Towards a New Police Service Commission: A short Review of the PSC Bill

A Bill by the National Assembly to repeal the extant Police Service Commission Act, 2001 and enact a new Police Service Commission Act is a welcome initiative. The extant Act, the Police Service Commission Act, 2001, establishes the Police Service Commission as the institution to appoint persons to offices (other than the office of the Inspector-General of Police) in the Nigeria Police Force and to dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over any person holding office in the

Nigeria Police Force (other than the Inspector-General of Police) and for related purposes. The Police Service Commission is therefore in charge of the hiring, discipline and dismissal of the police who are the primary law enforcement officers.

The recruitment of 10,000 Constables into the Police Force by the Inspector-General of Police in 2019 was declared illegal in a recent judgment by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal, in an appeal filed by the Police Service Commission against the action of the Inspector-General of Police, held that in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 30 in Part I of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, only the Police Service Commission had the power to recruit officers into the Police Force. This judgment reinforces the role of the Police Service Commission as the key institution in government in charge of the appointment and discipline of police officers in Nigeria.

The problem of an inefficient police force in Nigeria is one that has been around for decades. The complaints against police officers are extensive and include their abuse of police powers, arbitrariness, excessive use of force, extortion and extra-judicial killings. Several attempts to make the police force more effective have also led to the creation of tactical units, the most popular being the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). These attempts to solve the challenges of the traditional police force by the creation of tactical units have not solved the problems but have instead magnified them. SARS was especially notorious for targeting persons based on their physical looks or affluent lifestyle and extorting money from those persons on spurious grounds, and in some cases killing suspects who were within or outside their custody.

The excesses of SARS operatives over the years led to the most recent EndSARS protests which began in October 2020 and received national support and global attention. The protests were the result of several complaints and petitions about the actions of the SARS operatives which were previously ignored by the Police Force and the Federal Government. Some of the demands of protesters in the EndSARS protests include justice for victims of police brutality, prosecution of bad eggs in the Police Force and improvement in the welfare and training of police officers. After local and international pressure on the Federal Government, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was disbanded and Judicial panels of enquiry were set up around the country to receive petitions from victims of police brutality. Findings from these panels even though not concluded, reveal deep rot, and worrisome levels of impunity and abuse of police powers in the Force.

The mere disbandment of SARS after the protests cannot be said to have solved the main issue of an inefficient and corrupt police force as the police force still has the same caliber of personnel across different ranks. The issue of excessiveness and high handedness of police officers has its root in the high level of impunity and indiscipline of police officers. This is the context that the current attempts to reform the Police Service Commission should be viewed. Few believe that as the Police Service Commission in its present form can significantly impact discipline and accountability of errant police officers.

In the extant Act, the membership of the Commission is not representative enough to address the issues of indiscipline and accountability of police officers. The position of the Chairman does not have any skill set or qualification attached to it which means virtually anyone can be appointed to head the Police Service Commission. There is only one representative of human rights interest in the Commission and this is insufficient as majority of complaints against the police border on human rights violations. There are also no members of the Board representing the training academy of the police which is a key institution in ensuring that the police are well trained and periodically retrained on the responsibilities of their office and the boundaries of their powers. The extant Act also does not have any provisions creating offices or units in geo-political zones or states of the Federation which is necessary because the work of the police is essentially local.

The long title of the Bill states that its objective is to strengthen the Police Service Commission to be more functional in its operations. A number of new provisions are included in the Bill which seems aimed at improving the Police Service Commission. The membership of the Police Service Commission is being increased to include more persons representing human rights interests. More functions which aim to refine the conduct and attitude of police officers when on duty are being added to the Police Service Commission such as the review and update of the curriculum for training officers of the Nigeria Police Force and the review of the terms of reference and operational guidelines of any tactical units set up by the Inspector-General of Police. The Police Service Commission, by the provisions of the Bill, is being empowered to establish investigative units in all states of the federation.  

The establishment of investigative units in all states of the Federation will make it easy for members of the public to submit complaints about police officers to the Police Service Commission. Police work is done at the community and local government level and an investigative unit located in a state is more suitable than a unit located at the Federal Capital Territory to start investigation as soon as they receive complaints on the conduct of the police. It is expected that these changes introduced by the Bill will help to revamp the management and operations of the Police Service Commission so that it is more effective in curtailing impunity and indiscipline in the police force.

A challenge of law enforcement in Nigeria is not the lack of suitable laws but the execution of already existing laws. The Police Service Commission has the important job of hiring the right personnel for the Police Force and ensuring disciplined conduct by police officers. The security of human lives and property depends on the effectiveness of the Police Service Commission and its previous ineffectiveness eventually led to the EndSARS protests. The need for an effective and vibrant police force under the regulation of the Police Service Commission cannot be overemphasized. A Bill repealing and enacting the Police Service Commission is welcome but it is expected that its passage does more than tweak a few provisions of the extant Act but leads to an effective, efficient and reformed Police Service Commission and police force.