By Nneka Acholonu Egbuna
As Nigeria welcomes the new Acting Inspector General of Police in January 2019, the discourse on Police Reform comes to mind once again. More than a month has passed since the public hearing on the Nigerian Police Bill on 5th December 2018, a day when stakeholders and the general public had an opportunity to review the proposed bill and make recommendations on how best the draft bill could be improved to make to make the Nigeria Police Force better in service delivery. Abuja based Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) identifies that as a critical component of the security infrastructure in Nigeria, the Police Act was being comprehensively reviewed due to the ‘long-running criticism of their inability to deliver on their responsibility to secure lives and property’. It cited the Police Act as outdated and unable to keep up with the contemporary security challenges in the country.
In 2017, The World Internal Security and Police Index International declared the Nigerian Police Force as the worst performing police in the world. Similarly, Amnesty International in its 2018 report titled ‘Nigeria: Still No Accountability for Human Rights Violations’ cited the Nigeria Police among other security forces in Nigeria as culprits in human rights abuses, torture and other forms of violence against men and women. These, among several other reports (from both national and international organizations) and outrage from the general public, have put the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) in particular and the entire security sector of the country in general on the spotlight), thus reinforcing the need for the NPF to redeem its image.
Over the years, lawmakers have also condemned the rising insecurity and small arms proliferation in the country and acknowledged a broken down security structure in Nigeria whereupon it set up committees to review the reformation of the police and overall security infrastructure of the country. A major step was the drafting of the current Nigerian Police Bill being sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah.
The proposed police bill thus has the overall goal of ‘providing for a more efficient and effective Police Force that is based on the principles of accountability and transparency; and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms’ (Nigeria Police Bill, 2018). However, rhetoric must be matched with political will and action by integrating all necessary elements that will make the Nigeria police a truly reformed and inclusive service provider. It is important to note that one of the overall objectives of the bill (to improve on human rights protection) WILL NOT BE ACHIEVED if it does not specifically address the need to review the Police Act’s Regulations and Force Orders which entrench discrimination against men and women.
While the various summaries, briefs, and fact sheets on the bill mention the gender disparities, the draft bill does not make bold statements on the need for the Nigeria Police Force to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘gender responsive’; the concept of gender being seen from the perspective of meeting the needs of men and women in the NPF and giving both sexes the same opportunities to contribute to promoting peace and security in the country.
The current Police Bill contains 130 sections. None of them significantly address gender issues, except for vague references in section 2 of the bill, which reviews the ‘Objectives’ of the police force and section 126 on ‘Power to Make Regulations’ which are intended to provide the opportunity to expunge the discriminatory provisions in the Act which were established over 50 years ago.
Gender and the Nigeria Police Force
It is almost twenty years since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule and within this timeframe, very few women have risen to high ranks in the NPF. Up to 10 male police officers have risen to the rank of Inspector General of Police- IGP, while there has been no female IGP or Deputy IGP (DIG).
Over 10 years ago, the NPF commenced the process of developing its own gender policy to make the force fit for purpose, inclusive and aligned with international security standards. The document; A Gender Policy for the Nigeria Police Force: Final Draft Report, 2010, had the following findings; the average Nigerian perceives the NPF as an ‘unfriendly set of uniformed men’ who are brutal and oppress those they are paid to protect, an institution dominated by men and modeled as a masculine institution, high levels of gender abuses which include unfriendly conditions of service, especially for the female police officers, very low representation of women in NPF (in 1993, the NPF comprised 5.01% female police officers; as of July 2010, Nigeria had 87.6% male police officers and 12.4% female officers.
In 2001 only 4% of the total police population; and 8% of all officers respectively, were women), biased treatment of domestic violence and other forms of violence against women, inhibition of women‘s access to justice, gender discrimination in the police force, sexual harassment of junior officers/recruits, gender insensitive language in the NPF and related institutions, sexual exploitation and rape of police officers including detainees in the police stations, and those awaiting trial, no clear structure for reporting incidents or supporting victims/survivors.
Gender equality and increased participation of women is crucial to achieving a truly reformed security sector and removing discriminatory laws and putting in place legislation that promotes gender equality is essential in achieving the SDGs (UN Women). The NPF Gender Policy of 2012, developed by the NPF in partnership with the United Nations and Civil Society Organisations, is as an indispensable tool in the police bill review process.
The overall goal of the Policy is ‘to put in place a Nigeria Police Force with an appreciable percentage of women representation (at least 30%), with improved gender relationship devoid of Gender discriminations and sexual harassment’ (Gender Policy for the Nigeria Police Force, 2012).
Discrimination in the Police Act, Regulations, Force Orders and Administrative procedures
Many of the documents used to regulate the internal and external workings of the NPF are outdated (mainly from the 1940s and 1950s). It is therefore not surprising that the Language is not gender-sensitive. All Police officers are referred to as men. Criminals, suspects, and detainees are also referred to as men.
The requirements for recruitment, training, and posting discriminate against women thus limiting their potentials to serve. Police Act Regulations 118-128 is replete with provisions that glaringly place women at a more disadvantaged position than men and can easily discourage women from joining the force. For instance, Regulation 118(g) disqualifies married women from joining the NPF.
Adequate maternity leave should be enjoyed by women and paternity leave for men in order to have a work-life balance. The Police Act discourages unmarried policewomen from getting pregnant; if she does get pregnant, she will be discharged from the force (Regulation 127). Before a woman in the police can marry, she must have served in the police for a period of 2-3 years after which she will apply for permission to marry and the intended spouse will be investigated.
Clearly, this brings unnecessary strain on women. The same requirement does not apply to men. Section 128 of the Police Act prohibits policewomen from wearing earrings and using face powder, lipstick or colored nails. Policewomen married to civilian husbands are prohibited from living in the Police Barracks. Also in the Force Order Nos. 201 and 203, travel allowance is made only for accompanying wife and children while no reference is made to the husband of the Police Woman.
While some of these provisions may not be practiced today, they are still entrenched in the law, thus placing women in a compromised situation.
Gender is important to security sector reform
Women, men, girls, and boys have different insecurities, experiences, needs, and priorities that affect their feelings of security and SSR policymakers and practitioners have recognised that the integration of gender issues into security sector reform processes leads to the to the effectiveness of security sector operations and strengthens the ability of security sector institutions to adhere to human rights principles as well as prevent gender-based violence.
The UN Police (2016) encourages an increase in the number of female police officers in peacekeeping operations and recruitment of women in domestic police services because the representation of female police officers is critical to operational effectiveness and efficiency. This is so because women can be trained to be proficient in firearms, leadership positions, public order management, specialized tactics, intelligence, and high-risk operations.
The UN Police go on to add that female officers help to rebuild the trust that is essential for re-establishing the rule of law and are indispensable during patrols and cordon and search operations, particularly pat-down searches of women. In some societies, only female police officers are allowed to interact with female members of the community. In post-conflict settings gender-based violence has been used as a weapon of conflict, the community is more likely to approach female police officers.
Nigeria has committed to achieving the 17 Goals of the SDGs of which Achieving Gender Equality is the 5th goal. ‘Women and girls are half of the world’s population and as a result, hold half of the world’s human potential. When their lives are improved, the benefits reverberate across society’ (UN Women, 2018).
Nigeria is also a signatory to many international legal instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations against Women (CEDAW) which supports the repealing of all laws that discriminate against women. Nigeria has also domesticated the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which highlights the importance of women’s increased participation in peace and security processes.
The Nigeria Police Bill should align with the NPF Gender Policy
The policy thus addresses those laws in the Police Act/Regulations that inhibit women from realizing their full potentials in the Nigeria Police. Accordingly, the NPF Gender Policy in its policy declarations posits that ‘the Police Service Commission (PSC) and other Oversight Bodies realize the need to stop all forms of Gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the Nigeria Police Force and recommends that the NPF/PSC should:
1.) Recruit women into the Force in the same manner as their male counterparts irrespective of marital status.
2.) Stop Police Women from applying for approval to marry and presenting their fiancé for character investigation
3.) Post Police Women alongside their male counterpart to head State Police Commands and other Formations.
3.) Ensure that at least the two most senior female Police officers are in the top management team of the NPF irrespective of ranking.
4.) Allow policewomen who so desire to wear uniform stud earrings
5.) Desist from placing the alphabet “W” against a Police woman’s name/rank.
6.)Ensure that the Force numbering of Policewomen is in the same serial as those of their male counterparts.
A comprehensive mainstreaming of gender into the Nigerian Police Force policies in Nigeria will involve a critical assessment of instruments such as the Constitution of Nigeria, the Police Act, the Nigeria Police Force Orders, Force Directives and Force Administrative Instructions, the penal and criminal codes, customary laws, from a gender lens.
These laws contain discriminatory clauses between men and women which further heighten the gender inequalities in the Nigeria police force.
Until gender is mainstreamed in all the laws of the security sector in Nigeria, with at least 30% of women actively involved in transformative law enforcement, the hope of achieving an inclusive, sustainable and reformed security sector in Nigeria, is far from being achieved.