As part of measures geared towards supporting ongoing efforts at repositioning the Nigeria Police Force for optimum efficiency, accountability and responsiveness, a Civil Society Organizations’ Observatory on the Implementation of the Police Act 2020 and the Police Trust Fund Act 2019 has been inaugurated in the Southeast, Nigeria.
At the inauguration of the observatory held at Umuahia, Abia State Capital on Thursday, the capacity of members drawn from CSOs and the Media, from all the five Southeast states, were also built on the details of the two legal instruments.
The activity is implemented by the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, RULAAC, under a Police Reform Project supported by MacArthur Foundation, aimed at promoting Police Accountability in Nigeria.
The Executive Director of RULAAC, Mr Okechukwu Nwanguma said RULAAC’s intervention seeks to address the various concerns regarding policing practices in Nigeria, aimed ultimately at protecting Nigeria’s fragile democracy.
According to him, the need has become apt, to strengthen the capacity of the police to understand their role in the survival of Nigeria’s democracy by upholding the tenets of police accountability and respect for human rights which, among others, define democratic policing.
He revealed that the CSO-PTF Support and Oversight Group being inaugurated, will act as a catalyst to spur the Police Trust Fund to deliver on its mandate, as well as also carry out sensitization to create public awareness across the geo-political zones on the existence of Police Trust Fund and its mandate.
“The organizations present here today have been carefully selected and identified as some of the credible and reliable CSO groups working around police and policing issues in the South East Zone, which would serve as partners and in-road to the Zone as RULAAC and the Consortium members would ride on your networks for the implementation of this programme.
“We do not want to assume that everyone is conversant with the Provisions and purposes of the Police Act and the PTF Act.
“We believe that when CSOs- including the media- have good knowledge of the Acts, they will then be better placed to mobilise, sensitise, speak about them and monitor same, hence the need for this workshop, to help the participants better understand the provisions and purposes of the two Acts,” Nwanguma noted.
In her remarks, Uche Nwokocha, the Coordinator, National Human Rights Commission, Abia State, observed that the Police, in exercising its responsibility of maintaining public peace, keeping law and order, crime prevention, crime detection, apprehension and prosecution of alleged criminal offenders, exercise a tremendous amount of discretion.
She noted that while use of discretion allows police officers the flexibility to perform their jobs, especially in interpreting the applicable statutory law and then act upon determination, it has in most cases resulted in corruption, highhandedness as well as human rights abuses with its legal implications.
“The police is the biggest, most visible and important sub-system of the Criminal Justice System (CJS).
“The police provide the entry point into the CJS either through crime reports from the public or its own discovery.
“The police have regular contact with the public, a situation that makes it unique among the other components of the criminal justice system.
“The uniqueness of the police rests on the fact that the police officer on the street is as important as the existence of the CJS.
“However, we see police officers engaging in so many nefarious acts which are driven by the quest for quick money through bribe taking and extortion of the public with grave consequences for human rights protection as well as the fight against crime.
“On the other hand, the spate of high -tech crime going on in the world today is an indication that the days of traditional policing are over, but unfortunately, while modern crimes have caught up with us, the NPF remains unchanged.
“These were the reasons for the Police Act 2020 to provide the legal framework for the Police Force and ensure cooperation and partnership between the police and host communities in maintaining peace, combating crime, protecting liberties, life and for other related matters.
“Also the Police Trust Fund Act 2019 came to being, to yield the legal framework for the management and control of a special intervention fund for training and retraining of personnel of the Nigeria Police Force; and the provision of the state of the art security equipment; and other related facilities for the improvement of the skills of the personnel,” she explained.
In a keynote presentation, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN and member RULAAC Board of Trustees, Louis Alozie represented by Barr Olunna Imo identified some innovations with the Police Act to include removal of the power of the Police to arrest for a civil wrong, notification of arrest to the Suspect’s family by the Police, prevention of arrests in lieu, removal of the powers by the police to compel statements out of the accused, notice of delayed detention by the Police, prohibition of torture and inhumane treatments, among others.
He however noted that the Act has challenges which include conflict with the constitution, poor implementation as well as vagueness of its several provisions, recommending upgrade on Intelligence Gathering and Investigation, improved police welfare, effective communication between the police and the public and State Policing as the way out.
“Whilst the current reforms are laudable, it is obvious that there are outstanding issues that need to be addressed in the Act which are essential for it to meet its set objectives.
“In addition, an implementation policy must be provided by the government to enforce the provisions of the Act because it is only then that the positive impact of the reforms can be felt by the relevant stakeholders.
“With the spirit of optimism, the new Police Act 2020 embodies sleeping potentials that can only be awakened through strict and conscious implementation of its provisions.
“Only then can the new Act achieve its purpose and fulfill the principles of justice for the sole purpose of promoting peace, protecting lives and properties,” he said.
In another presentation on the Police Trust Fund Act, the Executive Director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, Ms Faith Nwadishi identified a summary of the act which the Observatory must focus attention on.
She said careful observation of the implementation of the Act by CSOs will guarantee increased accountability and openness, improved project implementation, efficient and effective resource allocation, encourage data-driven decision-making and learning and improve organizational managements.
“CSOs, contributors to the Fund, as well as the entire nation, should be interested in the monies being used wisely, the consequent influence on the NPF’s capacity, improvement in the country’s security situation, and full accountability by those in charge of overseeing the funds,” she said.
Earlier while inaugurating the observatory, the Abia State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Uche Ihediwa SAN, represented by Barr Chinyere Okezie-Muoko said the provisions of the Acts which is in tandem with the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, ACJL, and assured that the Abia State Government will avail the initiative all the necessary support.
Participants at the workshop had the opportunity to ask questions and make contributions on various aspects of the Acts.