FEATURE: Holistic Review Of Current Police Act With Gender Lens

By Nneka Egbuna.

On November 19th-20th, 2018, a coalition of over 40 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) gathered in Abuja, the Nation’s Capital, to call for the passage of the Police Reform Bill. The Bill seeks to repeal the Police Act of 1943, which though has had some amendments to a few sections, is still deeply rooted in the colonial era. The current bill, if enacted, seeks to provide 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’. It also seeks to be inclusive in terms of addressing the needs of men and women in the Nigeria police force.

The Bill is sponsored by Senator Bala Na’Allah, the Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, who expressed his hopes that the bill, which has passed the second reading and is currently at the committee level, will be passed within the next one month. He said he sponsored the Police Reform Bill in order to bring the Nigeria Police Force at par with international standards in addition to being modern and responsive to the security needs of Nigeria citizens at all levels.

Responding to the concerns from CSOs about how efficiently the bill mainstreams gender (as the needs of men and women differ), Senator Na’Allah reassured them that ‘sufficient provisions have been made in the law to check the implications for gender in the Regulations’. He made these remarks at the dialogue session between the National Assembly and Stakeholders on the Police Reform and Police Bill, organised by the Policy and legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) in Abuja on Monday 19 November 2018. In attendance were Hon. Lawal Abubakar Garba, Chairman of the House Committee on Police Affairs and the Inspector General of Police; Ibrahim Idris (who was represented by a Commissioner of Police, Adat Ududo, in the Research and Planning Department).

The Inspector General of Police commended the National Assembly for their initiatives towards police reform and expressed the delight of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) about the reform process especially as it will touch their individual welfare. ‘We hope the think tanks will enrich the inputs currently being made to the bill and that the bill will be passed soon,” he said.

‘This is an initiative between members of the National Assembly and the CSOs to review the current Bill before us to ensure that it is updated and reformed,’ said Mr. Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director of PLAC. He added that it was one of the Bills before the National Assembly and there is the need to push it to gain their attention.

Some sections in the law have been revised but this is the first time that a holistic revision of the entire law is being done. However, there is really cause for worry regarding the integration of equal opportunities for men and women in the Nigeria Police. This is because of the proliferation of discriminatory requirements against women who want to be enlisted, as enshrined in the Regulations of the ancient Police Act upon which the current operations of the NPF are based.

An analysis of the Police Act with its Regulations and Force Orders which govern the internal and external workings of the NPF reveals alarming discriminatory regulations and workplace practices which reinforce gender discrimination and are unacceptable in the 21st century. For instance, the language in the entire Act is not gender sensitive – throughout the document; all police officers are referred to as ‘men’. Force Order No.60 (for Traffic Training Course) for example, states that ‘candidates selected should be men of intelligence…’; Regulation 42 (3) of the Nigeria Police Regulations, 1968 which is attached to current Police Act mentions that a female candidate for the police force should be unmarried; Regulations 118-128 contain even more discriminatory provisions for women who want to be enlisted into the police as follows:

– women who wish to be enlisted into the police must not be pregnant and must be unmarried;

– women police officers shall as a general rule be employed on duties which are connected with women and children;

– women police officers should not be called upon to drills under arms or take part in any baton or riot exercise;

– women police officers should apply for permission to marry;

– an unmarried woman police officer who gets pregnant should be discharged from the force;

– police women are required to place the alphabet “W” before their rank and are given special Force numbers to easily identify them as women;

– police women married to civilian husbands are not allowed to live in the Police Barracks.

A legislation or policy that is not gender sensitive could directly or indirectly contribute to marginalisation, vulnerabilities and ultimately the perpetration of violence against women and men, boys and girls. As an institution which civilians should run to and not run from, the Nigeria Police needs to match performance with expectations. If we are to adhere to the call of leaving no one behind in the pursuit of sustainable development, women should not be left behind in the planning for the Police Sector Reform.

Studies have shown that the active involvement of women in the security sector contributes to the drastic reduction of conflict and gender based violence. For example, a 2015 global survey carried out by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in 60 countries, discovered that ‘Women’s presence in the security sector significantly lowered rates of complaints of misconduct, improper use of force, inappropriate use of weapons, and led to an increase in reporting of sexual and gender crimes’.

The current Police Act and its Regulations should be reviewed holistically with a gender lens, including the use of gender sensitive language, to remove all discrimination. Equal rights and equal opportunities should be given to both male and female officers. 35% affirmative action as indicated in the Gender Policy of Nigeria should be applied to increase the quota of women especially in high rank positions.

Awareness creation and advocacy are continuous processes. It is important to ensure that the entire security sector is exposed to the concepts of gender discrimination; gender based violence/violence against women, sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, among others and its implications to their work.

Nneka Egbuna writes in from Abuja. Contact her on nnekaa@live.com

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