•’How President, govs undermine police’
•Reveals how rights’ abuse victims, families of extrajudicial killing casualty can get justice
By Esther Onyegbula
Former Chairman, Network on Police Reforms, NOPRIN, Okechukwu Nwangwuna, in this interview, speaks on the type of reforms needed for a better policing system in Nigeria.
With hindsight, he reveals why past efforts at reforms didn’t have impact, identifying failure of state actors as one of the major reasons. Nwangwuna is the founder of Rule of Law Accountability Advocacy Centre.
Given the latest demands for police reforms, what kind of reforms do the police need?
The new Police Act, which repealed and replaced the Colonial Police Act, provides the new legal framework that should drive comprehensive and far-reaching police reforms to transform the Nigeria Police from a repressive colonial police to democratic police.
The focus of the colonial police was ‘force’, hence it was created to repress and subdue, not to serve and protect. A democratic police force works in partnership with the community. It polices with consent, not coercion. Hence, the new Police Act starts with a purpose statement and general principles which espouse democratic principles of transparency, accountability, respect for human rights, rule of law and partnership with the community in providing safety and security.
The Act also provides elaborate due process safeguards that regulate the exercise of police powers of search, investigation, arrest, warrant and detention as opposed to the old Act which left the exercise of such enormous powers to the discretion of police officers. The Act expressly prohibits inhumane treatment and mandates the Inspector General of Police, IGP, to facilitate access for arrested persons to free legal assistance. The Act incorporates sections of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act that dwells on fundamental human rights under the Constitution.
Perennial underfunding of the police is one of the reasons police officers rely on complainants and accused persons for funds to carry out basic investigations. This creates the opportunity for extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings. The Act provides a funding framework for the Nigeria Police which attempts to address the police budget process and the management and accountability for police funds.
There is also the Police Trust Fund which fills the gap in police funding. Lack of security of tenure and operational autonomy for the IGP has been a major bane of leadership stability and long-term visioning and planning. The Act provides for a secured tenure of four years for the IGP and requires him to come up with an annual budget which captures the actual needs of the police from bottom to top, as well as an annual policing plan by which the achievement of the plan at the end of the year can be easily assessed.
Police recruitment process is compromised by corruption and political interference. The recruitment process needs to be fixed to ensure that candidates who lack the basic qualification and are unsuitable are not recruited. When un-trainable candidates with criminal mindset are recruited, it makes training useless and ineffectual. It is such candidates that constitute the bulk of rogue elements that commit the atrocities that discredit the police which, otherwise, boast of excellent officers. Training and retraining are crucial to enhancing professionalism. Forensic capabilities must be increased if crude methods of investigation such as torture are to be eliminated.
Accountability is important to stamp out impunity. The Complaints Response Unit, CRU, which has been recognised and codified in the new Police Act, must be strengthened and properly funded and equipped to receive and process public complaints. With little resources, CRU has done so well under its current leadership. With better funding, it will address the accountability and discipline deficit in the Nigerian Police Force, NPF.
Nigeria is a signatory to several regional and international human rights instruments which mandate is to ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all acts of torture and extrajudicial killing, to ensure that perpetrators are brought to account and victims adequately compensated. The welfare of police officers must be radically improved as a means to fight corruption, boost morale and humanize the police.
In terms of retraining personnel for better policing, people have argued that the police should not drive the process…
Police training is a joint task between the police and other critical stakeholders in policing and human rights. Apart from the initial training for recruits and cadets, police officers need constant retraining to refresh their knowledge and to increase their professional competencies and capabilities, as well as for specialization. Police training requires the inputs of human rights experts, psychologists, sociologists, mental health experts, public and human relations experts, and forensic experts among others.
Under the current circumstance when psychological evaluation is warranted to ascertain the state of mental health of the operatives of the disbanded SARS and other tactical squads, the role of psychologists and mental health experts becomes handy.
Many panels were set up in the past on police reforms, and they submitted reports that were not implemented. Can you remember the key recommendations of some?
There were several police reform panels set up under successive administrations between 2006 and 2012. They all did go through the same cycle: spent time and public resources to travel around the country, organised public hearings, received public memoranda, wrote reports with recommendations, submitted their reports to the President at the time. In some cases, a new committee would be set up to review the report and produce a white paper. Another committee would also be set up to ‘implement’ the white paper. And then, everything is shelved. Nothing serious has been done to implement key recommendations to bring about reform. However, in the course of working on the Police Bill that was recently passed into law as the new Police Act, attempts were made to incorporate some of the key recommendations in the reports of the different committees.
One of the key recommendations that were common to all the reports is the appointment of the Inspector-General of Police. This was the most contentious provision during the public hearings on the Police Bill. The Police Council is a constitutional body charged with policy and general administration of the police.
It is composed of the President (as Chairman) and governors of the 36 states and the FCT as well as the Chairman of the Police Service Commission and the IGP. The Council is supposed to meet periodically to receive and deliberate on reports of the security situation across the states and to advise the President on measures to address insecurity.
The Council is also required to advise the President on the appointment of a new IGP when there is a vacancy. But in practice, the Council does not sit and consequently leaves the President to solely exercise the power of appointment of the IGP. The new Act mandates the Council to meet on a definite number of times in a year to receive and deliberate on reports on the state of security from the states and to advise the President on security and appointment of the IGP.
The other recommendations are on welfare, funding and equipment, recruitment, promotion and ranking, discipline and accountability and decentralization among others.
Some people have argued that instead of constituting another panel, the President ought to have ordered immediate implementation of reports of past panels…
The previous panels did not make recommendations for discipline on specific cases of human rights abuses. However, many new cases of violations have been recorded over time which has not been investigated. There is the need for victims or family members or other representatives of victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, torture and extortion to have the opportunity to testify and seek redress and justice. Perpetrators also ought to be made to face the lawful consequences of their unlawful actions
Are you optimistic that the latest move to reform the police would be fruitful?
As I said, the new Police Act provides the framework to drive police reform. Many stakeholders have different roles to play to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Police Act. It requires the commitment of all stakeholders to ensure that they play their different roles. For example, magistrates and judges have supervisory roles under the Police Act.
They must be active in monitoring police compliance with sending monthly records of arrests. State governors must call for regular meetings of the Police Council and also play their role in the appointment of the IGP when there is a vacancy and not live it only for the President who often appoints persons of his choice not based on merit or competence. There is a need for the police to work with civil society, the National Human Rights Commission and the Police Service Commission to produce a new Standard Operating Procedure, SOP, from the Police Act and other relevant laws which will regulate the conducts and operations of Police officers and on which they must be held accountable.
The current protests demonstrate the power of the people to drive and force change. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. If citizens remain vigilant and steadfast in demanding reforms, then reforms must happen. Civil society must continue to lead the charge in pushing for far-reaching reforms.
The IGP announced the birth of SWAT as a replacement for SARS, and it doesn’t seem to go down well with Nigerians, who feel it’s as good as nothing…
It will not make any difference if the same rogue elements from the disbanded SARS are deployed to the new outfit. An audit of all the SARS operatives is required to know those with cases of murder and must be made to answer for them. A psychological evaluation is needed to isolate those with mental health issues. Clear criteria must be spelt out for selecting those to join the new outfit. They must be specially trained, professional operatives with clean criminal and human rights records.
Do you think the 5-point demand of the #EndSARS movement is enough to reform the police?
The #EndSARS campaign was a mere spark for the more comprehensive police reforms that are long overdue. SARS was just a symptom of the more serious problem that plagues the Nigeria Police. Comprehensive and far-reaching reforms are needed to transform the Nigeria Police from an ineffective, brutal and anti-people force to an effective, accountable and people friendly force that enjoys public trust and partnership. Reform is a process and will take some time. But all hands need to be on deck to ensure steady and sustained progress toward achieving the police force of democracy…