Through a gazetted Senate Bill 346 sponsored by Solomon Olamilekan of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) from Lagos East Senatorial District, Nigeria’s Senate is stepping up efforts at saving democracy from executive abuse. It plans to amend the Constitution to decentralise the police force, whittle down the powers of the President over commissioners of police by giving state governors the power of the ‘last command.’
The Upper Legislative Chamber has given full powers to governors to issue unconditional directives to the Police in their states.
A copy of the Bill specifically deleted the provison in section 215 (4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended that empowered the President to overrule any orders given to a Police Commissioner by the state governor.
The Bill also seeks to nullify the provision in section 215(5) which had prevented any court from entertaining cases arising from such orders issued by the President to the police.
Greater control of the police by states will douse tension between the presidency and state governments over local policing, bolster efforts at fighting crime and ease governance. Effective policing at that level would also help states build the required infrastructure to create jobs.
There have been loud calls for political restructuring of the country for effective policing at the state and local government levels in response to rising spate of crime, including insurgency, armed robbery and kidnapping. The idea of state police has received increasing support despite Federal Government’s insistence on total control of the force. It was also part of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan which the current government has refused to implement.
Security experts have however said, without appropriate checks and balances in place, governors’ control of police commissioners in their states would be a “recipe for disaster.”
Managing Director of Beacon Security Consulting, Kabir Adamu, expressed worry that the political situation in Nigeria does not favour the decision, as its implementation would help political and self-serving interest prevail.
He said: “But I think it would be better if one sees the checks and balances the Senate intends to introduce in the new law and to ensure that this very vital institution of law enforcement is not used to serve either political party or self interest. If they do not introduce checks and balances, then it is a recipe for national disaster,” Adamu argued.
Aliu Umar Babangida, who manages the Abuja-based Goldwater &Riversand Consult, a defence and national security firm, agreed with Adamu. “It is necessary but not yet the right time to allow governors exercise control over Commissioners of Police,” he said .
The Police force in its reaction said it would simply enforce any law made by the Legislature and signed by the Executive arm of government.
“I can’t comment on political decisions; we are professionals and law enforcers. Whatever law comes into force, we would obey, Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Don Awunah, said.
He described the Police as an agency vested with the responsibility of enforcing the law, while the National Assembly makes the laws.
The specific amendment that removed the obstacle on the way of state governors in directing the police commissioners reads: “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (in this Bill referred to as “the Principal Act”) is altered as set out in this Bill. Section 215 of the Principal Act is altered by deleting the provision to subsection 4.”
The same section 215 is also altered by deleting immediately after the word “shall” in line 3, the word “not” in subsection 5. 3.”
The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states that it seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) by deleting the Proviso to section 215 (4) and removing the ouster provision of directions given to the Police on combating crime under section 215(5) of the Constitution.”
The amendment, according to sources within the Senate, became necessary following undue control of the police by the Federal Government and its agents in Abuja, which has made it difficult for governors to promptly address security issues in their states.
As if underscoring the move by the upper legislative arm, former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday urged Nigerians to give the police the necessary support for effective and efficient policing.
Obasanjo spoke in Abeokuta at a maiden meeting of the Eminent People’s Forum (EPF) and launching of “Change Begins with me” of the Ogun State Police Command.
The State Police Commissioner, Ahmed Iliyasu disclosed that the EPF is a collaborative group that works to make policing more efficient.
The former President disclosed that the work of the police is a difficult task; hence, society must help them to perform their duties.
Obasanjo explained that security of the society must be done collectively. He urged the people to assist the police in the community with necessary information.
Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, a direct beneficiary of the proposed law, who was represented at the event by Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa, lamented the total loss of public trust in the police and urged men and officers of the police to do everything possible to evolve new strategies at combating crime and restore confidence in themselves.
In a nutshell, the Senate is seeking the amendment of Section 215 (4) of the current constitution, which reads: “Subject to the provisions of this section, the Governor of a state or such Commissioner of the Government of the state as he may authorise in that behalf, may give to the Commissioner of Police of that state such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order within the state as he may consider necessary, and the Commissioner of Police shall comply with those directions or cause them to be complied with: Provided that before carrying out any such directions under the foregoing provisions of this subsection the Commissioner of Police may request that the matter be referred to the President or such minister of the Government of the Federation as may be authorised in that behalf by the President for his directions.”
And section 215 (5) in the current constitution that prevented courts from hearing cases related to presidential directives to police reads:
“The question whether any, and if so what, directions have been given under this section shall not be inquired into in any court.”
The Bill, when successfully passed by the Senate, will face little hurdle in the state legislatures which are required to endorse any amendment of the constitution by the national legislsture before it becomes valued. But with the governors already itching to enjoy powers similar to having a state police, the amendment could have a smooth sail in the 36 Houses of Assembly.