Recruitment tussle: When two elephants fight over constables – ADELANI ADEPEGBA
For over one year, the Police Service Commission has been embroiled in a legal tussle with the Nigeria Police Force on the recruitment of constables. The police argue that the engagement of new intakes into the service should be its prerogative but the commission counters that by saying recruitment into the police is part of its statutory mandate. The others include discipline and promotion of police officers.
Each party has tendered documents to support its stance but their inability to reach a rapprochement precipitated the lawsuit, which is now before the Supreme Court. The NPF won the first round at the Federal High Court, Abuja, but its victory was short-lived as the Court of Appeal overturned the judgment and awarded the right to recruit constables to the PSC. The police authorities, thereafter, appealed to the apex court, which is expected to lay the controversy to rest once and for all.
Many Nigerians find it curious that the Muhammadu Buhari regime would fold its arms and watch two strategic organisations drag each other through the mud over a straight issue. For those who may not know, the spat over the recruitment of constables came to the fore following the decision of the government to engage 40,000 constables over the next four years. Observers say at the heart of the issue is the quest by the NPF leadership to determine the demographics of the police force and they appear to be right.
When the recruitment of the first batch of 10,000 operatives was held in 2019, the commission allocated 12 slots per local government. Matters took a strange turn when the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, took over the exercise, insisting that his office had the right to conduct it. The police leadership, thereafter, awarded different slots to each state as it saw fit.
Disregarding the sharing formula proposed by the PSC and without any pretence to equity, the IG simply awarded the highest slots to his home state, Nasarawa, and the President’s state, Katsina. Nasarawa State, which was meant to produce 156 constables, was awarded 528 slots, while Katsina got 435. Findings by the PSC showed that out of the 528 recruited from Nasarawa, 372 did not apply for the job but were included in the final list. Analysts said the IG apparently planned to flood the police with his kinsmen through the back door.
The analysis also revealed that 40 candidates who did not apply for the job in Cross Rivers State were allegedly smuggled into the list, while 48 illegal names were included in the slots for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Eighty-seven additional names were added to Benue State allocation as the state got 363, instead of 276. Kogi’s slot was padded with 52 extra names and got 304 candidates, instead of 252, while Kwara State was short-changed by 23 candidates; the state got 169 slots, instead of 192.
A region-by-region analysis also revealed that the recruitment was skewed in favour of a particular geo-political zone; the North-Central region with 121 local government areas received 2,088 slots, instead of 1,452, while the North-East with 112 LGAs was given 1,292 slots, instead of 1,344. The North-West with 186 council areas was entitled to 2,232 positions, but the IG awarded it 2,018 candidates.
The PSC further discovered that the South-East was deprived of 161 slots. The region was awarded 979 slots, instead of 1,140. The South-South region also suffered a loss of 223 slots; it was allotted 1,253 slots, instead of 1,476. Similarly, the South-West region had a shortage of 238 slots as it got 1,406 candidates, instead of 1,644. Despite the observed anomalies, Adamu stuck to his guns and cunningly sidestepped the commission’s objections to his violation of the quota system.
One galling aspect of the turf war between the PSC and the NPF is the deployment of public funds for the ongoing legal fireworks. While the Senior Advocates of Nigeria hired by the two organisations are getting richer, the nation is becoming poorer for it. For the police leadership that complains about poor funding to spend millions on the legal tussle clearly shows that the IG has more than a professional or passing interest in the recruitment issue.
Checks indicate that the annual police budget did not cascade down to the divisional police stations which formed the nucleus of community and public safety. While the force headquarters was spending millions on a lawsuit against its supervising agency, the various police units and formations were being starved of funds that could enhance their operations while bandits and kidnappers operate without let.
The commission had similarly complained about inadequate funding which had affected its ability to carry out effective oversight on the police. For instance, the PSC lacked an active disciplinary department; it relies on the police to investigate errant officers and, in most cases, petitions and complaints against police officers are only treated at the IG’s pleasure. More often than not, culpable operatives are not punished as they usually find ways to escape sanction due to the feeble hold of the commission on police discipline.
The PSC has been unable to set up zonal offices across the country to monitor and discipline police officers due to paucity of funds, yet it has money to fritter on a lawsuit. Sadly, the Federal Government which has been gripping about the shrinking economy and dwindling revenues is watching all the shenanigans without calling the gladiators to order.
But commenting on the situation, a retired Commissioner of Police, Olusola Amore, underlined the consequences of the fight on policing and public safety, noting that hoodlums had taken over the streets while the IG was focusing on winning the recruitment fight. He described the situation as an embarrassment to the force and the government.
He said, “If we all follow the law and are not engaging on this ego trip, we won’t be having all these problems. Already, the place occupied by the police has been taken over by hoodlums and we are fighting over recruitment.
“I think the IG should have concentrated on the operational use of the force because the Court of Appeal would not have been wrong by looking at recruitment as appointment. At the end of the day, if you come back from the Supreme Court and it is the same, where do you go from there?”
The ex-Kwara CP attributed the conflict to the lack of checks and balance in the system, noting that the oversight on the police was also not being properly carried out. According to him, every police division ought to have a civilian board that can treat complaints of abuse against police officers, adding that this would reduce the cases of misconduct by policemen.
Amore observed that the IG might have been encouraged to engage the PSC by politicians desirous of filling the force with their constituents who they had promised jobs during campaigns. He frowned on the quality of the intakes into the force, noting that the quota system had been abused as it had given room for recruitment of unqualified persons.
The former force spokesman noted, “The fight is having a great effect and it has become a ‘we-versus-them’ fight. Every policeman feels the commission should not be dragging the recruitment with the IG. We like totalitarian powers; we want to be in charge of everything.
“The politicians are egging on the IG because they find it easier to have their way with him than with the police service commission; they can always give a list of their candidates to the IG. It is during recruitment we have abuse of the quota system; that is when one state can have 500 slots while the other state would be given 50 slots.
“The politicians who wanted to fulfil their electoral promises would pad the list even with unqualified candidates. Go to the police colleges and see those they have recruited.”
Amore said the suit was hampering the recruitment of the rank and file, stating that the engagement of new constables could not go on until the case was determined by the court. This, he said, had grave consequences for national security against the backdrop of inadequate police manpower.
He added, “It is an unnecessary setback for the force because as long as that case is in court, there will be no recruitment of the rank and file who are the ones carrying out policing.
“And the police need to increase their number; every day, every year, people are retiring, people are dying and many are being dismissed and some are leaving on their own. So, how do you replace them? It is a sad time for the police and some of us are not happy that the agency we served had allowed itself to be hijacked by politicians.”
An author and policy analyst, Mr Charles Onunaiju, attributed the legal tussle to institutional dysfunction, noting that the country loses in the present situation. He also complained about the use of public funds on the case by the two organisations.
He emphasised, “It is the country that loses both the money for litigation, and the revenue that should be generated and the issues that should be long resolved remained outstanding. And anybody who says this is what the rule of law is simply does not understand what the rule of law is. It does not engender chaos, it makes for more clarity.”
Commenting on the failure of the President to resolve the contention, Onunaiju, who is also the Director, Centre for China Studies, noted, “The President has a tradition of allowing things to fester. He should be a lot more proactive; of course, nobody is asking him to micromanage the country by getting involved in everything. But more importantly, he should be able to activate relevant protocols to address some of these issues.”
The Executive Director, United Global Resolve for Peace, Shalom Olaseni, submitted that the tussle is “symptomatic of an institutional anomaly more than by any legitimate claim by the police to handle their own recruitment.”
He averred that the insistence of the NPF management on recruiting the force personnel was an attempt to incapacitate the PSC and dodge civilian review of its actions and public accountability.
Olaseni stated, “A Police Force that appoints itself would further seek to regulate itself, effectively doing away with the civilian review of its actions and thereby giving rise to the abuses and unprofessional conducts that mostly go without sanctions.” Punch