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Nigeria Police Act 2020: A game changer for police reform?


President Muhammadu Buhari in September signed the Nigeria Police Act 2020. It replaces the Police Act 2004. Can the new law engender the needed reform. ADEBISI ONANUGA asks lawyers

President Muhammadu Buhari last September signed into law, the Nigeria Police Bill, 2020.

The Act repeals the Police Act Cap. P19. Laws of the Federation, 2004, and provides for a more-effective and well-organised police  It also ensures that the new Police Force envisaged for the country following the new law will be driven by the principles of transparency and accountability in its operations and management of its resources. It  also envisages a police governed by the fundamental principles of accountability, fairness, justice, and protection of human rights.

The Act, in addition, also establishes an appropriate funding framework in line with what is obtainable in other Federal Government key institutions; enhances professionalism in the force through increased training opportunities, and creates an enduring cooperation and partnership between the police and communities in maintaining peace and combating crimes nationwide.

Although a new Police Act has been on the drawing board for long, observers however see the new law as  part of the demands of the October 3, EndSARS protests by youths, in particular, as it addressed a number of issues that had created conflicts between the police and youths across the country. It could also be seen as a creation arising from the ongoing agitation for state police by governors and some stakeholders and Community Policing programme of the Nigeria Police still being fine tuned.

The call for police reform has been an aged demand and renewed debate about social inequality by the Nigerian society following unending rights abuses and sometimes extra judicial killings of the civilian populace by officers and men of the police.

Modern police systems across the globe emerged from locally administered structures and policing models aligned, to varying degrees, with the political, socio-cultural and  legal aspects of democratic societies with its emphasis on democratic localism and decentralised accountability.

However, at a time when societies are re-imagining themselves technologically, that governments are radically re-shaping themselves, the critical question to be asked is whether there we as a country have common philosophy good and proper understanding of policing to support developments in our societies rather than just a common understanding of police functions.

Data of Police brutalities

A report prepared by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2017 for instance shows that the Nigerian police is the most corrupt public institution in Nigeria, with varying degrees of abuses, and violations of the civilian populace.

Perhaps the chilling reports from victims of police brutalities, rights abuses and judicial killings  emanating from various judicial panels  across the country further lend credence to why government must take charge in reforming the police in line with modern policing.

Features of Nigeria Police Act 2020

There have been a growing debate on the new Nigeria Police Act since it was signed into law in September.

Some of the provisions of the new Nigeria Police Act 2020 were posted on the twitter handle of

Dr Charles Omole,  a judge in the London Circuit of the British Judiciary in both the Crown & Family Courts, captured a part of the new Act on his Twitter handle. He said:

  • Section 9 (e) of the Act makes it mandatory for the IGP to make sure the mental & psychological needs of police officers are catered for;

*The IGP under Section 9(6) re-engages retired police officers for up to four years of additional service.

  • Section 54 makes it unlawful for police officers to create reasonable suspicion to search or detain individuals on the basis of manner of dress, hairstyle, tattoos etc.
  • Section 68(3) of the Act makes it mandatory that every police division must have at least one police officer who is qualified to practise law and who will also be responsible for the promotion of human rights compliance amongst officers.
  • Section 76 of the Act says that if a police officer is not available & a warrant needs to be executed immediately; a court can direct any person to execute the warrant. The practicality of this is however not clear because the Act did not say what will happen if a member of the public refuses.
  • Section 93 makes it unlawful for a serving police officer to be in any financial debt. Creditors can now apply for attachment of earnings that will make the debt to be deducted directly from the monthly salary of such officer (up to 30% of total salary) until the debt if paid in full.
  • Serving officers are not allowed to engage in any form of business other than farming according to Section 95 of the Act.
  • If a police officer after being assaulted asks for your help and you fail to provide it; it is now an offence under Section 99 of the Act. This is punishable by three months jail or N100,000 fine.
  • Section 100 makes it unlawful for anyone to give any intoxicating substance to a police officer or even allow such an officer to remain in your house after taking such substance. This is punishable by a minimum fine of N50,000.

Law Pavillion in a publication dated October 29, 2020, also listed some aspects of the new Police Act, in comparison to the old Police Act 2004.

  • Arrest on Civil Wrong: The new Act has specifically prohibited the Police from arresting a person merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract. This is to further give effect to the provisions of Section 8(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 which has a similar provision.
  • Information about Rights when making an arrest: The new Police Force Act makes provisions for certain rights that accrue to a person who is arrested. With the coming into effect of the New Act, the Police officer making an arrest has a duty to inform the suspect of his/her rights to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice; consult a legal practitioner of his own choice before making, endorsing or writing any statement or answering any question put to him after the arrest; and free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or other organisations where applicable.
  • Notification of Next of Kin: Prior to now, it was possible, in fact, it was commonplace for a person to be arrested and denied the right to inform his/her people that he has been taken into custody; but not anymore! With the new Act, when a person is arrested and is being kept in custody, the Police have a duty to inform the next of kin or any other relative of the suspect of the arrest, at no cost to the suspect .
  • Torture and inhumane treatment prohibited: The right to the dignity of the human person is a fundamental right guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution. A person who is arrested must also be granted this right. He must not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment . This provision is also included in Section8(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
  • Statements: The new Act, a statement should only be made if the suspect wishes to make same; that is, it is now optional to make a statement. Where a suspect chooses to make a statement, the statement must be made in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice or an officer of the Legal Aid Council or a justice of peace or any other person of his choice. When the suspect does not speak or write English language, an interpreter who shall endorse and attest to the making of the statement shall be provided for him.

Report to the Magistrate

In the Act, the police officer in charge of a police station has a duty to make a report to the nearest Magistrate on the last working day of every month on cases of persons arrested without warrant whether they have been granted bail or not. The Magistrate shall forward the report to the Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee who shall analyse and forward the reports to the Attorney-General. The Chief Magistrate or any other Magistrate who has been appointed by the Chief Judge is now also required to conduct an inspection of Police Station within his territorial jurisdiction.

  • Establishment and Duties of The Nigeria Police: Section 4 of the New Act has extended the duties of the Nigeria Police beyond detection and prevention of crimes and protection of rights, lives and properties, maintenance of public safety, law and order; and the enforcement of laws and regulations to include collaborating with agencies to provide assistance to persons in distress, victims of road accidents, fire disasters, earthquakes, and flood, facilitating the free passage and movement on the highways, roads, and streets open to the public and adoption community partnership. The Nigeria Police Force also now has the duty to vet and approve the registration of private detective schools and private investigation outfits.
  • Duty to Enforce Constitutional Rights: In ensuring that the Nigeria Police Force promotes and protects the fundamental human rights of persons as provided for by the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right, and other international legal instruments on human rights, The Police Force is forthwith expected to collaborate with relevant agencies to provide legal services to accused person where necessary. In order to further achieve this, the new Act requires that every Police Division must be assigned a police officer who is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner whose responsibility will be to promote human rights compliance by the officers of the Division.
  • Stop and Search:Prior to now, the power of the police to stop and search has been derived from Section 29 of the erstwhile Act which is to the effect that ‘A police officer may detain and search any person whom he reasonably suspects of having in his possession or conveying in any manner anything which he has reason to believe to have been stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained.’ In the new Act, that scope has been largely extended. Now, by virtue of section 49 of the new Act, the police have the right to exercise the power to stop and search a person or vehicle when there is a reasonable suspicion that a person or vehicle is having in his possession or conveying in any manner anything which he has reason to believe to have been stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained; or carrying an unlawful or stolen article; or that an incident involving serious violence may take place within the locality; or carrying a certain type of article at an unusual time. Such a search may take place at any public place or any other place where the public has access provided it is not a private residence.

The far reaching provisions of the new Police Act notwithstanding, observers worry whether the Act will change the face of the Nigeria Police, create the necessary infrastructure for State Policer and community policing in the country.

Gloria Egbuji
Gloria Egbuji

What lawyers say

Lawyers, most of whom daily interact with the police and have taken it upon themselves to train men and officers of the Nigeria Police Force, included the Convener, Access to Justice (A2J), Joseph Otteh, Executuve Director, Crime Victims Foundation of Nigeria (CRIVIFON), Mrs Gloria Egbuji, a former Commissioner of Ogun State Judiciary Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi and a social commentator, Dr Fassy Yusuf.

Otteh described the Police Act 2020 as a major milestone in the history of policing in Nigeria, noting that it’s the first time the Police  Act would be reviewed since independence and also given that the Nigeria Police Force is close to a 100 years old as an institution.

“It is telling, of course, that it took an independent nation this long to refresh the framework for an institution that is as fundamental as the police is, to governance, security and safety.

While the Police Act 2020 is a welcome development, Otteh however noted that while it incorporates important new content, “it does not revolutionise policing or ring the changes with respect to how to enhance professionalism, fight impunity and enforce accountability of members of the force.

“In fact, many of its new provisions are not quite new. You can find, for example, safeguards detailing the rights of crime suspects in the new Police Act 2020 in other legislations, including the Constitution and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 so that content has simply been recycled into the Police Act.

Otteh said the Act is not a bad thing though, “if it is thought that doing so will promote better respect for these rights, but in truth, it’s not a game-changer, in the same way that the ACJA has not been a game-changer with respect to how police officers conduct themselves.”

According to him: “The new Act does not secure full independence for the Police Force, guarantee their budgets, neither does it promote accountability, transparency and integrity within the force.

“In fact, the Police Act 2020 will not prevent, on its own, the kinds of grievances that grounded and sparked the EndSARS protests.”

He, however,  saluted the efforts of civil society institutions that worked tirelessly to strengthen the “outmoded and antiquated predecessor Act, and we realise, that, if it were left to the police reform activists, we would have a much more forward-looking 2020 Police legislation.”

He remarked that  activists who pushed for a new Act realised that the government was only willing to go thus far in reforming the police force, and had to work prudentially within the scope of the available political will or risk the possibility that the Bill will not be signed by the President – for the 2nd time.

“Therefore, this Police Act 2020, in my respectful view, mostly “updates” how our police force is organised and administered. We will await the time when a people-focused, reform-oriented Police Act is negotiated and legislated, but for the now, this Police Act 2020 may just be a stop-gap filler”, he said.

According to Mrs Egbuji, the new Act does not remarkably improve or seem to improve policing in Nigeria for the following reasons:

“The police as at today has  a very high centralised control and command structure which will not allow the new Act to work.

“As innovative as the new additions there are,  the infrastructure  and funds to make it work is not adequate to support nouvelle policing that the Act is projecting

“Welfare of the police  does not give them the confidence and security  required to give in their best in the work they are doing . Even the police stations, police barracks, their supplies  are not well funded .”

Egbuji noted that the new Act wants lawyers only to be prosecutors. She said Police do not have enough lawyers to do the prosecution of cases that come before them. She regretted that the training  and retraining of police is not enhanced as such in the new Act .

She observed that there was nothing in the Act that allows the state Commissioner of Police (CPs) to employ officers. She noted that everything is tied to Federal Government.

“It will make its working difficult because all authorities come from the Federal.”

According to her: “The training CRIVIFON gives the Police is to educate them and create awareness of fundamental human rights and for it to work well, it has to be operationalised continuously till police at the highest command adopt them as a protocol and the training has to be an integral part of their protocols which must be guided by Human Rights provision. If it is not in their system it cannot work.

“The contribution CRIVIFON is making  remains on enlightenment. It is left for the police training department to operationalise it in their system.

“For me, the general outcome  in this 2020 Act, in the long run, will not be different from what was there beforehand. Recall that most of the new provisions in the 2020 Act have been in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015 and nothing has improved as such except in Lagos State.”

Mrs Egbuji argued that once the NPF cannot give up centralised control,  there can be no improvement .

She differentiated Community Policing as being different from State Police.

She said: “Proper  policing can only be supported  when there is adequate infrastructure funding and independent Judiciary. Until then, the different in practice will just be in the name, 2020 Police Act.  I don’t expect much improvement as things are for now.”

Omoyinmi also said some of the provisions and sections in the new Police Act are not simply workable where re-orientation, training and funding are grossly inadequate.

To effectively change the face of the police as it is presently constituted, Omoyinmi advised that government must be committed to funding the Police in a way that it has never been done before.

According to him: “There are presently provisions in the administrative of criminal justice laws of some states where electronic recording of statements made at police stations is compulsory, but issues like non provision of such electronic recording by the authorities  to lack of electricity are often used to subvert that provision of the law.

“The mental state of the police officer should be ascertained, but this has not also contributed to why some police officers misbehaved in carrying out their duties. What we have often seen is some officers in the course of their duties, is taking hard drugs and strong alcohol, making the citizens to doubt the mental state of officers.

“Police officers have often arrested innocent citizens not in any way for the pursuit of justice but for mischief to satisfy some interests, such officer if it is established that arrest and detention is not in pursuit of justice, should be disciplined either by demotion or suspended.”

Omoyinmi said the police act should have such provision, and this is why it might be necessary by the section 68 (3) of the act which provides for every police division to have officer who is qualified to practice as a lawyer, who then will screen what petitions for example, after investigation, is worthy  to be tried in pursuit of justice.

“I do not believe that this present police act is capable of providing a good foundation for the formation of state police. If however there is to be a state police, perhaps the outcome of various recommendations from the states panel of enquiry into the EndSARS against the police brutality might also serve as a guide”, Omoyinmi contended.

Yusuf  said on the face of it, the new Police Act is a laudable attempt at reforming or revolutionising  the Nigeria Police Force.

But looking through the various provisions in the Act, he said he was not convinced that the desire or the intendment to revolutionise the Nigeria Police will be achieved.

He asked : “ How feasible is it for every police division to have a police officer whom is qualified to practise as a lawyer because section 68(36) makes it mandatory. How many lawyers do we have in the Police Force and how many divisions do we have in the Nigeria Police Force. We have thousands of Police Divisions and to my mind, we cannot achieve the desired goal of having  every police division with a practising lawyer or an officer qualified to practise as a lawyer”, he contended.

He also referred to  section 93 which says that a police officer must not be financially indebted to anyone.

He asked again: “How practicable is that? When you say anyone, you are also talking about his wife, his children, you are talking about his parents. To my mind, it is misconceived.

“When you talk about section 99 of the Act, that makes it an offence for any person who fails to assist an officer that is being assaulted. So, if a police officer is being assaulted and the person that is assaulting the officer has a weapon, how do you expect somebody without arm to rescue that police officer? I think it should have been better couched.”

To Yusuf, “the new Police Act  seems  to whittle down the power of the Police Service Commission; that is not ideal. There should have been some checks and balances.

“ If the Act makes the IGP omnipresent, omnipotent, then you are courting disaster.

“The police force should be a civil police force and it should be socially responsible and must work in tandem with provisions of the law,” he argued.

‘Politics should be for service’

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