Constitutional angle to Operational Autonomy of the Nigeria Police

CSO Panel

This is the second in a four part series.

CSO Panel

Preamble: The Civil Society Panel on Police Reform was set up by civil society organisations working on police reform issues, under the auspices of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN, to complement the efforts of the Mr. Parry Osayande-led Presidential Committee on Police Reform. The panel facilitates civil society input into the efforts of the government to transform the Nigeria Police into a service-oriented and accountable public institution in Nigeria. This series examines key issues on police reform in Nigeria, especially those requiring constitutional amendment. They are based on recommendations from the report of the CSO Panel and the memorandum submitted by the Panel to the Senate and House Constitutional Review Committees.

The Nigeria Police Force is a creation of the Constitution. It plays a very significant role in sustaining our democracy, maintaining law and order, addressing criminality and in enforcing the rule of law. To be effective, result-oriented and in tune with societal changes, it is imperative to review the very basis of the Nigeria Police and adapt it to modern day policing needs and trends. The effectiveness of the Police would thus be greatly enhanced by improvements to its legal and constitutional framework.

Under the Constitution of Nigeria, the Inspector-General of Police, (IGP) – and by extension the entire NPF which s/he commands – is subject to directives (policy and operational) from the President. There is no restriction on the type of directive the President can give, so long as it is seen as lawful and relates to maintaining and securing what is perceived as public safety and order. Section 215(3) of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:

The President or such other Minister of the Government of the Federation as he may authorise in that behalf may give to the Inspector-General of Police such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary, and the Inspector-General of Police shall comply with those direction or cause them to be compiled with.

Sections 9 and 10 of the Police Act are even more explicit in this regard and provide that:

9 (4) The President shall be charged with operational control of the Force

9 (5) The Inspector-General shall be charged with the command of the Force subject to the directive of the President.

10(1) The President may give to the Inspector-General such directions with respect to the maintaining and securing of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary, and the Inspector-General shall comply with those directions or cause them to be complied with.

10(2) Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, the Commissioner of a state shall comply with the directions of the Governor of the state with respect to the maintaining and securing of public safety and public order within the state or cause them to be complied with:

Provided that before carrying out any such direction the Commissioner may request that the matter should be referred to the President for his directive.

The CSO Panel notes that provisions like these make it difficult for the police to act professionally and decisively in situations where directives from the President or any Minister of government acting on his behalf may be at variance with their professional judgement about what needs to be done. During its public sittings the Panel was presented with allegations that the police had acted in a partisan manner to favour parties in government in some cases, and others where they failed to intervene to save lives because of perceived partisan considerations – where the police were second-guessing the possible political fallout, and prioritizing that above the safety and security of people in danger or distress. In its memorandum to the CSO Panel, the CLEEN Foundation argued:

There is no democratic country in the world today where you would find in its statute books a provision like Section 9(4) of our Police Act which vests operational control of the police to the President rather than the Chief of Police. What obtains in other jurisdictions is policy control of the police by political authorities while operational control is retained by the Chief of police who is a professional in the field.


To ensure its effectiveness, the Nigeria Police must be free from the likelihood of partisan control by political authorities in the exercise of its operational powers. To achieve this, the CSO Panel recommends that Section 215(3) of the Constitution should be amended as part of the present Constitutional Reform process to restrict the role of the President, or such other Minister of the Government of the Federation as he may authorize, and Governors to issuing lawful policy directives to the Nigeria Police. The amendments should state clearly and unambiguously that operational control of the NPF and its department/units rest on the IGP or such other police commanders as the IGP might authorize.

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