AN OVERVIEW OF POLICING IN DEMOCRACY AND OBSERVANCE OF HUMAN RIGHSTS BY THE NIGERIA POLICE FORCE
In most countries, it has been accepted that democracy is the only system of government that seeks to protect individual liberty and guarantee the fundamental rights of all. The pursuit of these rights is however not absolute as there exist state institutions like the police whose mandate is to maintain law and order and curtail the citizenry‟s excesses within constitutional means
Police power is the exercise of the sovereign right of government to promote order, safety, health, morals, general welfare within constitutional limits and it is an essential attribute of government.‟ Indeed, the police are the outward civil authority of the power and might of a civilized country. The generality of the public is potentially affected one way or another by their action or inaction
What this presupposes is that while democracy allows or guarantees freedom, the police as an institution policed that freedom and in carrying out this function, they are expected to operate within existing democratic norms, else the essence of democracy becomes defeated. This is because the role of police and the existence of these norms remain the standard benchmark in ascertaining an acceptable democratic system. As a result, most of the policing applications that are classified as democratic policing practices in an ideal society are designed to ordinarily promote democratic principles and human rights. In Nigeria however, many dilemma arose concerning the way and manner the police carry out its statutory responsibilities. Top on the striking balance of this is the need to respect the inalienable rights of citizens while carrying out their legitimate duties. These duties ought to be performed within the context of existing rules duly fashioned and recognized. It is however regrettable that despite more than a decade of democratic governance, Nigerians are still faced with lots of human rights abuses in the hand of the police. Contrary to what democracy represents, the police is still largely authoritarian in nature . McCulley opines that the state of human rights violations by police officials is becoming a culture of impunity and this includes arbitrary arrest, extra-judicial killings, illegal detention and destruction of property by security forces etc. The question therefore is how democratic is the Nigeria Police Force and how well have they imbibe democratic policing principles? What is their response level with regards to the observance of human rights since 1999? It has been correctly pointed out that the police have not performed well in this regard.
The Guardian editorial opined:
The truth is that the police system in Nigeria is decadent at several levels, not least of which is the tunnel vision of our police men in their operational approach to investigations and the treatment of suspects and detainees. Driven by overwhelming corrupt tendencies, they are rooted to a mixed bag of torture tactics that have nothing to do with the enforcement of the law or the promotion of justice… Nigerians know too well that whether accepting commissions from individuals or groups to settle scores against antagonists, opponents or offenders, whether hounding persons or groups in the name of the state or making suspects plead guilty to a crime not committed in order to be saved from police brutality, or whether committing sexual violence against female detainees, our police are adept to making life hell on earth for their victims.
Reuben Abati observed further:
…the Nigeria Police Force is one of the most unpopular institutions in Nigeria today; it is distrusted by the same people whose lives and property it is meant to protect, and this has resulted into a resort to self-help in many ways. Every year, the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as local civil society organizations report on many cases of police brutality, police inefficiency and corruption. The crime rate is on the increase and the police have proven to be helpless and overwhelmed. This has been so in nearly every instance, be the matter of armed robbery, kidnapping, ethno religious violence or financial fraud. It is also generally regarded as a corrupt police force with policemen collecting bribes openly and showing tendencies of thuggery and mendicancy. It is so bad that rich persons hire the police for all kinds of unlawful purpose, or simply as bodyguards to oppress the less privileged.
In spite of the foregoing, it has been shown that there are inherent factors responsible for this negative impasse. One of such is the impact of Nigeria‟s colonial/ military history. The annexation of Lagos by the British in 1861 and the subsequent establishment of a Consular Guard were solely to protect British economic interest and so no foundation was properly laid for a civil and genuine police force for Nigeria. Dambazau agrees when he stated that “the Nigeria Police was not constituted to provide services to the community in a manner consistent with human rights and democracy, but the main concern of the colonial administration was to brutally suppress popular resistance against colonialism by poorly educated and poorly trained personnel, and the effects are still felt today” . Alemika also agreed:
…Historical evidence demonstrates that the colonial police forces were organized and oriented to behave as occupation forces- ruthless, brutal, corrupt, dishonest and prone to brutalizing the colonized peoples and vandalizing their properties… The preoccupation of colonial and post-colonial Nigeria police were not the promotion and enforcement of just laws, rule of law, natural justice and equity and security of the vast majority of Nigerians, as colonial surrogates often claimed…the greatest part of the police energies and resources were committed to, and dissipated on the suppression of struggles and protests against oppression and exploitation, the large scale theft and mismanagement of the public wealth by those who controlled the economy and state apparatus.
Regrettably at independence in 1960, it became obvious that those who took over from the colonial authority began to manipulate the system for their own selfish interest. Worst still, subsequent military regimes that took over from 1966 failed to improve the police and instead used it to enforce authoritarian rule which further entrenched a culture of public disdain and hatred for the police. These negative tendencies continued unabated and finally culminated into acts of indiscipline, corruption and violation of the rights of citizens to mention but these few. Another germane problem is the loopholes in the Nigeria Police Act which has enhanced the obvious disconnect between the police, the law and the citizens. Innocent Chukwuma laments that “since 1943 when the police Act was enacted by the colonial government, it has not been reviewed to reflect present day realities” . According to him:
The first is to capture and incorporate into law, recent positive policy developments in the Nigeria Police Force. Such developments include community policing, police performance monitoring and minimum educational requirement for entry and performance in the force. The second issue is to amend or expunge provisions in the Act that have either become outdated or obnoxious in the light of the present democratic dispensation. The third is the necessity to amend sections of the Act that makes it impossible to insulate the police from partisan political control
Suffice it to say that Democracy is a term that has been jointly and severally subjected to all kinds of meaning and interpretation. According to Buhlman et al, „there are abundant literature relating to democratic theory with countless definitions of what democracy should be and what democracy is‟ . Laza corroborated this view by saying that „there is no consensus on how to measure democracy, and that definitions of democracy are contested and there is an ongoing lively debate on the subject. To start with, „democracy‟ was define as „a system of rule by the poor and disadvantaged; a form of government in which the people rule themselves directly and continuously without the need for professional politicians or public officials; a society based on equal opportunity and individual merit rather than hierarchy and privilege; a system of welfare and redistribution aimed at narrowing social inequalities; a system of decisionmaking based on the principle of majority rule; a system of rule that secures the rights and interest of minorities by placing checks upon the power of the majority; a means of filling public office through a competitive struggle for the popular vote. To some writers, „democracy is a system of government by which political sovereignty is retained by the people and exercise directly by the citizens. In Sadaro‟s own view „the essential idea of democracy is that people have the right to determine who governs them. In most cases, they elect the principal government officials and hold them accountable for their actions. A democracy also imposes legal limits on the government‟s authority by guarantying certain rights and freedoms to their citizens‟ .
The minimalist sees democracy as a „political system of political rights that specifies how leadership should be designated at the highest national level in a policy. It is in this same line that Schumpeter defines democracy as „that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decision in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people‟s vote. Other authors like Diamond Larry uses the maximalist definition of democracy as all encompassing „not only a civilian, constitutional, multiparty regime, with regular, free and fair elections and universal suffrage, but organizational and informational pluralism; extensive civil liberties; effective power for elected office and functional autonomy for legislative, executive and judicial organs of government.
From the foregoing definitions, the essential principles or elements for any system to qualify as democracy are many. In other words certain elements must co-exist for a political system to be called a democracy. Several views abound and shall be considered. Buhlman et al identified equality, freedom and control as the key principles or elements of democracy. They opined thus, “we define freedom, equality and control as the three core principles of democracy.
To qualify as a democracy, a given political system has to guarantee freedom and equality. Moreover, it has to optimize the interdependence between these two principles by means of control. Control is understood as control by the government as well as control of the government.
Linz and Stepan argues that for a democracy to be consolidated, five interrelated conditions must exist, that is to say: free and lively civil society, a relatively autonomous and valued political society, the rule of law to guarantee citizen‟s freedom and independent associational life, functioning state bureaucracy which can be use by the democratic government and an institutions analyzed economic society. In his own contribution, Professor Eteng posits that genuine democracy is obviously inconceivable today without the following structures and elementary forms: free and fair election completely bereft of money driven, zero-sum, macabre prone electoral process, truly representative government drawn not from ethno-religious constituencies but rather more or less from various occupational groups, an independent judiciary, a vibrant civil society comprising organized labour, professional bodies, pro democracy and human rights organization a free and unfettered press and finally a people oriented economy.
The Inter-Parliamentary Council, the plenary governing body of the Inter-Parliamentary
Union in its 161st conference held in Cairo Egypt on 16th September 1997 adopted the Universal
Declaration on Democracy and asserted as follows:
A state of democracy ensures that the processes by which power is acceded to, wielded and alternates allow for free political completion and are the product of open, free and non-
discriminatory participation by the people, exercised in accordance with the rule of law, in both letter and spirit…. As an ideal, democracy aims essentially to preserve and promote the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual, to achieve social justice, faster the economic and social development of the community, strengthen the cohesion of society and enhance national tranquility.