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Senate’s new police law and matters outstanding

By Ropo Sekoni
Finally, what started as an effort on the part of the Senate on May 19, 2020 to address the country’s police system has ended one and half months later with the passing of a law whose highlight is providing a 4-year tenure for the Inspector-General of Police. The new law falls into the category of a concept I had used several times in the past on this page—Karounwi. This is a concept in Yoruba semiotics that refers to a process of giving an audience the impression of doing something substantial while in reality the outcome of the action taken is mostly about creating an impression on the audience, rather than achieving any substantial outcome.
Nowhere is the effect of Karounwi more evident in the new law than in the admonitions that surround “Police Act CAP P19 LFN 2004 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2020” which seeks to give stability to the office of the Inspector-General of Police, by ending the current situation of leaving the Inspector-General’s tenure to the whim of the president by replacing it with a fixed 4-year tenure.
All other aspects of the law look more like wishes of the senators, rather than any effort to change any process. For example, the part of the law that says: “The national policing plan should be made with inputs from the Police Force Headquarters and all the various police formations nationwide,… setting out priorities, objectives, cast implications and expected outcomes of Policing for the next succeeding financial year in order to change budgeting from a top-down approach to a bottom-up approach” does not amount to much. How else has the national police been functioning other than through coordination of its plans and budget from the Police Headquarters which is the operational base of the Inspector-General?
Another Karounwi provision: “That the police abide and enforce certain constitutional provisions, particularly fundamental rights of persons in Police custody under chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and other international instruments on Human rights to which Nigeria is a signatory (including of provisions that reiterate the importance of fundamental human rights and advocating for their observance).”  The question that should be on the mind of the average citizen is was there ever a time when the police was permitted in the law of the land to do otherwise?
Read Also:  Senate pegs tenure of IGP to 4-year single term
The most worrying part of the new law is the provision that changes the name of “Nigeria Police” back to Nigeria Police Force.” What is troubling about this seemingly innocuous change of name is its fidelity to to the name given to the central police under colonial rule. How human rights-sensitive is a police force to citizens in a democratic state?  The name preferred by the Senate is reminiscent of the concept of policing in the colonial days as provision of lethal force to beat the natives into line, an abiding aspect of the Northern Nigeria Constabulary that served as the nucleus for the Nigeria Police Force.
By 2020, sixty years after Nigeria obtained independence from Great Britain and several decades after many former colonies had adopted more citizen-friendly names to define their police-citizen relations, Nigeria’s senators prefer to stay attached to the colonial epithet, instead of  expunging this offensive characterization of the police in a sovereign nation-state as an occupation force to terrify citizens (the natives), as the current policemen and women are wont to do in the country.
It is puzzling that even after the trans-national repudiation of police systems that were designed like the Nigeria Police Force of the colonial era or  post-Reconstruction era in the United States and other parts of the world, Nigeria’s senators still feel compelled to hang on to a police force that citizens have viewed since colonial times more as an occupation force, rather than a protective agency.  It is also perplexing that the reason given to hang on to a name that should have gone with the colonial past is that it has not been possible to amend the constitution that has felt enamored by that name, to the extent of putting it in a constitution given by military dictators to the current ‘post-military’ democratic government.
While congratulating the senators for giving a fixed tenure to the Inspector-General of Police, this column seizes the opportunity to remind them that most of the world is arguing for a more liberal ideology  and a more citizen-friendly police system that the Nigeria Police Force has appeared to be for too long. It will serve the interest of Nigeria of the post-pandemic era if our senators read and listen to news about efforts in other democratic countries to nurture a life-affirming process in governance values, more urgently than before.
The Karounwi mood was already evident on May 19 when the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Nigeria Security Challenges recommended that the Senate take the committee’s recommendations to the president about reforming the police. The recommendations then did not include giving the Inspector-General a fixed 4-year tenure, but they included urging the executive to direct the Ministry of Police Affairs and the Inspector-General of Police to “decentralize the police command structure into 13 zonal commands, each with operational and budgetary powers.” The part of this recommendation in the new law tepidly says that community policing be strengthened and that it should be made binding on the lGP to adhere to policing plans.
Beyond Karounwi legislative projects in the senate, such as the one under discussion, there are several areas of Nigeria’s security and cost-effective governance that should catch the attention of the current senate at a time that the coronavirus has called for rethinking by lawmakers.
One of such tasks is for the senate to provide leadership for putting an end to a legislative practice referred to as Constituency Projects. It is now news that citizens have been opposed to this practice initiated during the Obasanjo presidency as pork for politicians, a practice that is too wasteful to be carried into the post-pandemic economic reality.
Another one that can bring accolades to the senators for patriotism is for them to be open to a reform of the current bicameral legislative system. This looks like the right time for the country to cut its coat according to its cloth, rather than staying hooked to an American system copied to replace the parliamentary system. If this requires that a new agenda for constitutional amendments is needed, there can no better time to embark on policies to save cost than when Nigeria is in the process of obtaining over $22 billion loans, in addition to borrowing from local pensions accounts for projects. A unicameral legislature that is full-time should be enough for a country that is just re-inventing itself from dependence on petroleum into an agriculture-driven economy.
It will be futile to encourage the Senate to end payment of pension to executive leaders—national and subnational—as the senators are likely to move back from amendment of the constitution. The longest a president or governor can serve under the current constitution is 8 years. This is only 25 percent of a person’s formal work-life in the country. It should be enough compensation to president, vice president, governor and deputy governor for the Senate to  call for payment of double the last contribution from employer and employee into the pension funds of each of these political leaders who have chosen to ‘serve’ the country for 8 years. The same benefit should be given to legislators, regardless of how long they serve in that capacity. Lawmakers should not find this task difficult, realizing that President Buhari himself said in 2015 that he would continue to receive his pension, without taking another salary from the government.
These are already tough times, and if economic forecasts are anything to go by, the post-pandemic years may be tougher economically. In most democracies, it is the legislators that are expected to make it a point of  unfailing duty to make laws that advance democratic governance and prevent the rise of any form of absolute rule, which to many citizens a unitary police force in Nigeria illustrates. This time, senators have missed the opportunity to remove the kind of threat to democracy  and respect for human rights that a colonial-type of police force embodies.

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