Nigerian Police: Leading from the back

Ogunsakin Mustapha
13 Min Read

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

The Nigeria Police Force was officially commissioned in or around 1930, as the main law enforcement outfit in Nigeria, with about 371,800 members. It was originally established around 1820 by the colonial powers, as an instrument of coercion and enforcement of the native authority system. When eventually the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were proclaimed in the early 1900s by Britain, there was then established, the Northern Nigeria Police and the Southern Nigeria Police. However, the first statutory recognition for the police came by way of the Police Act of 1st April 1943, which was only recently repealed by the new Police Act of 2020.

There is some kind of mystery surrounding the word ‘force’ associated with the Nigeria Police, as the same is not descriptive of other police formations world over. It has gotten even more mysterious with the recent events within and outside the NPF. Initially, the idea of police for the colonialists was essentially a consular protection unit based in Lagos, meant primarily to secure the property and persons of British citizens and their Nigerian collaborators at the time. So, they were notorious for their abuses and general lawlessness. They behaved very badly in the hinterlands, by looting, stealing and generally taking advantage of their positions and uniforms. They were famed for the brutal subjugation of indigenous communities that resisted colonial occupation, earning them several derogatory titles and general hatred. They were ill trained and mostly picked from amongst the illiterate population, just to make them pliable for easy manipulation by their colonial overlords. The idea of excessive force, violence, repression and command has become part and parcel of the police ever since, regrettably though.

Upon the establishment of the NPF, a command structure was put in place to facilitate its smooth organization and control. This was accomplished through section 215 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, which provides as follows:

“There shall be an Inspector-General of Police who, subject to section 216 (2) of this Constitution, shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Nigeria Police Council, from among serving members of the Nigeria Police Force.”

The above is also replicated in section 7 (3) of the Police Act. Practically speaking, the IGP has overall command of the NPF, save in a few instances of the intervening supervisory jurisdiction of the Police Service Commission. This is why it is expressly stated in section 7 (1) of the new Police Act, 2020, that:

“7 (1) The Inspector-General of Police is the head of the Nigeria Police Force and shall exercise full command and operational control over the Police and all its departments and units.”

To be able to achieve “full command and operational control over the Police”, the IGP has to be someone with cognate experience and intellect, as stated in section 7 (2) of the Act:

“The person to be appointed as Inspector-General of Police shall be a senior police officer not below the rank of an Assistant Inspector-General of Police with the requisite academic qualifications of not less than a first degree or its equivalent in addition to professional and management experience.”

The mode of the appointment of the IGP is specified both in section 216 (2) of the Constitution and also section 7 (3) of the Police Act:

Section 216(2):

“Before making any appointment to the office of the Inspector-General of Police or removing him from office, the President shall consult the Nigeria Police Council.”

Under and by virtue of paragraph paragraph 27 of Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, membership of the Nigeria Police Council is as follows:

“27. The Nigeria Police Council shall comprise the following members:
(A) the President who shall be the Chairman;
(B) the Governor of each State of the Federation;
(C) the Chairman of the Police Service Commission; and
(D) the Inspector-General of Police.”

The NPC is to advise the President on the general organization of the NPF and the appointment or removal of the IGP. From all indications, the NPC has not been functioning as expected, at least from the recent developments involving the 20th IGP, Mr. Mohammed Adamu. He was born in 1961 and he subsequently enlisted in the NPF as a Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police in 1986, upon his graduation from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He rose through the ranks until his appointment on January 15, 2019, as the 20th IGP. By February 1, 2021, he attained the mandatory service period of 35 years, as stated in section 18 (8) of the Police Act:

“18 (8) Every police officer shall, on recruitment or appointment, serve in the Nigeria Police Force for a period of 35 years or until he attains the age of 60 years, whichever is earlier.”

The above provisions should have been very clear to understand and implement, to the extent that if IGP serves the NPF for 35 years before he attains the age of 60 years, he has to retire, or if the IGP attains the age of 60 years before his mandatory service period of 35 years, he has to retire, the cumulative effect of which is that the law recognizes whichever comes first. For Mr. Adamu, he would be 60 years old in 2022, but since he joined the NPF in 1986, he crossed the mandatory 35 years of service in February 2021. Since his 35 years of service comes before his personal age of 60 years, he is deemed to have retired from the NPF effective February 1, 2021. Some have however raised the seeming confusion said to have been expressed in section 7 (6) of the Police Act, which states as follows:

“The person appointed to the office of the Inspector-General of Police shall hold office for four years.”

The above provisions cannot be interpreted to entitle the IGP to remain a day longer in office beyond either his mandatory 35 years of service or of his personal age of 60 years, whichever is earlier. Thus, even though Mr. Adamu was appointed in 2019, he could not be expected to exhaust the four year tenure donated by section 7 (6) of the Police Act, since in any event, that four year tenure has been circumscribed by section 18 (8) of the same Act. In other words, section 7 (6) which prescribes a four-year tenure for the IGP cannot be deployed to extend the tenure of office of the IGP if he has served his mandatory 35 years of service or if he has attained the age of 60 years before the four-year tenure is exhausted. In this case, Mr. Adamu ceases to be a member of the NPF effective February 1, 2021.

The nation was however kept in suspense concerning the fate of Mr. Adamu until the Honourable Minister for Police Affairs stated that the President had extended the tenure of the IGP for three months, in order to have sufficient time to search out a suitable successor to the office. It is gratifying that the President has not referred to or relied upon any existing law for the purported extension, as there is no such law in existence in Nigeria, empowering the President to extend the tenure of an IGP whose service in the NPF has been determined by statute. The reason for this is simple. Section 215 (1) of the Constitution which deals with the appointment of the IGP states clearly that he must be appointed from “among serving members of the Nigeria Police Force”, and not from the retired sector. To be able to extend the tenure of the IGP therefore, the President has to first deal with the issue of his retirement, the IGP having served out his 35 years mandatory service in the NPF. To extend the tenure would mean that he is still in the service of the NPF, since such an appointment can only be from amongst serving officers.

The NPF is a very sensitive entity, being the security agency saddled with the statutory responsibility of interacting with the civil populace. Generally on paper, the duties of the police are stated in section 4 of the Police Act as being to “… prevent and detect crimes, and protect the rights and freedom of every person in Nigeria as provided in the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and any other law; maintain public safety, law and order; protect lives and property of all persons; enforce all laws and regulations without any prejudice to the enabling Acts of other security agencies….”.

To my mind, the President is not entitled, with due respect, to bye-pass the Nigeria Police Council in the consideration of the appointment of the IGP, either substantively, or in acting or extended capacity. Furthermore, there must be capable officers, within the ranks of the existing Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and the Deputy Inspectors-General of Police, from whom the President could have picked the IGP, to act for some temporary period, if indeed time is needed to appoint a successor. The IGP was appointed as far back as January 2019, such that the President had enough time to have determined the issue of succession, without the present controversy that the purported extension of tenure has generated.

Nigeria is presently in dire need of a motivated and friendly police force, not the one which deploys the uniform as an instrument of command, oppression and extortion. The action of the unsavoury extension of tenure for the IGP, when married with the juicy appointment of the ex-service chiefs as career ambassadors, may be interpreted to mean a desire to give a soft landing for those that the President favours. This is why the extension should be withdrawn forthwith, in order to boost the morale of serving officers of the NPF, who are the persons entitled to occupy the office of IGP. Without doubt, the President lacks the power to reabsorb a retired police officer into the NPF through a purported tenure extension which is not contemplated by law.

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