The past decade of policing in Nigeria accompanied low levels of public confidence in the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). This resulted from police disregard for human rights and due process; from its persistent failures to curtail rising crime; from unresolved high profile murders; and from widespread allegations of corruption and political interference. In response to calls for change, the period also witnessed considerable public discourse surrounding policing reforms in Nigeria, conducted on the platforms of not less than two Presidential Committees, the Danmadami Commission and M.D. Yusufu Presidential Committee on Police Reform.
The Inspector Generals of Police (IGP) serving during the undertakings of these commissions, from IGP Musiliu Smith to IGPs Tafa Balogun, Sunday Ehindero and Mike Okiro, have either shown wanton indifference for the requirements of policing, or exhibited distressing levels of ineptitude in understanding the imperatives of reform.
According to current constitutional and statutory law, the appointment process of the IGP is closed to the public and within the exclusive purview of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nowhere does the law provide for a confirmation hearing with public participation or the National Assembly’s endorsement. Such provisions would contribute greatly to making the NPF more accountable to the Nigerian citizenry. This is necessary, because the police are invested with the powers of arrest, detention, and force that, when abused, are “disruptive of freedom, invasive of privacy, and sudden and direct in its impact upon individual[s].” As acknowledged in an article published by Professor of Criminology and Sociology of Law Etannibi E. O. Alemika and the Centre for Law Enforcement Education, “[a]ccountability is not intended to eliminate or undermine power but rather to control it from becoming an instrument of repression and exploitation and to ensure that power is exercised in a transparent manner, and according to rules.”
In order to thus wrest operational control of the NPF from the Executive, both Presidential Commissions recommended submitting the appointment and removal process of the IGP to the National Assembly for a vote by two-thirds majority. They found this reform measure central to removing the NPF from the partisan politics, evidenced by what the Yusufu Commission described as “the prevalence of police inaction in the face of Executive lawlessness and violations of civil rights of the citizenry for fear of losing their jobs, positions or privileges.”
On Friday, July 24, 2009 President Yar’Adua promoted the most senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Ogbonnaya Onovo to the Office of the IGP, following Okiro’s retirement. Onovo was also the senior DIG at the time of Okiro’s appointment, but was passed over for reasons that remain unclear. This appointment follows Okiro’s 60th birthday, the age of mandatory retirement from national public service. Reportedly, Yar’Adua still intended to meet and consult with the Nigeria Police Council (NPC) as provided for in the Constitution to obtain an endorsement for his IGP pick. Failure to consult with the NPC prior to appointing an IGP would be in violation of the law.
Pertinently, the Constitution lists the President as chairman of the NPC. Additionally, while the President is required to consult with the NPC, nothing in the Constitution requires actual third-party approval or confirmation. Rather, complete Executive control over the IGP’s appointment and removal has shrouded the process in secrecy, evidencing the need for greater transparency and accountability in appointment to the IGP Office.
With the recent selection of IGP Onovo, President Yar’Adua let pass an opportunity to institute reforms to the appointment process, by subjecting the IGP candidates to public scrutiny and legislative approval. Such steps were and still are necessary to re-instill the public with confidence in the NPF’s moral authority. The Yusufu Commission, comprised in part of three former IGPs, similarly called for the tightening of “the procedure of the appointment and removal of the [IGP] to make the office more independent, secure and autonomous.”
The NPF’s inclination to pander to the political establishment has always been a public concern. For instance, IGP Ehindero earned infamy for presiding over the security of Nigeria’s worst elections in April 2007. Succeeding him, Okiro signaled his allegiance to the President, and not the nation, when addressing members of the police force in Lagos, urging: “If someone pays you good wages and takes care of your welfare, you must be ready to die for that person...”. This directly contravenes the primary role of the Police as “servants of the people” in a democratic state. Okiro’s partisanship further presented during Ekiti’s re-scheduled elections and the Osun State elections petition between Governor Oyinlola of the PDP and Rauf Aregbesola of the Action Congress.
Each newly appointed IGP ushers in a programme of action detailing plans for reform. Unfortunately, the NPF’s image has become bastardized, its credibility eroded by repeated allegations of corrupt practices. For example, as reported by Amnesty International, in 2000 “over 70% of inmates in Nigerian prisons claim to have been beaten by police, threatened with weapons and tortured in police cells.” Other such concerns surround checkpoints, where police welcome bribes in exchange for safe passage. Tafa Balogun assumed the IGP’s office with an 8-point agenda and crime fighting strategy, “operation fire for fire”. Unfortunately, Balogun went down in a corruption scandal while his motto provoked extrajudicial killings by the police. His tenure also witnessed the kidnapping of Governor Chris Ngige without criminal consequence, when all indicators pointed to the involvement of powerful political interests in the presidency.
In spite of his 7-point agenda that included “zero-tolerance for police corruption and indiscipline,” Ehindero left the NPF with allegations of a N21 million scam and questionable police appointments tarnishing his legacy. With Okiro’s retirement, IGP Onovo inherits a force reputed to be deeply partisan, operationally deficient, abusive, and contemptuous of court orders.
There can be no gainsaying the need for a paradigm shift in Nigerian policing. On the 29th of June 2009, a number of civil society organizations, under the aegis of the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN), met to call upon President Yar’Adua to subject the IGP appointment to a public process that the Senate’s consent. NOPRIN appealed to the President on the ground that the “Nigeria Police as it is, is not working and has not fared well.” The plea was made on the precipice of Okiro’s impending retirement, and in the spirit of President Yar’Adua’s 7-point agenda that promised to “strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies, especially the police” in line with the state’s obligation to “fulfill its constitutional responsibility of protecting life and property.”
The call is founded on grounds of law, public interest and policy, in order to confer legitimacy on succeeding IGPs. Sustaining executive control over IGP appointment and removal processes belies any true intention to transform the police into an efficient and professional law enforcement agency, capable of providing public safety and security.
Efforts have been made to improve police accountability and to strengthen relations between the NPF and the public. For example, the Police Service Commission (PSC) was established to appoint and remove members of the NPF excluding the IGP. It is comprised of a diverse civilian oversight body as appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. However, PSC oversight capabilities remain primarily symbolic so long as the President maintains operational control over the police force and has the at-will power to appoint and remove the IGP. The PSC has also shown institutional weaknesses related in part to insufficient funding and no performance assessment guidelines.
A comparative review of countries with like appointment procedures reveals police forces similarly mired in political manipulation, corrupt practices, and cultures of impunity. For example, like Nigeria, the appointments of Ghana’s IGP and Kenya’s Commissioner of Police suffer from political influences as they are controlled by the Presidents of the respective countries. At present, Nigerian, Ghanaian, and Kenyan laws fail to provide for consultation with or confirmation by a legislative body, and lack specific guidelines for the position’s qualifications.
Reform efforts have only conjured a mirage of a responsible police force. For example, the creation of a civilian monitoring body in Ghana, comparable to Nigeria’s PSC, has proven unable to exact concrete changes. Problems stem in part from the lack of political will to make use of independent monitoring mechanisms. This in turn makes a mockery of the effort to achieve an accountable police service that follows and enforces due process of law.
These failings caution that such reform measures will prove insufficient and presidential control complete “in a system where the president has complete authority over the appointment and tenure of the head of the police force, and where the president can, at any time, essentially arrogate command of police operations to himself…”
It is time for Nigeria to fall in line with more stringent standards increasingly used world-wide. The next section will provide a cursory review of these standards, followed by recommendations for how they may be incorporated into Nigerian law and practice.
Today, the politics involved in the IGP’s appointment have escalated to an embarrassing situation where Presidential discretion overrides the appointment of the most qualified police officer and the IGP is answerable exclusively to the President. This in turn contributes to a perception of being above the law.
Efforts have been put forth to reform the 1943 Police Act, which has remained unchanged. In November 2004, an interagency committee undertook a review of the Police Act to propose reform measures. The committee was comprised of police, government representatives, and civil society groups. However, no such reform bill has yet been passed. A key component of proposed reforms centers on isolating the NPF from partisan political control. As the central force in maintaining law and order in Nigeria, it is imperative that the NPF be free from the reach of political manipulation.
In the past, civil society groups and presidential commissions have outlined proposals for statutory and constitutional reform concerning the IGP appointment process. Such recommendations have included confirmation before the National Assembly, in addition to the mandatory nomination of at least three qualified candidates for the position of IGP subject to public hearings for scrutiny. These goals persist in importance.
In light of the years-worth of allegations of corrupt practices and reportedly high levels of public mistrust in the NPF, this section will highlight alternative appointment methods successfully implemented in police systems within former British colonies. Some of these alternatives demonstrate the workability of the aforementioned reforms proposed by the presidential commissions and civil society organizations. Such procedures may similarly prove workable for Nigeria, with the potential to minimize the corruption and inefficiency that is endemic to the NPF and fatal to the public trust.
Uganda and South Africa
To start, Africa provides good models for Nigeria, with particular focus on Uganda and South Africa. Uganda’s Constitution provides for IGP appointment by the President in conjunction with the required approval of Parliament. Uganda statutory law also created a Police Authority, in part to advise the President on candidates for IGP appointment. Parliament also established a commission to monitor the Police Authority’s effectiveness. The commission found insufficient independence amongst the Police Authority from political interference, which has contributed to institutionalizing corruption practices. According to a report issued in April 2003 by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (hereinafter CHRI Roundtable Report) the commission recommended the development of specific guidelines for IGP qualifications and to provide for a “performance contract of three years, renewable on merit.”
In contrast to Uganda, South Africa’s 1996 Constitution and South African Police Service Act of 1995 provide that the President is responsible for the appointment of the National Commissioner (the equivalent to Nigeria’s and Uganda’s IGP) without confirmation by the legislature. However, as noted by the CHRI Roundtable Report, South African law checks the President’s power by protecting against arbitrary removal with the establishment of a board of inquiry. In addition, the Minister of Safety and Security, and not the President, wields responsibility for national policing policy.
New South Wales, Australia
Employing a system of checks and balances between the government branches and civilian oversight bodies is central to ensuring a fair and transparent IGP appointment. In particular, it is important to maintain a separation between the executive and the NPF to protect against illegitimate interference. For example, the input of such civilian committees is compulsory in New South Wales, Australia. While the Governor is in charge of directly appointing the police chief after receiving a recommendation from the State Police Minister, he may only do so following a background check carried out by the internal disciplinary department of the Police and the Police Integrity Commission, a civilian oversight body. The candidate is statutorily required to declare that “s/he has not knowingly engaged in any form of misconduct.”
In the U.S., local law governs the appointment process for police chiefs. While the procedures and qualifications vary between districts, they are within the bounds of due process. President Yar’Adua has signaled his commitment to due process, and would be well-advised to consider the accountability mechanisms employed in such rule-of-law nations like the U.S. For example, each U.S. locality determines eligibility requirements with certain jurisdictions requiring the candidate take and pass a qualifying examination.
In other jurisdictions, the candidate must be chosen from among legally appointed police ranks with no additional exam requirement. When an exam is required, all candidates must be afforded the opportunity to complete the exam in the absence of a screening process beforehand. But when there is a screening process, which may be performed by a civil service commission, elimination of a pre-screened candidate is allowed only if not arbitrarily decided. Similarly, when a police chief is appointed by a resolution of the city council, such decision is reviewable by the courts to insure against arbitrariness.
The final decision to appoint varies by jurisdiction and may be made by the mayor, city council, director of public safety, or some combination of these entities. For example, the law prescribing the appointment method in North College Hill Police Department requires appointment by the mayor, who picks from a list of three candidates, previously certified by the city’s civil service commission as scoring the highest on a competitive examination. The statute also requires that eligible candidates meet certain physical standards and that each have served for at least five years in the police department.
As Nigerian law undergoes reform, President Yar’Adua should consider Northern Ireland, which re-structured its police force following recommendations made by the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland. The proposals were codified into the Police (Northern Ireland) Act of 2000 to ensure a system of checks and balances.
The Act established the Northern Ireland Policing Board, which is comprised of ten members from the legislature and nine independents to serve maximum terms of four years. This Policing Board is responsible for appointing the Chief Constable (its IGP equivalent) upon the Secretary of State’s approval. The Secretary of State represents the Executive, whose power over the police force is checked by required consultation with the current Chief Constable and Policing Board. In turn, the Secretary of State has appointment and removal power of the board’s members, but only on statutory grounds. The Chief Constable also has a mechanism to check political interference in its submission of an annual policing plan, which will either then be adopted or amended by the Policing Board, again in consultation with the Secretary of State and Chief Constable.
As the preceding analysis reflects, heightened executive control over a country’s police force contributes significantly to decreased security amongst the populace and increased corruption within police ranks. It is based on this premise that we hereby implore President Yar’Adua to engage civil society groups, the National Assembly and other stakeholders in enacting statutory and Constitutional reforms to the IGP appointment and removal processes. This is necessary in order to have a Nigeria Police Force devoid of corruption, with integrity and respect. Specifically, President Yar’Adua is urged to support Constitutional and statutory amendments that would:
• Require confirmation by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly;
• Engage the public through hearings to reveal the human rights records and characters of IGP candidates;
• Set minimum standards concerning the physical, intellectual, and experiential qualifications of each IGP candidate;
• Secure a tenured, nonrenewable office for the IGP;
• Support passage of the Police Bill presently before the National Assembly; and
• Remove operational control of the NPF from the President’s functions.
Notably, Nigerian law does not prohibit the use of these accountability mechanisms. Thus, the President can most effectively demonstrate his support for these initiatives by engaging the advice of the National Assembly and by providing a forum to invite public scrutiny of the IGP appointment process. By so doing, President Yar’Adua will contribute substantially to fulfilling his self-proclaimed mandate expressed in his 7-point agenda to work together with Nigerian citizens to “restore our time-honored values of honesty, decency, generosity, modesty, selflessness, transparency, and accountability.”
Michelle Kline is a student of law at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. She spent the summer months from June through August working as a legal intern in Abuja, Nigeria during the time of the appointment of Inspector General of Police Ogbonnaya Onovo.
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 section 215(1)(a) (hereinafter 1999 Constitution); see also Police Act, Section 9(1) (1943).
See Etannibi E. O. Alemika, Police Accountability in Nigeria: Framework and Limitations, Centre for Law Enforcement Education 2.
See Report of the Presidential Committee on Police Reforms, Vol.1 Main Report, 167.
Id at 165.
The Guardian, 24 July 2009, 1.
ThisDay, 23 July 2009, 10.
1999 Constitution at section 215(1)(a). The Nigeria Police Council is comprised of serving members of the NPF.
TheNews, 18 May 2009.
See Report of the Presidential Committee on Police Reforms, Vol.1 Main Report at 15.
Amnesty International Report Nigeria, Security Forces: Serving to Protect and Respect Human Rights? (AI Index: AFR 44/023/2002).
Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, “A Civil Society Memorandum in Support of a Fair and Transparent IGP Appointment Process” (29 June 2009).
Seven-Point Agenda of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, available at http://nigeriaworldpages.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=70&Itemid=9.
See Etannibi E. O. Alemika, Police Accountability in Nigeria: Framework and Limitations, Centre for Law Enforcement Education at 10.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Report, “Roundtable Conference on Police Reform in East Africa: A Report.” (April 2003) available at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/police/ea_police_rtc_nairobi_2003.pdf (hereinafter CHRI Roundtable Report).
Innocent Chukwuma, Memorandum to the Presidential Panel on Police Reform in Nigeria, CLEEN Foundation 3.
CHRI Roundtable Report.
See Section 24 (6a), Police Act 1990 (New South Wales, Australia).
See Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local Union No. 238 v. Civil Service Com'n for City of Muscatine, 449 N.W.2d 374 (Iowa 1989).
See The Law of Municipal Corporations, 16A McQuillin Mun. Corp. § 45.10.10 (3rd ed.) (2008).
See 62 C.J.S. Municipal Corporations § 458 (2009).
See State ex rel. Petit v. Wagner, 170 Ohio St. 297, 299 (1960).
Inaugural Address of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-In- Chief of The Armed Forces, May 29, 2007, available at http://againstbabangida.com/content/view/374/27/.