By Abubakar Jimoh, Anjola Raji and Habeeb Adeola
Effort to provide for a more efficient and effective police service that is “based on the principles of accountability and transparency; and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” brought to the fore, a “Bill for an Act to repeal the police act Cap, P19, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and enact the Nigeria police Bill, 2019 to provide for the framework for the police service and ensure cooperation and partnership between the police and communities in maintaining peace and combating crime; and for related matters” popularly known as “Police Reform Bill.”
In order to provide for a comprehensive legal framework for effective policing in Nigeria, the Bill specifically aims to provide for a Police Force that is more responsive to the needs of the general public with the values of fairness, justice and equity firmly rooted in its operations; reposition the Police Force to uphold and safeguard the fundamental rights of every person in Nigeria in its operations; bring about a positive change in the public perception of the Police Force by ensuring that its functions are performed in a manner sensitive to the needs and well-being of the general public.
The proposed Act presently awaiting assent by President Muhammadu Buhari, empowers the Police Force to effectively prevent crimes without threatening the liberty and privacy of persons in Nigeria; strengthens the Police Force in the performance of its functions, including safety and security of all persons, communities and property of Nigeria.
It will ensure the Police performs its functions by creating the enabling environment to foster cooperation and partnership between it and the communities it serves to effectively combat, reduce or eradicate crime; develop professionalism in the Police Force by providing relevant training in all police formations in Nigeria for enhanced performance; and respects for victims of crime and an understanding of their needs.
By implications, the proposed Act criminalises human right violation by the Police; ensures stringent safeguards to protect human rights; endorses community-police relations; defines a positive legal framework for effective policing; ensures proper and lawful arrests generally, without unnecessary restraints; ensure lawful conduct in the search of criminal suspects; and examination and detention of suspects in humane holding facilities, with their rights to bail secured.
On the fundamental duties of the Police, the proposed Act mandates the Police to: prevent and detect crimes, and protect the rights and freedom of every person in Nigeria as provided in the Constitution and other enactments; maintain public safety, law and order; protect the lives and property of all persons in Nigeria; enforce all laws and regulations except the laws and regulations that are enforced od administered by other agencies; discharge such duties within and outside Nigeria as may be required of it under this Bill or any other law; collaborate with other agencies to take any necessary action and provide the required assistance or support to persons in distress, including victims of road accidents, fire disasters, earthquakes and floods; facilitate the free passage and movement on highways, roads and streets open to the public; and adopt community partnership in the discharge of its responsibility under this Bill or under any other law.
As against the increasingly reported illegal detentions and human rights abuses within and outside the custody, the Bill reiterates: “The Police Force is responsible for promoting and protecting the fundamental rights of persons in police custody as guaranteed by the constitution. “[T]he Police Force shall collaborate with and maintain close working relationships with any Government agency or relevant private initiatives in the establishment of schemes or mechanisms offering legal services to accused persons, detainees the establishment of schemes or mechanisms offering legal services to accused persons, detainees or accused persons in police custody in need of legal services to ensure that they have full access to justice as laid down under the relevant provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution.
“The Police Force is also charged with responsibility of promoting and protecting the fundamental rights of all persons as guaranteed under African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act and other International legal instruments on Human Rights to which Nigeria is a signatory.”
The Bill proposes to establish the Federation the Nigeria Police Council to conduct general supervision of the Police Force; receive applications, nominate and advise the President on the appointment or removal of the Inspector-General of Police; receive and deliberate on reports and advising the president or Inspector-General of Police on actions to be taken; take action consider appropriate relating to policing from the states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
In order to enhance efficiency in the operations and activities of the Police, It charges the Inspector-General of Police on the development of an overall national policing plan with inputs from the police Force Headquarters and all the various Police formations nationwide before the end of each financial year; determination of the manpower distribution of the police taking into cognisance the security situation across the country and its population; organization of the Police Force into various components, units or groups for overall optimal performance and effectiveness; constant training and re-training of Police Officers and other staff and personnel of the Police Force.
The Inspector-General shall as well facilitate access to legal support for suspects, accused persons or detainees in police custody; ensure that Police Officers assigned to work under the relevant scheme provide necessary assistance as may be required by legal counsel.
For the purposes of performing the aforementioned functions, the Bill charges the Inspector-General of Police to submit an annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation and National Assembly on how those responsibilities are discharged. The Attorney-General of the Federation shall after a review, send his findings and recommendations to the President and publish same in his office website.
Also, for efficiency, effectiveness and ease of delegation of powers and to ensure quick response to priority, safety and security needs, the Bill mandates the Inspector-General to assign powers to Zonal, State, Area and Divisional Commands of the Police Force.
Apart from providing for the recruitment of professionals from the relevant fields including criminology, psychology, sociology, law, medicine or pathology into Police Force to practice and use their professional qualifications and expertise in the work of the Police Force, the Bill requires adequate psychological test and other evaluations for a person seeking to be recruited or enlisted for work in the Police force as part of the recruitment and enlistment process to ascertain his character and suitability for the work of Police Force.
“On approval by the appropriate authority, a non-commissioned officer or constable of good character may be re-engaged to serve for a second term of six years and for a third term six years or until the officer reaches 35 years of service or age of 60 years, whichever is earlier.”
The Bill mandates the Inspector-General to ensure that all police officers undergo a periodic training and re-training in basic policing; crime detection and law enforcement; investigation and gathering of evidence; effective nationwide citizen engagement; training in human rights; prosecution and defence.
It adds: “The Inspector-General, in consultation with the Ministry and Police Service Commission, is responsible for the revision of the training, duration and the content of the training of the police officers, at least once in every five years.
“The Inspector-General shall ensure that training programmes are made available to all police officers, irrespective of gender and for all other staff or employees charged with responsibilities for discharging out the duties and responsibilities of the Police Force.”
On a specific request by any private or Government Department who desires to avail itself of the services of one or more police officers for the protection of property owned or controlled by it may make application to the Inspector-General.
Where any supernumerary police officer is appointed, the private or government department availing itself of the services of that officer shall pay all entitlements, including salary and allowances to the officer monthly in a designated account approved by the Inspector-General.
The Bill provides for the adequate establishment and maintenance of the Police Force through a fund into which shall be paid, budgetary allocations as may be appropriated by an Act of the National Assembly for the Police Force; such contributions as may be made available to the Police Force for the purposes by the state Governments and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; aid and assistance from international bilateral and multilateral organisations provided that the purpose for the aid or assistance does not conflict with the objectives of Police Force; all sums of money accruing to the Police Force by way of grants-in-aids, gifts, testamentary dispositions, endowments and contributions from any other source; all money generated by the Police Force in the course of its operations.
In order to enhance transparency and accountability in the process, the Bill mandates a State Government or Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as the case may be, to keep records of all contributions made; and specify the purpose for which a contribution is made.
Similarly, the Police Force from time to time, is expected to apply the money accruing in the funds to the cost of administration and operations of the Police Force; payment of salaries, allowance, expenses and other benefits of the members of the Police Force and the Warden Services established under this Bill and the other staff of the Police Force; payment of pensions and other retirements benefits under any law; cost of acquisition and upkeep of premises belonging to the Police Force and any other capital expenditure of the Police Force; all costs connected with or incidental to the operations of Community Police Forums and Boards; the investments, maintenance of utilities, training, research and similar activities; and any other incidental payment.
Under the proposed Act, the Police Force owns the responsibilities to keep proper records and accounts of the income and expenditures of the Police Force; prepare a statement of account in respect of each financial year; within the first four months of each financial year, submit for auditing, the accounts of the Police Force to auditors appointed by the Police Force from the list and in accordance with guidelines approved by the Auditor-General of the Federation.
While the audited accounts of the Police Force and the Auditor-General’s report on accounts shall be forwarded to the National Assembly by Auditor-General annually, the Police Force shall, not later than 30th June of each financial year, submit to the Minister, in respect of the preceding financial year, an annual report on the activities of the Police Force in such form as the Minister may direct.
The Bill confers on Police Officers, the power to investigating and arrest in accordance with due process and the legal advice of the Attorney-General of the Federation or of a State, while forbidding such arrest merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract.
Given relevant provisions of the Bill, a suspect shall be brought before the court or otherwise released conditionally or unconditionally.
“In making an arrest, the police officer or other persons making the arrest shall actually touch or confine the body of the suspect, unless there is a submission to the custody by word or action.
“A suspect or defendant may not be handcuffed, bound or subjected to restraint except: There is reasonable apprehension of violence or an attempt to escape; the restraint is considered necessary for the safety of the suspect of defendant; or by order of a court.
“Except when the suspect is in the actual course of the commission of an offence or is pursued immediately after the commission of an offence or has escaped from lawful custody, the police officer or the person making the arrest shall inform the suspect immediately of the reason for the arrest.
“The authority having custody of the suspect shall notify the next of kin or relative of the suspect of the arrest at no cost to the suspect.
“A suspect shall not be arrested in place of a suspect.
“[A] suspect shall be accorded humane treatment, having regard to his right to the dignity of his person; and not be subjected to any form of torture cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the Bill explains.
A police officer may, without an order of a court and without a warrant, arrest a suspect whom he suspects on reasonable grounds of having committed an offence against a law in Nigeria or against the law of any other country, unless the law creating the offence provides that the suspect cannot be arrested without a warrant.
However, according to the Bill warns that the “authority given to a police officer to arrest a suspect who commits an offence in his presence is exercisable in respect of offences committed in the officer’s presence notwithstanding that the Act creating the offence provides that the suspect cannot be arrested without a warrant.”
As against the growing jungle justice in the country, the proposed law stipulates that “a private person may arrest a suspect in Nigeria who in his presence commits an offence, or whom he reasonably suspects of having committed an offence for which the police is entitled to arrest without a warrant.
“A private person who arrests a suspect shall immediately hand over the suspect so arrested to a police officer or, in the absence of a police officer, shall take the suspect to the nearest police station, and the office shall make a note of the name, address and other particulars of the private person making the arrest.
“The police officer or official to whom the arrested suspect is handed over by the private person shall obtain from the private person who made the arrest a formal witness statement setting out the facts and circumstances of the arrest.”
Apart from the Police or private person, a judge or magistrate may “arrest or direct the arrest of a suspect committing an offence in his presence and shall thereupon hand him over to a police officer who shall proceed to take necessary action.
A person is bound to assist a judge, magistrate or police officer or other person reasonably demanding his aid in arresting or preventing the escape of a suspect whom the judge, magistrate, police officer or other person is authorized to arrest.
A suspect who is arrested, whether with or without a warrant, shall be taken immediately to a police station, or other place for the reception of suspect, and shall be promptly informed of the allegation against him in the language he understand.
Where a suspect is arrested, “a person who has the custody of an arrested suspect shall give the suspect reasonable facilities for obtaining legal advice, access to communication for taking steps to furnish bail, and otherwise making arrangements for his defense or release.”
In addition, the Bill mandates a police officer making an arrest or to whom a private person hands over the suspect to immediately record information about the arrested suspect and an inventory of all items or property recovered from suspect. “The inventory record shall be duly signed by the police officer and the arrested suspect. The arrested suspect, his legal practitioner or such other person, as the arrested suspect may direct, shall be given a copy of the inventory.”
Moreover, the Inspector-General and head of every agency authorized by law to make arrests are directed by the Bill to remit quarterly to the Attorney-General of the Federation, a record of all arrests made with or without warrant in relation to Federal offences within Nigeria. This trend is expected to be followed by the Commissioner of police of a state and the head of every agency authorized by law to make arrest within a state in remitting quarterly to the Attorney-General of the State.