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House of Reps Passes Police Reform Bill, As NASS Seeks to Replace 77 Year-Old Law

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After work spanning over three sessions of the National Assembly, between 2017 and 2020, the House of Representatives has passed the Police Reform Bill. The Senate, which had in its 8th session, passed the Bill, is now expected to pass the Bill shortly. Thereafter, both chambers of the National Assembly will meet and harmonise any differences that may exist in their versions and pass the Bill for onward transmission to the President for his assent.

The House of Representatives had on May 19, considered the report of its Police Affairs Committee on the Bill. The Police Bill, 2020 seeks to repeal and re-enact the Police Act, which was originally enacted in 1943. The objective of the bill is to provide for a more efficient and effective Police Force that is based on the principles of accountability and transparency; andprotection of human rights and fundamental freedomsIn addition, the bill seeks to provide for a Police Force that is more responsive to the needs of the general public and has entrenched in its operations the values of fairness, justice and equity and empower the Police Force to effectively prevent crimes without threatening the liberty and privacy of persons in Nigeria; to name a few.

In considering  the report, the Chairman of the House Committee on Police Affairs, Hon. Bello Kumo (Gombe: APC) gave a brief synopsis of what the Bill seeks to achieve. He stated that the bill aims to respond to the general complaint that the Police is ineffective and unfriendly; lacking in accountability and transparency with no involvement of the community. Some key areas of the bill he highlighted include remuneration of police officers, requirement for police officers’ observation of human rights as contained in the Constitution and the setting up of a special constabulary.

At the consideration of the Bill, most of its provisions were adopted, however a couple of issues proved to be contentious. For instance, there was a debate on a provision in the bill that provides for a 4 year tenure for the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and another provision that provides that Police Officers should serve for 35 years or until 60 years of age, whichever is earlier (in line with Public Service Rules). It was argued that stipulating a 4 year tenure for the IGP and subjecting same to Public Service Rules could create a disincentive  on appointment of experienced officers who have the capacity to head the Force but are close to retirement and will be caught by the service rule on grounds of age. Conversely, this would create an advantage for younger officers still having more years of service over those nearing retirement. Another argument was that a 4 year tenure for the IGP could extend his/her years of service beyond what is obtainable in the public service, which will be disadvantageous to other serving officers and that therefore, every officer (including the IGP) who reaches the prescribed retirement age should be made to retire. Following an extensive debate on this issue, it was resolved that the provision on 4 year tenure for the IGP should be made subject to the requirement on service for 35 years or 60 years of age, whichever is earlier.

The House also voted to empower the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to recruit police constables as against the current practice of the Police Service Commission (PSC) performing this duty as stipulated in paragraph 30 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution which states that “the Commission shall have power to appoint persons to offices (other than office of the Inspector- General of Police) in the Nigeria Police Force” and also section 6(1) of the Police Service Commission Act 2001 which reiterates this power by stating that “the Commission shall be responsible for the appointment and promotion of persons
to offices (other than the office of the Inspector-General of Police) in the Nigeria Police Force

The NPF and PSC recently got embroiled in a conflict over this issue. Following the recruitment of 10,000 constables in late 2019 by the Inspector General of Police, the PSC sued the NPF arguing that the recruitment was a usurpation of its powers and functions and that neither the NPF or the IGP is authorised by law to play any role in the appointment, promotion, dismissal or exercise of disciplinary measures over persons holding or aspiring to hold offices in the Nigeria Police Force. Conversely, the NPF argued that there is a difference between “recruitment” and “appointment.” The Court ruled in favour of the NPF holding that the PSC was unable to prove that the recruitment usurped its powers and as such the Police Council under the IGP has the power to carry out recruitment into the police force. It appears this new provision in the Police Bill authorizing the NPF to recruit officer was triggered by the Federal High Court decision. Clause 21 (1) of the Bill onRecruitment, Appointment and Service states specifically that: “The responsibility for the recruitment of recruit constables into the Nigeria Police Force and recruit cadets into the Nigeria Police Academy shall be the duty of the Inspector-General of Police.”

Also noteworthy is that the Senate has its own version of the Police Bill, 2020. Its Committee on Police Affairs held a public hearing on the bill on 18 March 2020 with PLAC support. The bill was introduced on 20 November 2019 and read for the second time on 13 February 2020.

The Senate public hearing on the matter has formed the basis for the progress recorded on this bill. The committee is now preparing to present its report on the bill to the Senate for consideration.