Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
How far can the House of Representatives go in its quest to unravel cases of alleged extra-judicial killings and other human right abuses by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and how can the lawmaking body pass a new legislation to curb the excesses of the police?
Tension has been on the rise across the country in the last one week as aggrieved youths take to the streets to protest extra-judicial killings by the defunct SARS, and brutality by the police against defenceless citizens.
President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the disbanding of SARS, which is notorious for human rights abuses, following protests by the youths, who are protesting with the hashtag #EndSARS.
The #EndSARS protesters are demanding the “setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct; psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed, and increase police salary so that they can be adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens” amongst others.
Consequently, all eyes seem to be on the parliament as the representatives of the people to address the concerns of the citizens.
Last week, the House Joint Committee on Justice, Police and Human Rights summoned the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to appear before it to answer lawmakers queries on alleged extra-judicial killings by policemen attached to the defunct SARS.
The joint committee, apart from grilling the IGP on the excesses of the disbanded police unit, is expected to hold public hearings across the six geopolitical zones to interface with victims and families of alleged brutality and extra-judicial killings by the defunct SARS.
The House had two weeks ago, few days before the #EndSARS protests started, mandated its Committees on Justice, Police Affairs and Human Rights to investigate alleged cases of human rights abuses by the special police squad and report back within six weeks, for further legislative actions.
The House also directed Adamu “to produce a comprehensive record of disciplinary and(or) Judicial action taken against the officers accused of abuse of power in the past five years,” as well as “immediate plan for identifying and compensation for victims.”
The Green chamber equally resolved to amend relevant laws and sections of the constitution, particularly Section 215(5) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and replace it with provisions that ensure judicial review of Police actions enshrined and protected by the constitution..
The House leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, had in a motion “on the need to put an end to human right abuses by SARS”, drawn the attention of the House to alleged cases of gross human rights abuses by SARS operatives. He called for urgent actions to give respite to the citizens.
According to him, “their activities in most cases have led to loss of property and extra judicial killings which are eroding public confidence in government and diminishing our human rights cum democratic credentials as a nation.”
He recalled that: “the recent death of Ifeoma Abugu who was allegedly raped and murdered in FCT, Kinsley Tariuwa in Port Harcourt, Daniel Ikeaguchi Chibuike in Elelenwo Rivers State, Kolade Johnson & Temiyu Kazeem in Lagos, Sunday Bong in Abuja and Miracle in Nnewi,” are as a result of the alleged excesses of SARS.
Nevertheless, there is cynicism about the ability of the House to successfully push through a probe of police brutality against defenceless citizens. Analysts say the House, and by extension the National Assembly, one way or the other, is complicit in the failures of the police and other security agencies to respect the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. Not a few see the excesses of the defunct SARS and the security agencies as a complete failure of oversight.
Since the inception of the ninth assembly, just like in the eight assembly, insecurity, as well as the conduct of security agents, the police inclusive, has been the most discussed issue in the House. Regardless, nothing concrete has come out of any of the many resolutions on security related motions.
The House had in May, following a motion by the deputy chief whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, adopted a motion to investigate alleged extra -judicial killings by security agents during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Onyejocha had in her motion informed the House that according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), security agents, enforcing COVID-19 lockdown, have extra-judicially killed 18 innocent Nigerians in Abia, Delta, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Katsina, and Niger States as at April 13.
She explained, “that of the 18 deaths, the Nigeria Correctional Service was responsible for eight, Nigeria Police Force was responsible for seven, the Nigerian Army was responsible for two, while the Ebonyi State Task Force on COVID-19, Afikpo South LGA, was responsible for one.”
Despite the anger that characterised the debate on the alleged human rights abuses during the COVID-19 lockdown, nothing has been heard about the probe ordered by the House, five months after.
For the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, the amendment of Section 215(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) would make it possible for the police to be held more accountable for their actions.
Gbajabiamila, speaking recently on police brutality against citizens, had noted that “ too many of the people we have assigned to protect our citizens have shown themselves unworthy of that calling. Their actions betray our trust and wreak unquantifiable damage on the already frayed fabric of our society.
“Unfortunately, many of those who have betrayed our trust in this manner are never answerable for their actions. At the heart of this fundamental failure lies the unavoidable truth that we do not have an independent framework for ensuring that members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) are appropriately held to account when they fail to adhere to the policies and laws that govern their operations.
“We have long expected the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to police itself. It is now abundantly clear that this was the wrong call. For the benefit of a functioning system of policing in Nigeria, it is now necessary that parliament steps in to introduce an independent, fair and practical approach to ensure that those to whom we grant the authority to act in the name of the state, are held to the highest standards of professional conduct” he said.
Nevertheless, an Abuja based lawyer, Ugochukwu Ezekiel, told Daily Sun that reforming the police goes beyond the alteration of Section 215(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Ezekiel noted that the current protest should be an opportunity for the parliament to come up with legislative measures to decentralise the police.
He added that it is equally imperative for the legislature to come up with a new legal framework that will effectively address the issue of rumenuration of the police.
According to him, “amending Section 215(5) of the Constitution is not enough to accommodate the security needs of the country as regards effective policing. We need complete structural reform both in command and control of the force, recruitment process, remuneration and equipment.
“I am of the view that command and control of the Force should be decentralized to allow the State and Local governments have their own Police while the central Police takes charge of specific areas like assets belonging to the Federal Government.”
Furthermore, Ezekiel stated that the “recruitment process of the Police is also foundationally faulty. Many people are recruited into the force without any verification of their background. Ex-convicts even find their way to the Police. The Constitution amendment must be that our best are the ones in the Police.”
However, this is not the first time the House would be seeking a reform of the police, in recent times. In 2018, Gbajabiamila, as leader of the House, had sponsored a bill for the alteration of the 1999 Constitution ( as amended) to make it possible for states to have their own police.
The bill, which came on the heels of one of the killings in Plateau State, had sought for removal of “item 45 from the exclusive legislative list, grant the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly the power to make laws with respect to the creation, formation and control of Police and other Government security services in Nigeria.”
Regardless, the proposed legislation was later abandoned in the eight assembly. Although the ninth House has been considering bills from the last assembly, no mention is made of the state police bill.
Analysts say the #EndSARS protests is a litmus test on the resolve of the House to bequeath to the country a people-friendly police force, just as it presents the parliament an opportunity to redeem itself in the effective discharge of its oversight functions.