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UNIONIZING THE NIGERIA POLICE FORCE: THAT THE QUESTION BE NOW PUT

Posted by USA on 2/19/2006 12:15:49 AM | Views: 245 |

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Written by: USA



The President of the Nigerian Labor Union, Mr. Adams Oshiomole, in a recent letter to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Sunday Ehindero admonished the latter of possible threat of strike by the police and also demanded that the police officers be permitted to form a trade union. The IG in his reply to the NLC president not only refuted the allegation of  imminent strike but stated that even though, the NLC president would wish that police have a union, such an act would not be in accordance with police laws and regulations, and it would also breach the polices oath of allegiance and oath of office.  In short, the IG stressed that the Police Act does not give room for unionism and warned that the Police have no right to go on strike.

However, understanding the fairness of the claims by the police officers and their endemic problems, the Federal Government has to re-examine the issue and propose an amendment to the laws which would allow the police officers to unite in trade union to protect their labor and other socially economic rights and interests. Establishment of the police trade union is related to the increased social guarantees for the police officers.


The fundamental purpose of a police officers union will be to promote the interests of its members in a variety of spheres.  Collective bargaining and labor contract administration will obviously be at the top of the list but other areas where police officers union could play a crucial role include the promotion of its members health and safety, the representation of members who are charged criminally or with disciplinary infractions, and ensuring that the voice of front-line police personnel is heard loud and clear in the never-ending public policy debate on law and order issues.  Today it is more important than ever to recognize that without a collective agreement outlining the conditions of work, wages and benefits, the employer has the right to treat its workers in any way it wants. Without a union acting as a form of insurance and security, workers are like sitting guinea pigs in a shooting range.


However, beyond the Federal Government proposing an amendment to the law prohibiting the Police officers from forming or belonging to a trade union is the fact that the police officers themselves have to wake up and make concerted efforts as a body to struggle for the recognition of their right and freedom  of association as guaranteed by the Constitution. After all, the Police Act which barred them from such protest is inferior to section 40 of the constitution. That section (40) stipulates that: "Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest".  Nonetheless, History of police associations all over the world reveal that no such rights were ever granted willingly by the government without some sort of organized campaigns, pickets or struggle by the officers themselves.  


Moves to establish a police union in Latvia for example, started just few years ago, but following amendments to the relevant legislation, it became legal for Latvian police officers to establish and join trade unions effective 1 January 2006.  This did not come without a struggle.


 It could be recalled that at the end of 2004, a number of police officers filed a complaint with the Latvia Ministry of the Interior claiming a violation of their social rights because they were being treated unfairly in respect of various social benefits (LV0510101N, LV0508102N, LV0505101N and LV0412101N). The officers considered that general civil service entitlements applied to them, at least with regard to childbirth benefit and vacation allowances. The issue received media and public attention, and it emerged that in 2004 a total of 82 specialized civil servants had referred complaints on unpaid benefits to the Ministry of Interior, while 57 had referred similar cases to the courts and in four cases the court had upheld their claims. The court decisions confirmed that there are contradictions in the law and that the officers' claims were substantiated.


At the time when police officers started filing complaints, the Police Law prohibited police officers from establishing trade unions or other representative organizations for the protection of their employee interests, and from striking or otherwise seeking to enforce their employment rights. Accepting that there was some justification to the police officers' claims and wishing to prevent further unrest, the government promised to consider allowing the establishment of a police trade union. Soon afterwards, parliament approved amendments to the Police Law that permitted police officers to form and join trade unions. The amendments entered into force on 1 January 2006.


At the end of 2004, the State Human Rights Bureau (Valsts cilvēktiesību birojs, VCB) had submitted a case to the Constitutional Court (Satversmes tiesa), asking it to declare invalid the ban on joining trade unions stipulated by the Police Law.


 On 7 January 2006, the Latvian United Police Trade Union (Latvijas Apvienotā policistu arodbiedrība, LAPA) was established at a founding congress attended by 77 delegates from state and municipal police authorities. Delegates elected a president, vice-president and board. Six seats out of 13 on the board are intended for representatives of regional police units. At present, LPB is continuing to work alongside LAPA.


The creation of LAPA provides police officers with the right to participate in social dialogue, although it does not ensure full representation of police interests. The administration of the new union hopes to increase its membership to 90%-95% of all those employed in police units. It is planned that LPS members will automatically become LAPA members.


The primary purpose of the new trade union is to conclude a collective agreement, and then to overhaul employment relations between police officers and government. At present, police officers do not have employment contracts, and an objective for LAPA is thus to ensure that officers have employment contracts concluded with the government.


The Police Federation of England and Wales which is the representative body to which all police officers up to and including the rank of Chief Inspector belong is another example. It was established by the Police Act in 1919, following a strike in London, when almost every constable and sergeant in the Metropolitan Police refused to go on duty. They were demanding a big pay increase, a widows pension, the recognition of their illegal trade union, and the reinstatement of those who had been sacked for their union activities. The Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, gave in to the strikers on pay, but within months the Police Union was smashed and the Police Federation of England and Wales was established. It is not a union, but has a statutory responsibility to represent its members, that is all officers below the rank of Superintendent, in all matters affecting their welfare and efficiency.


The Federation today represents the interests of over 136,000 police officers, bringing together their views on welfare and efficiency to the notice of the government and all opinion formers. The Federation negotiates on all aspects of pay, allowances, and hours of duty, annual leave and pensions.  It is consulted when police regulations are made, dealing with training, promotion and discipline. It takes an active interest in a wide range of subjects, which affect the police service, and puts forward its views on the members behalf.  Thus, it not only acts as a staff association, but also as a professional body, able to influence not only living standards, through pay and other benefits, but also the development of professional standards.


In the same vein, the early history of Toronto Police Association (TPA) stretches back to the fall of 1918.  In September of that year, the Toronto Police Union was chartered by the Trades and Labor Congress.  Facing appallingly low wages and seriously sub-standard working conditions, the then members of the Toronto Police Force saw unionization as a means of improving their lot and gaining some respect from the employer.  An indication of the labor relations climate of the day is provided by the Police Commissions response.  The Union was swiftly denounced and the Commission refused to even recognize its existence.  The Unions Secretary, Gordon Ellis, was summarily fired for allegedly failing to properly perform his duties as a police officer. The Police Commissioner, Magistrate Colonel Dennison, stated as follows:


We cannot afford to have our Police Force influenced by outside organizations and we are not going to. The oath they took hardly permits this. I could understand this agitation if the men had any grievances.


 Dennison refused to accept the officers position that they were entitled to belong to a trade union, which, at that time, was not prohibited by law. He also refused to recognize their objections to severe working conditions, dismissing these complaints by saying that the officers were simply victims of the recent Bolshevik literature which flooded the City.


Not content to ease up on its campaign of resistance, the Commission fired a further twelve officers a short time later. All held executive positions with the Union.  Union members were incensed and on December 18, 1918, the Toronto Daily Star reported that the Toronto Police Force [would] go out on strike at 6:45 a.m., Wednesday, December 18th, and remain so until such time as the twelve officers are reinstated to their former positions, the Union is given recognition and that the Constable Gordon Ellis case is given a re-hearing.


 Sixty seven per cent of officers (335 out of a total of 500) heeded the call to strike action and remained on strike for four days. The matter was settled on the basis of four promises being made to the officers, namely (1) A Royal Commission would be established to examine the appropriateness of officers belonging to a trade union, (2) The 12 union executive officers would be reinstated, (3) The Union would retain the right to its Charter until the Royal Commission was completed and (4) The Royal Commission would rule on the Constable Ellis case.


 The settlement was quickly revealed to be a whitewash. In what may have been the fastest Royal Commission ever, a report was handed down five months later on May 22, 1919. The majority report on the crucial issue of whether officers could unionize was as follows:


The labour man is a producer the constable is not. Therefore, the underlying principle upon which labour unions exist, namely formation of a combination which will be in a position by collective action to secure for its members a just share of which their labour assists in producing has no application to a worker who, though he performs valuable services, produces nothing. In our judgment, the suggested advantages that would accrue from affiliation with the Trades and Labour Congress are far outweighed by the evil that would flow from being so affiliated and with the unrest in industrial circles which now prevails, would in our judgment, be most undesirable that the members of the Police Force of Toronto should become members of the unions affiliated with the Trades and Labour Congress. Our conclusion therefore is that it is not advisable for the Toronto Police Union to continue to hold its present Charter.


 Interestingly, however, a dissenting opinion was given by the third member of the Commission:


There is no fundamental difference between an ordinary wage earner and the policeman, both are producers in the economic sense one produces goods for the communitys use and the other produces services for the communitys use. It is merely a difference in the form of their productivity.


 As a result of the Royal Commissions findings, the Trades and Labor Congress revoked the Unions Charter.  Police unionism came to a grinding halt in Toronto as it did in many other cities across the country.


Indeed, even today in Ontario police officers are prohibited from joining unions except for the limited purpose of secondary employment. Although unable to join unions, police officers and civilians in Ontario do enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining since they are able to join and be represented by police associations. This initiative was contained in provincial legislation passed in 1947.  Collective bargaining, however, was the culmination of nearly fifteen years of effort.


In the U.S, the International Union of Police Associations (I.U.P.A) is the only AFL-CIO union chartered exclusively for law enforcement and law enforcement support personnel. The AFL-CIO affiliation places I.U.P.A. in a position of strength within the labor movement. While I.U.P.A.'s officers, active and retired law enforcement officers, fight to improve the lives of their brothers and sisters in law enforcement, I.U.P.A. works to improve legislation that protects and affects public safety officers, as well as representing the needs of law enforcement officers and support personnel, whether that be for better equipment, more staff or a fair wage.


 


Strength through united action, guided by intelligence, is the hallmark of trade union organizations. Believing that such unity is essential for the protection and advancement of the interests and general welfare of the officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force, there is an urgent need for the creation of a union whose objectives shall include:  to secure just compensation for their services and equitable settlement of their grievances; to promote the establishment of just and reasonable working conditions; to place the members of the Nigeria Police Force  on a higher plane of skill and efficiency; to promote harmonious relations between law enforcement officers and the general public; to  encourage the establishment of schools of instruction for imparting knowledge of modern and improved methods of law enforcement and crime prevention and labor relations; and  to cultivate friendship and fellowship among its members.


The  association's goals  will also  advance the science and art of police services; develop and disseminate improved administrative, technical and operational practices and promote their use in police work; foster police cooperation and the exchange of information and experience among police administrators throughout the world; bring about recruitment and training in the police profession of qualified persons; and encourage adherence of all police officers to high professional standards of performance and conduct, to guarantee a police service which respects human rights and to fight more effectively against the development and the widening of international criminal network.
 The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is designated by the Constitution as the national police with exclusive jurisdiction throughout the country. The NPF began with a thirty-member consular guard formed in Lagos Colony in 1861. In 1879 a 1,200-member armed paramilitary Hausa Constabulary was formed. In 1896 the Lagos Police was established. A similar force, the Niger Coast Constabulary, was formed in Calabar in 1894 under the newly proclaimed Niger Coast Protectorate. Likewise, in the north, the Royal Niger Company set up the Royal Niger Company Constabulary in 1888 with headquarters at Lokoja. When the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were proclaimed in the early 1900s, part of the Royal Niger Company Constabulary became the Northern Nigeria Police, and part of the Niger Coast Constabulary became the Southern Nigeria Police. Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914, but their police forces were not merged until 1930, forming the NPF, headquartered in Lagos.


One stigma which follows the force since its creation is the poor condition of service which has produced a crop of corrupt and inept officers. Only recently, the Inspector-General of Police told the nation that almost all the policemen recruited from 2001 till date are robbers. Describing the worsening condition of the Nigeria police officers, the National Union of Policemen (NUP) in a statement to the Angola Press declared that Our people are the poorest of the poor. They are made to buy their own uniforms, buy stationery at police stations while the economic living conditions in the police barracks are worse than that of pigs." it said further that "No reasonable country will allow this condition to continue unchecked. Nigerian policemen and women are the most maltreated and dehumanized of all the police institutions in the world, while the top rating of the police hierarchy remains the most corrupt.  According to Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, they (policemen) are not well armed and not well catered for. They have become the wretched of the public service. The Federal Government should immediately look into their demands and accede to them".


Today, the NPF has grown in size, stature and operations. The Police officers should therefore, be given unfettered freedom to form unions in the same conditions as other employees in both the private and public sectors - a  union that will represent their interests, protect and project their image. Such Unions will also be able to assist them in enhancing their professional performance by organizing training and seminars on issues bothering on human rights and public freedoms. Above all, the Unions will assist them in bargaining for just salary and better working conditions taking the specific factors of police duties into account and providing them with the required economic safety in order to prevent them from being prone to corruption.


Police officers are entitled to appropriate social protection for themselves and their families. The government must guarantee this protection to them, taking the special risk resulting from their activity as policemen and the time devoted to this activity into account. For these reasons, the government should allow the development of unions while ensuring their independence from political influence or any other ideological or religious group. 


In conclusion, I urge the Police Reforms Committee which was recently inaugurated by the Federal Government to make a similar case for these impoverished officers and recommend a reform that will allow police officers to exert their individual or collective rights and freedoms.


 


Kayode Oladele is a U.S based international law attorney


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