How You Can Prevent The Nigeria Police From Abusing Your Rights

Do you know that you have the legal right to challenge certain actions of the police? Yes, the police have powers to arrest and detain persons committing, suspected or reported to have committed a crime, to maintain law and order, and to protect lives and property but their powers are not absolute - they MUST act both  responsibly and within the law. 

Sadly, publicised reports of the Nigerian police abusing their powers are all too common in our society. Many of us have had unfortunate encounter with police officers who think the law does not apply to them. These crops of crooked police officers use their uniform not only to intimidate; they also extort money and personal properties from hard-working Nigerians. Of course, there are few good officers within the Nigeria police rank and they deserve our commendation. The focus of this article is on what you can do to protect yourself, family and friends from the crooked police officers when circumstance calls for it.      

This point is better illustrated by sharing my own personal experience with a crooked policeman and the outcome. It was a Friday evening, my nephew, Tola, was driving to Lagos for a wedding celebration we’ve both been invited to. I sat in the passenger seat, fastened my seat belt and Tola started the eventful drive to Lagos. Barely 30 minutes into our journey, this policeman stopped our car for no justifiable reason and proceeded to search the car. For the discerning readers, this begs the question, is it lawful for a police officer to stop and search the car in the first place? This valid question will be addressed in subsequent part of this article.

Back to the car, at all times, I closely observed what the policeman was doing and made sure I recorded his action on my phone as video evidence, should it be required in court. As the policeman search got to the boot, his face suddenly lit up with glee when he sighted Tola’s laptop in the boot of his car. “Where is the receipt for this laptop?” He shouted with an oppressive voice. Seconds after the initial shock of the policeman’s inappropriate conduct and question, Tola asserted himself against the policeman’s blatant abuse of power. The challenge was on.  

One would be right to ask the question, does the policeman have power to demand for a receipt of a personal property found in your possession in the absence of a report that it is stolen? Another valid question would be, is there any law that requires us to have personal properties receipt with us at all times? And is unwillingness/inability to produce a receipt an offence? If the answer to all or any of these questions is yes, Tola must be in trouble. Thankfully, the police do not have these powers and Tola was well briefed on how to challenge police abuse. That helped him to beat the unnecessary police stress and to keep his property without paying a kobo to the police. You can do this too. Just invest few minutes of your time to know your rights. It is intended that this article serves to show you the way.

As a Nigerian citizen, if a police officer abuses his/her powers and your rights are violated in the process, you have the right to challenge such actions in accordance with due process of law. The crooked police officers know many of us are ignorant of how to challenge the abuse and they are taking advantage of it. When informed citizens appropriately exercise their rights to challenge police abuse, they help to make police officers act responsibly and our societies are better for it.  

This article is - to tell you the extent of the powers of the police and your rights under the Nigerian law. In a follow-up article, I’ll let you know what you can do on your own to prevent abuse of your rights including the details of how my nephew’s case was resolved, and in the third part of the article, I’ll reveal how you can use the court process as a last resort to remedy assault on your rights.

For you to be able to understand your rights vis-à-vis the powers of the police, the five points below are what you need to know.

1. What Are Your Rights?

The rights that the Constitution provides for are –
    a. right to life
    b. right to dignity of human person
    c. right to personal liberty
    d. right to fair hearing
    e. right to private and family life
    f. right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
    g. right to freedom of expression and the press
    h. right to peaceful assembly and association
    i.  right to freedom of movement
    j. right to freedom from discrimination
    k. right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria
l. right to compensation in case of compulsory acquisition of private property by government.

For the sake of this write-up, emphasis will be placed on right to personal liberty because this is the right that’s most commonly infringed upon by the police in the course of performing their duties.

2. How Arrest Should Be Carried Out And When A Person May Be Arrested By The Police 

By Section 4 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA), an arrest is made by touching or confining the body of a person except if the person to the custody of the officer making the arrest by word or action. It’s not compulsory that a person can only be arrested with a warrant of arrest. Where a person is committing an offence in the presence of a police officer or is running away immediately after committing an offence, no warrant is required for the arrest of such person. A warrant of arrest is usually required where a report of commission is made against a person after the person has already committed the offence. A warrant of arrest, where required, may be utilised on any day including Sundays and public holidays.

According to Section 35 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999, anybody arrested by the police should be informed of his or her right to remain silent or not to answer any questions put to him or her until the person has consulted his or her lawyer or any other person of his/her choice. 

A person arrested or detained also has the right to be charged to a court of law within 24 hours or at most 48 hours so that he/she may know the reason for the arrest or detention. If the police fail to do this, it’s a clear case of right violation which the affected person has the right to challenge in a court of law. The person must be informed in any language that he/she understands of any offence committed by him or her.

Therefore, whenever anybody is arrested and the police don’t inform the person at the point of arrest the offence committed by the person, it’s a breach of that person’s right and a disregard for the Constitution.

3. The Police Have No Power To Arrest Somebody Else In Place Of Another Person

The police have no power to arrest a parent, spouse or any other person in place of another person simply because the person who allegedly commits a crime can’t be found. It’s a clear case of right abuse and disregard for the rule of law whenever anybody is arrested in this manner.

Again, a police officer is not permitted by law to beat or torture any person in the police custody in relation to any offence allegedly committed by that person, no matter the gravity of the offence hanging on the neck of such alleged law-breaker.
If a person is beaten in order to force a confession out of that person, such confession is unacceptable in a court of law, if challenged by the maker.

4. Your Right To Be Released On Bail

Bail is a right of every Nigerian who is arrested or detained by the police to be allowed to go home and return either to a police station or a court whenever his/her attention is needed or his/her case is coming up in court. 

Bail can be granted either by the police or the court. If a person is arrested by the police, the person may be released on bail even before the case is referred to a court. However, the police can only release any person on bail, if the offence allegedly committed by such person is not a serious one. For instance, a person alleged of stealing, conduct likely to cause breach of peace, and burglary may be released on bail by the police. 

However, in the case of persons alleged of committing serious offences like rape, arson, robbery, armed robbery, and murder, only a High Court can give them bail. High Courts may also release a person on bail, if, though the case is already in court, trial doesn’t commence on time. Conditions are usually attached to the grant of bail so as to ensure that the person released on bail appears whenever he or she is needed. Conditions of bail may include the production of one or two persons as sureties and may also include a pledge of a specified sum of money. In some cases, however, a person may be released on bail on personal recognition. Any person detained and not brought before a court within two or three months must, by virtue of Section 35 (4) of the Constitution, be released conditionally or unconditionally. 

If a person is released on bail and the person fails to appear in court or at a police station when his or her attention is needed, such person is regarded to have jumped bail and  may lose his or her bail by being re-arrested and detained again, if found.

If, however, a person released on bail runs away and cannot be found, any person who stands as surety for such runaway suspect or accused person may have to be summoned by a court and be asked to provide reasons why he or she should not lose any amount of money pledged for the bail. If, on the other hand, it’s the police that granted such bail, they may arrest the surety and bring him or her before a court of law before anything pledged as a condition (s) for the bail can be forfeited to the government.

5. Can The Police Be Involved In A Contractual Dispute?

The police have no power to meddle in a civil matter. A civil matter is a matter that doesn’t have any element of crime. For instance, if a person owes another person some money, it’s a civil matter and therefore, it’s wrong to use the police to collect the money or to intimidate the debtor so as to make him or her pay. It is also wrong for the police to ask such person to sign any undertaking in relation to the indebtedness.

Watch out for my next article where I’ll be talking about what you can do on your own to prevent abuse of your rights.

(c) Kehinde ADEGBITE Esq