Nigeria: Police Reform Act - an Avoidable Controversy

22 October 2020
editorial

The newly launched Police Reform Act (PRA) made its entry in a most undignified manner, as it came in the midst of circumstances that hardly edified it.

First of all, its advent coincided with a nationwide and globalised wave of protests against the excesses of the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). Secondly, hardly had it settled than the Appeal Court declared it null and void for containing toxic provisions that breached the constitution.

The appellate court had ruled that the PRA, as enacted, violated the constitutional mandate of the Police Service Commission (PSC), by usurping its powers and responsibilities with respect to the appointment, promotion and discipline of police officers below the rank of Inspector General of Police (IGP). The bone of contention on which the ruling of the appellate court was anchored remained the domiciliation of the aforementioned powers and duties by the constitution, which the framers of the PRA breached.

That such an anomaly was not detected and was even allowed to proceed and get President Muhammadu Buhari to sign it into law, remains one of the most indicting developments in the presidency in recent times.

It can be recalled that the PSC and the Office of the IGP were recently engaged in a tussle over the recruitment of 10,000 constables to beef up the strength of the force. Against the clear provisions of the constitution on the powers and functions of the PSC, which included the responsibility of recruiting police personnel below the rank of IGP, not a few observers faulted the Attorney General of the Federation and as many relevant officials that facilitated the patent breach of the constitution when they acted against the course of law to endorse the usurpation of the functions of the PSC by the Office of the IGP.

It was this situation that led the PSC to go to court to seek an interpretation of the constitution with respect to its powers and duties. The ruling of the Appeal Court on the matter has not only restored the constitutional powers of the PSC, but also exposed the questionable legislative processes that spawned the PRA as passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President Buhari, only to meet sudden death on arrival.

Meanwhile, given that the problems facing the NPF go beyond the matter of recruitment to other areas needing reform in the establishment, the crash in the fortunes of the PRA demands that it returns immediately to the legislative mill of the National Assembly for a more acceptable processing. Indeed, it cannot be put otherwise that a legislation which is intended for transforming the country's police establishment can surface as a junk dispensation and meet sudden death, only because its authors acted with the indiscretion of loading it with provisions which, in an ordinary context, run at cross purposes with the constitution.

In the light of the gravity of this procedural slip, there are questions over the remediation measures that should be considered and implemented to avert such a situation in future, whereby valuable legislative time and resources can be deployed by less than diligent officials to inject questionable and self-defeating provisions into legislation, with the PRA as a valid metaphor.

Now that the PRA may return to the National Assembly for a retouch in line with making it consistent with the provisions of the constitution, it is not too much for Nigerians to expect a better package from the legislature, than the earlier outing which made it ineligible.

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