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The police and failed institutions

IGP replaces Kano Police Commissioner

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

One of the reasons allegedly proffered by former US President Barak Obama for excluding Nigeria from his state visit to Africa was because of the weakness of our institutions, which to Obama, put democracy in peril. In 2018, former President Muhammadu Buhari approved the recruitment of 10,000 constables for the Nigeria Police Force annually. This was to last for six years so that by the end of the recruitment exercise, at least 60,000 constables would have been enlisted into the force in order to boost its operations and effectiveness. This was not to be however, as the two principal actors involved in the exercise, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Police Service Commission (PSC), drew daggers against each other. So far, only 20,000 constables have been recruited. The Nigeria Police Force is the agency primarily responsible for the detection and prevention of crime, thus entrusted by law with the onus of guaranteeing the safety of lives and property. The PSC is the body established by law to supervise the police by way of oversight. There is no doubt that the police have not been able to discharge the responsibility of crime detection and prevention, at least judging by the number of soldiers deployed to various parts of the country to maintain peace and the galloping crime rate in the land.

According to the learned authors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an institution is an established organization or corporation (such as bank or university) especially of a public character. For Wikipedia, an institution is “a humanly devised structure of rules and norms that shape and constrain social behaviour. All definitions of institutions generally entail that there is a level of persistence and continuity.” In essence, institutions are expected to keep society going and to serve as channels of functional governance. The proper practice is to grant autonomy to these institutions and secure them from interferences such that individual, group or political preferences will not hinder their operations. The strength of these institutions is most often determined by the laws establishing them and the personality of the person chosen as their head. However, where the head of the institution is weak or has known political affiliation, it becomes very difficult to enforce the laws regulating the institution. In cases where he has strong political backing, he becomes stronger than the institution, in which case the institution becomes weak and unable to fulfil its mandate. Impunity sets in and the society becomes subject to whims and caprices of the strong and mighty or those who are connected to the head of such institution.
Sensing that it would not secure the cooperation of the powers that be in the resolution of the dispute on the issue of recruitment, the PSC commenced an action at the Federal High Court in 2019. The facts of the case are as stated in N.P.F. v. Police Service Commission (2024) 2 NWLR (Pt.1922) 231. In court, the IGP conceded that the PSC had the power to appoint police officers, except the IGP, into the police. However, it was asserted that that the PSC had no power to recruit constables into the police and that the IGP had been conferred with the exclusive power for such recruitment by virtue of Regulation 71 of the Nigeria Police Regulations 1968. The IGP further contended that the power of the PSC over constables was exercisable only after the IGP had recruited the constables or completed the process of enlistment of recruit constables, and their names or list had been sent to the PSC for formal appointment. The trial Court dismissed the case filed by PSC and affirmed the power of the IGP over the recruitment of police constables, thus upholding Regulation 71. In its judgment, the trial Court held that the powers of the PSC to appoint officers into the Nigeria Police Force did not include the power to recruit police constables. Being aggrieved with the said decision, the PSC appealed against it to the Court of Appeal, but while the appeal was pending, the National Assembly enacted the Police Act, 2020. In its judgment, the Court of Appeal found that the provisions of the Nigeria Police Regulations, 1968 were in conflict with the provisions of paragraph 30 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution and section 6 of the Police Service Commission (Establishment) Act, 2001 on the body statutorily empowered to recruit constables into the police. The Court of Appeal held that the provisions of the Police Regulations, 1968 were in conflict with the Constitution and voided them as such. The Court of Appeal held further that the power to appoint police officers vested in the PSC by the Constitution and the Police Service Commission Act included the power to recruit constables into the Nigeria Police Force. Therefore, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of the PSC, set aside the judgment of the trial Court and granted the reliefs sought by the PSC. Dissatisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal, the IGP appealed to the Supreme Court. In resolving the appeal, the Supreme Court considered the following statutory provisions, amongst others:

Paragraph 30 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution:

“The Commission shall have power to –
(a) Appoint persons to offices (other than office of the Inspector-General of Police) in the Nigeria Police Force; and
(b) Dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over persons holding any office referred to in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph.”

Section 6 of the Police Service Commission (Establishment) Act, 2001, which states:
“6 (1) The Commission shall:
(a) be responsible for the appointment and promotion of persons to offices (other than the office of the Inspector-General of Police) in the Nigeria Police Force;
(b) dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over persons (other than the Inspector-General of Police) in the Nigeria Police Force.
(2) The Commission shall not be subject to the direction, control or supervision of any other authority or person in the performance of its functions other than as is prescribed in this Act.”

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Section 18 of the Police Act, 2020, which provides:

“18 (1) The responsibility for the recruitment of recruit constables into the Nigeria Police Force and recruit cadets into the Nigeria Police Academy shall be the duty of the Inspector-General of Police.
(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), there shall be the Nigeria Police Recruitment Committee is responsible for the recruitment of recruit constables into the Nigeria Police Force.”

Regulation 71 of Nigeria Police Regulations 1968, which states:

“71. Subject to any necessary delegation of powers by the Nigeria Police Council and subject to the control of the Inspector-General, the officers responsible for the enlistment of recruit constables to the Force shall be:
(a) The Commandant, Police College Ikeja hereinafter called the Recruitment Officer, South, in respect of candidates from the Southern States; and
(b) The Commandant, the Police College Kaduna hereinafter called the Recruitment Officer, North, in respect of candidates from the Northern States.”
In determining who has power to appoint to offices in Nigeria Police Force except to office of Inspector General of Police, the Supreme Court held as follows:

“The powers to appoint constables into the Nigeria Police Force that was hitherto conferred by Regulation 71 of the Nigeria Police Regulations 1968 on the Commandant of the respective Police Colleges (albeit under the control of the Inspector General of Police) has now been conferred on the Police Service Commission (the 1st respondent) which has more wider powers to appoint not only constables, but other officers of the Nigeria Police Force (except the Inspector General of Police) by virtue of paragraph 30 of part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and section 6(1)(a) of the Police Service Commission (Establishment) Act, 2001. Similarly, the power of appointment hitherto conferred on the Nigeria Police Council under section 9(2)(b) of the Police Act, Cap. 359, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 and which was delegated to the Commandants of the respective Police Colleges (the recruitment officers) by virtue of Regulation 71 of the Nigeria Police Regulations, 1968, can only be exercised by the Police Services Commission (the 1st respondent) in view of the provisions of paragraph 30 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution and section 6 of the Police Service Commission (Establishment) Act, 2001.”

Until there is a further amendment of the Constitution and all other laws regulating the police, the law as it is in Nigeria today is that the PSC is the institution empowered to undertake the recruitment of all police officers, including police constables, except the IGP. The ball is in the court of the President, and he should kick it in the right direction. Several heads of the PSC have lost their jobs to this unending dispute and it will not end until there is a definite action from the President. The President is the head of the Nigeria Police Council, the President appoints the IGP who reports to him and the President also appoints the chairman of the PSC. The President should set up a Committee to harmonize the various issues agitating the parties to this conflict and implement a solution that is in accordance with the law and the decided case on the point. The current situation whereby the IGP and the PSC are throwing missiles against each other in the open and without restraint, will not augur well for the nation. It will embolden criminals and leave the rank and file demoralized. As it is usual with every conflict of this nature, police officers who are deemed to be sympathetic to one faction against the other will suffer persecution while two giants fight. The fact that the exit of many heads of the PSC has not resolved the dispute should be a pointer to the fact that it is entrenched and institutional. It should not be allowed to fester.

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