Penultimate week, the House of Representatives resolved to liaise with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and relevant civil society groups for the reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police. PHILIP NYAM reports
Before the ongoing protests calling for the ban of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police gathered momentum, the House of Representatives in an attempt to prevent the action and also find a lasting solution to brutality of members of the public by some officers and men of the police, had resolved to work closely with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), civil society organisations (CSOs) and relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to draft a new legislation that would hold erring members of the force to account for their conduct in the performance of their duties. Although the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu eventually ordered for the immediate disbandment of the SARS unit, following protests across the country, this has not convinced the protesters.
Unfortunately, there have been reported cases of killings of the protesters and men of the police force. The new legislation, according to the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, will also compel the police to take responsibility for the failures of training and discipline that leads to such violations and impose civil and criminal liability for violations of the police code.
Gbajabiamila, who made this disclosure before the commencement of debate on the issue at plenary, lamented that “everyday, throughout our country, interactions between the police and our citizens’ result in acts of horrific brutality, extortion, and retribution against the Nigerian people.
Too many of the people we have assigned to protect our citizens have shown themselves unworthy of that calling. Their actions betray our trust and wreak unquantifiable damage on the already frayed fabric of our society.”
He added: “Unfortunately, many of those who have betrayed our trust in this manner are never answerable for their actions. At the heart of this fundamental failure lies the unavoidable truth that we do not have an independent framework for ensuring that members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) are appropriately held to account when they fail to adhere to the policies and laws that govern their operations.
“We have long expected the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to police itself. It is now abundantly clear that this was the wrong call. For the benefit of a functioning system of policing in Nigeria, it is now necessary that parliament steps in to introduce an independent, fair and practical approach to ensure that those to whom we grant the authority to act in the name of the State, are held to the highest standards of professional conduct.
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), in Section 215(5) states that ‘the question whether any and if so what, directions have been given (to the police) under this section shall not be inquired into in any court.’
This provision presents a singularly obstinate obstacle to any system of effective judicial review of policing in Nigeria. “Therefore, any reforms of the operations of the Nigeria Police Force must include a constitutional amendment to expunge this painfully undemocratic clause from our country’s constitution.
Substantive and wholesale reform of policing institutions is never an easy undertaking. From Europe to America, and across Africa, we have seen such efforts begin and falter. “Police reforms succeed when such reforms have the support of the citizens who are determined to see the process through to a rewarding end, regardless of whatever obstacles might exist along the way.
This House of Representatives will act to ensure that those agents of the state to whom we have assigned the duty to protect and serve, are deserving of the faith and respect of the Nigerian people”.
“Over the next thirty days, the House of Representatives will work with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), with civil society and with Nigerians of good conscience to draft new legislation that establishes a system of independent accountability that: holds erring members of the Police Force to account for their conduct in the performance of their duties and imposes civil and criminal liability for violations of the police code; and also compels the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to take responsibility for the failures of training and discipline that leads to such violations”.
Worried by the atrocities com-mitted by SARS personnel, the House leader, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, had sponsored a motion, calling on the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to take decisive actions to stop the brutality and human rights violation by SARS personnel. Consequently, the motion was unanimously adopted with the joint committees on Police Affairs, Human Rights and Justice to ensure compliance and report same to the House within three weeks. The House also mandated the IGP to produce a comprehensive record of disciplinary and (or) judicial action taken against the officers accused of abuse of power in the past five years.
Similarly, the House mandated the police boss to produce an immediate plan for identification and compensation of victims. The House equally mandated its joint committee of Justice, Human Rights and Police Affairs to conduct a public hearing on the human rights violation of citizens by SARS and submit their report within six weeks for further legislative action.
In adopting the motion, the House resolved to amend existing laws and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to excise section 215(5) and replace it with provisions that ensure judicial review of police actions is enshrined and protected by the constitution.
It also agreed to establish a framework for holding individual members of the police accountable for their conduct in the course of performance of their lawful duties, including criminal and civil liabilities; and to allow the force to bear civil liability for failures in their conduct and operational procedures that lead to violations of citizens’ rights. Leading debate on the motion, Doguwa said the House noted with great concern the persistent outcry by Nigerians over the brutality and human rights violation by SARS personnel.
“We are disturbed by the alarming rate of unauthorised raids, extortion, stealing, frame-ups, indiscriminate search of mobile phones and other smart devices and arbitrary confiscation and fraudulent conversion of private property of citizens to personal use.
“This is a sharp departure from their core mandate of responding to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes and I am concerned that their activities in most cases have led to loss of property and extra judicial killings, which is eroding public confidence in government and diminishing our human rights cum democratic credentials as a nation. “Nigerians will recall the recent death of Ifeoma Abugu, who was allegedly raped and murdered in the Federal Capital Territory, Kinsley Tariuwa in Port Harcourt, Daniel Ikeaguchi Chibuike in Elelenwo Rivers State, Kolade Johnson and Temiyu Kazeem in Lagos, Sunday Bong in Abuja and Miracle in Nnewi to mention but a few.
“We are aware that the Anti- Torture Act, 2017 and the newly signed Police Act, prohibits the use of torture, harassment, and intimidation by security agents. So, we are deeply worried that despite repeated announcements since 14th August 2018 by police authorities to reform SARS, the problem of human right abuses and impunity still persist within the Police Force. “In most cases, efforts by victims and their families to seek justice is greeted with concerted opposition from the police authorities including threat to their lives.”
With the announcement of the ban of the SARS unit by the IGP and promises of far-reaching reforms of the police by President Muhammadu Buhari, the collaboration between the House and NBA and other stakeholders has become imperative in drafting a legal framework that would form the basis for the much needed reform of the Nigeria Police Force.