Attorney-General Abubakar Malami has advised President Muhammadu Buhari to allow the Nigeria Police Force conclude the ongoing recruitment of new constables, dealing a crucial blow to the Police Service Commission that has long asserted constitutional powers over recruitment and regulatory obligations of the police.
The nation’s chief law officer told the president that a history of rivalry between the two organisations exists, but the Force Headquarters should have its way in the disagreement around the latest recruitment exercise, it was learnt from a presidential memo and administration officials familiar with the matter.
He also recommended an urgent amendment to the Police Act, the Police Service Commission (PSC) Act and the Constitution in order to forestall a repetition of the disgraceful rivalry between both institutions.
The 2020 recruitment exercise would commence by the end of this year.
The legal opinion came as the police force and its regulatory body locked horns over which of either organisation should supervise the recruitment of additional 10,000 constables into the police this year.
The recriminations heightened over the past four weeks, with the commission accusing Inspector-General Muhammad Adamu of tampering with a prepared list of shortlisted candidates.
The Force Headquarters dismissed the commission’s claims as baseless and spurious, saying instead that it has the powers to supervise new intake of constables. It admonished the commission to focus on its regulatory functions.
The police received 315,032 applications for the 10,000 openings through an online portal that expired on January 11, 2019.
Following disagreements about shortlisting of candidates, the commission announced a suspension of the exercise altogether in August. It cited its constitutional powers to appoint, promote, transfer and dismiss officers from the police.
The Force Headquarters, however, went ahead with the process, with Adamu issuing directives to all police commands across the country to conduct medical screening and other related activities for candidates.
Adamu said the commission has legal powers to appoint and regulate officers, but cannot recruit the rank-and-file.
The commission, however, insisted that Adamu’s action would ultimately be rendered useless because it has no legal underpinning. The PSC has regulated appointment, promotion, transfer and dismissal of police officers (except the inspector-general) since its establishment in 2001.
It has, however, clashed with the Force Headquarters over recruitment of constables due to a string of ambiguities in their respective enabling laws.
In 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan deferred recruitment of constables by a year following clashes between the police and the commission over who should supervise the exercise.
Both agencies were later allowed to play a joint but unequal role, with the police being asked to shortlist candidates and submit the list to the commission for ratification.
With both bodies asserting superior legal grounds over one other to conduct recruitment, the attorney-general was asked to weigh in with a legal framework for the president’s intervention.
Malami’s position came in a September 16 memo to the Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.
In copies of the legal advice exclusively obtained by newsmen, Malami said since the inspector-general has control of operations through the chains of command, it was only logical that he supervises recruitment.
“It is the IGP and not the PSC that has the operational and command control of the NPF all over Nigeria,” Malami said. “Therefore, it is quite easier and prudent for the structures and designated officers of the NPF to be utilised for the purpose of recruitment or enlistment as provided for in the Nigeria police regulations.”
“It is the duty of the NPF to admit and prepare persons to become worthy of appointment by the PSC,” he added.
The AGF said the police affairs minister should monitor the recruitment to ensure compliance with extant regulations and federal character.
“The eventual appointment of successful candidates into the NPF will be done by the PSC,” he advised the president.
The attorney-general acknowledged that ambiguities in enabling laws allowed both agencies to claim legal superiority in recruitment, but said there have been previous judicial pronouncements that favoured the police over the commission.
It was not immediately clear whether or not the commission was comfortable with the attorney-general’s arrangement.
Its spokesperson, Ikechukwu Ani, told newsmen Monday evening he was unaware of the legal advice.
The attorney-general said both the police and the commission “should set up a joint committee to iron out modalities of recruitment and appointment into the police.”
“There is a need for a symbiotic relationship between the PSC and NPF in order to achieve greater synergy and harmony in the engagement of new entrants into the police,” he said.
Malami supported his position with the resolution of his predecessor Bello Adoke, who, in 2010, advised Jonathan that the police should be in charge of shortlisting potential members of the rank-and-file while the commission should be allowed to conduct final vetting and approval.
To forestall future crises, Malami urged the president to open a channel with the National Assembly towards an expedited amendment to the laws governing the police and the commission.
“The National Assembly should pass a new law and constitutional amendment to designate agencies that should be responsible for recruitment, appointment, promotion, transfer, dismissal and discipline of the rank-and-file and superior officers of the police to lay all contention to a permanent rest before future engagements into the NPF will commence,” Malami wrote.