The Police Reform Bill passed by the Senate last week is a welcome development, though this is coming in the eleventh hour of the Ninth National Assembly. The bill’s objective is captured as a desire to give Nigerians “a Police Force that is more responsible and responsive to the needs of the general public and entrenches in its operations the values of fairness, justice and equity.” The bill also seeks to “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 carried out in a manner sensitive to the needs and well-being of the general public.”
Effectively replacing the colonial Nigeria Police Force Act of 1943, the new Bill, if signed into law, would tackle some of the perennial problems facing the force, especially the aspects of police welfare and tenure of office for the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The Bill provides for a five-year tenure for the IGP, and the appointment is subject to confirmation by the Upper Legislative Chamber, like the appointment of all service chiefs, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), ministers, ambassadors, heads of statutory commissions and agencies of government.
With this provision, IGPs would be chosen from among those who have up to five years to serve before their retirement age of 60. The Nigeria Police Council, which is recommended under the Bill, would nominate three senior police officers to the President. On his part the president, upon consideration of the nominees, would forward the name of his preferred candidate to the Senate for confirmation.
On the much talked about issue of the welfare of the police, Senator Tijjani Kaura, who addressed journalists after the session, stated that Police Trust Fund would take care of the financial needs of the Force. He said, “In the Police Trust Fund Bill, provisions like .05% from Nigeria’s gross income, .005% of profits made by companies in Nigeria etc, would go a long way in helping government to fund the Police very adequately for improved security services to Nigerians.” The idea of a Police Trust Fund has lingered over the years, and it is a positive development that the Bill has been passed by the National Assembly.
In an attempt to protect the Police from attacks from criminals or members of the public, the Bill prescribes a two-year jail term or N5 million fine as punishment for any person who attacks or impersonates a policeman. It adds that any policeman who engages in extra-judicial killing of an innocent citizen would face a two-year jail term and a fine of N1 million. This would be in addition to internal disciplinary measures that the Police would take to deal with any police officer who commits this offence.
From the above, it is clear that the National Assembly has made a deliberate attempt to address some of the pressing problems of the police. We give our full support to every effort to enhance the finances of the Police. It is also appropriate for the IGP to be subjected to Senate screening so that whosoever occupies that position does not just dance to the tune of the Presidency, but should have a sense of responsibility to the whole country.
However, a two-year jail term for police officers who engage in extra-judicial killing is not enough punishment for such a grievous offence. Over the years, Nigerians have lamented over extra-judicial killings by the police, especially the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), but the Police do not seem to mete severe punishment to officers who engage in this recklessness, hence others are encouraged to continue to brutalise and kill Nigerians. In assenting to this Bill, we call on President Buhari to seek an amendment to that section to ensure that a much more severe punishment is reserved for trigger-happy police officers. They are paid to protect Nigerians, not to kill innocent citizens.