The House of Representatives has organised its first Public Policy Dialogue Series, under the theme; “Policing and Human Rights in Nigeria. The event, which was aimed at engendering a better policing system for the country, tallies with the objective of the recent #EndSARS protests. John Ameh, Special Assistant on Media Research and Documentation to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, reports

 

The House of Representatives under the leadership of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has in keeping with its promise to promote citizens’ participation in legislative policy-making, held its first Public Policy Dialogue Series, a key component of the Updated Legislative Agenda of the 9th House, on November 18.

The opening dialogue in the series was on the theme, ‘Policing and Human Rights in Nigeria’. It falls under an item on the Updated Legislative Agenda – security.

The recent #EndSARS protests came with huge costs, especially after hoodlums hijacked what was hitherto a genuine and peaceful expression by young Nigerians demanding a people-friendly police force, an end to brutality, harassment, extortion and other forms of human right abuses. In the process, lives were lost, properties belonging to government, individuals and private organisations were looted, vandalised or razed.

The aim of the #EndSARS protesters, which was to have a better policing system for the country, tallied with an earlier commitment of the Gbajabiamila-led 9th House to embark on police reforms through legislative instruments, as seen in the speedy passage of the Police Reform Act 2020, for example.

To further demonstrate the commitment, the House, in the wake of the protests, resolved to initiate a draft bill to reform the Police Service Commission, a bill to give the commission wider powers to hold errant policemen accountable and expand the membership of the body.

The draft, which is a fallout of the dogged pursuit by Gbajabiamila to fulfil the promise of the House, got inputs from relevant stakeholders.

Thus, on Wednesday, November 18, in keeping with the pledge to promote citizens’ participation in the work of the parliament, the Speaker subjected the Police Service Reform Commission (Reform) Bill 2020 to public dialogue. The whole idea was to get many stakeholders to make their inputs to the bill at the drafting stage.

This move by Gbajabiamila was considered as a ‘fresh’ approach to legislative work, unlike the more usual practice of getting the public involved in the lawmaking process only at the public hearing stage. What the Speaker and the House did on November 18 was to get Nigerians to make contributions to a draft bill, even before the presentation of the final document to the House for first reading.

Representatives of various groups participated. They included the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), led by its President, Olumide Akpata; the Police Service Commission (PSC), which had Justice Clara Ogunbiyi representing the Chairman, Musiliu Smith; the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu (represented by the DIG Research and Planning, Leye Olusola); the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr Anthony Ojukwu; the Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan; a youth advocate, Mr Bobo Ajudua, and the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Nigeria, Mr Mohammed Yahya.

Setting the tone for the dialogue, Gbajabiamila explained the expediency of the PSC reform bill.

He stated: “Our reform objectives include wholesale reviews of police recruitment and training procedures and practices. It also includes an obligation to drastically and rapidly improve the welfare and well-being of police officers from recruitment through to retirement.

“As we expect more from the men and women who carry arms and take risks to protect us, we must also be ready to do right by them, and by their families. They too are our citizens; they are our brothers and sisters deserving of the best that our nation can offer. I want to assure all of you in this room, all of you who are watching today from wherever you are; the 9th House of Representatives will do everything we can to deliver for the Nigerian people a policing system that works for every citizen.

“We will talk, we will engage, we will change laws, and we will amend the Constitution subject to the consensus of the Nigerian people. We will do everything that we have the power to do so that when the account of this moment is given, we will be counted for making the right choices and doing justice by our people.”

What does the PSC reform bill say?

The bill, which repeals the existing PSC Act 2001, seeks to enact a commission comprising a chairman and eight others as members. The chairman, who must not be a member of a political party, must also not be more than 55 years old at the time of appointment.

Other members are a woman “who has experience working in the area of sexual harassment and gender-based violence;” a youth, being a person of not more than 35 years and a member in good standing of a recognised profession; a retired police officer not below the rank of a Commissioner of Police; and a retired Justice of either the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court of Nigeria.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the NBA, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and civil society organisations (CSOs), shall each have a representative on the commission.

The new bill expands the structure of the PSC by creating offices in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Authority (FCT) and strengthens its power to recruit, train police personnel (except the IGP) and discipline all errant police officers (excluding the IGP). It can investigate cases of abuses by any officer and upon conclusion of an investigation, make immediate referrals to the Attorney-General of the Federation or the Attorney-General of a state for prosecution as the case may be.

Specifically, in Section 6(4), the bill provides that the “Commission shall not be subject to the direction, control or suspension of any other authority or person in performance of its functions other than as prescribed in this act.”

The PSC will now have many units dealing with issues such as complaints against police officers in each of the 36 state offices and sets out a defined procedure of following through such complaints till leading to the prosecution of the errant officer or otherwise.

Discussants at the session largely supported the bill and commended the Gbajabiamila-led House for initiating the quick intervention at a period of tension in the country.

For instance, NBA’s Akpata said the bill was one of several steps to be taken to address the challenges of policing in Nigeria. He added that another key area -welfare – was also being considered.

Earlier, the Chairman of the House Committee on Implementation and Monitoring of the Legislative Agenda, Rep. Henry Nwawuba, said the 9th House had committed itself to seek collective and holistic ways to finding lasting solutions to the challenges of policing.

The participants agreed at the session that the bill is open to further suggestions.

Two clear things have been achieved by the Speaker and the House. One is the promise to initiate a police reform bill and seek ways of improving the overall operations of the Nigeria Police. That promise has been kept with this first move.

The second is the promise to get Nigerians to participate in the legislative process through the Public Policy Dialogue Series encapsulated in the 9th Assembly Legislative Agenda. That promise too was kept with the opening on ‘Policing and Human Rights in Nigeria’ on November 18.

After going through all the legislative processes of first, second and third readings in the House, the Bill will be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence after which it will be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari, who is interested in a better police outfit in Nigeria, for his assent.

 

The Nation