of the country to defend civil suits against the Police, as well as prosecute criminal cases. We work under pitiable conditions, wherein we use our personal meagre resources to buy books and law reports needed for our effective performance in the courts, due to the absence of library in the State Commands of the Force,” they stated.
They accused the leadership of the Police and the Police Service Commission of insensitivity to their plight, especially the need to upgrade them to senior officers cadre as was done for medical doctors and pilots. According to them, they deserve to be elevated to the ranks of Assistant Superintendent of Police, ASP, Deputy Superintendent of Police, DSP, and Superintendent of Police, SP, pleading that the “injustice, ridicule, embarrassment, neglect and deprivation” they are being subjected to be redressed.
The aggrieved police lawyers who described their condition as “sorry status” regretted their inability to attend NBA conferences due to financial constraints occasioned by police authority’s refusal to recognise their qualification. They claimed that first degree holders are recruited into the police as ASP without according those of them who are lawyers the right of first refusal. Part of the edited version of the letter which was submitted to the NBA President, titled: “Unfair Treatment of Police Lawyers especially Inspectors, Rank and Files who are practicing for the Police” read:
- Lack of promotion: Non-recognition of LLB and BL in the police force in terms of promotion as many lawyers who were called to the prestigious Nigerian Bar 4, 5, up to 16 years ago remain stagnant in junior ranks while we carry out legal practice as lawyers.
This is unlike the better treatment given to other professionals such as medical doctors and their affiliate disciplines, engineers and their affiliates like pilots who are upgraded automatically to their deserved ranks of DSP and SP i.e levels 9 and 10 respectively.
- Salary structure differential: The police has different salary scale for their medical personnel as is obtainable in public service. But Lawyers’salary remains the same as that of ordinary policemen notwithstanding the service of running around courts from magistrate to other courts of records. This issue of differential in salary structure of the medical personnel and lawyers is in Paris material (identical) with that of our colleagues in other ministries, agencies and parastatals.
- Lack of payment of wardrobe allowance: The police has never deemed it fit or consider it necessary to pay some amount to any police lawyer as wardrobe allowance like their counterparts in other ministries, agencies and parastatals enjoy.
- Payment of practicing fees, stamp and seal: The Police authority has never deemed it as an obligation on their part to pay for practicing fees as well as stamp and seal of their lawyers, knowing full well that these are conditions precedent for practice in our courts every legal year.
- Office Accommodation and lack of library in command headquarters: Apart from the well-furnished legal department office at the Force Headquarters in Abuja, no Command Headquarters has made provision for office accommodation for their lawyers..
Above all: Police Lawyers were made to write ASCON examination with other junior officers with qualifications like HND and Degree since January 2015, and there is no result till date. The most embarrassing of it all: senior police officers were given special promotion on special ground without considering junior officers who are lawyers, despite the fact that they spend their meagre salaries in prosecuting criminal cases and defending the Police in civil suits without any allowance to cushion the effect.
Prosecuting criminal cases
The Police Service Commission Chairman, however, denied knowledge of the names sent to his office for action. In a telephone chat on the issue, he said, “it is not true. I don’t know anything about such situation”. When prodded further, he said “I cannot predict what the Police Service Commission will do when such names are sent. You cannot cross a bridge until you get there. Medical doctors and pilots are specialists, lawyers in the Force are general duty officers” he added.
However, former IGP Arase confirmed that names of all graduates in junior officers cadre were forwarded to the PSC for promotion consideration. He explained that as a lawyer, he had a dream of upgrading the legal department of the police, saying “we tried to encourage the lawyers in our midst. We, however, needed to assess them to know those who are suitable for promotion because it is not enough to have a degree.”
He pointed out that this was what necessitated the screening. He revealed that some people in the PSC raised objections on modalities for assessment and that stalled the whole processes. He said he would not join issues with Okiro who was his boss. Will the NBA President pursue the matter to a logical conclusion as the police lawyers expect? Time will tell.