Over the years and particularly in 2020, the Nigerian citizenry have consistently and persistently called for the Reformation of the Nigerian Police Force.
The calls stems from various acts carried out by the officers of the Nigerian Police Force which constitute a gross violation of the Fundamental Human Right of the victim involved. Some of the acts include unlawful arrest, unlawful detention of suspects, refusal to heed distress calls, refusal to grant police bail, unlawful search of aperson and/or his premises, meddling into civil disputes between citizens etc.
One major step towards the reformation of the Nigerian Police Force is the amendment of the Police Act of 2004. To this extent we are grateful for the steps taken by the Nigerian government to repeal the 2004 police Act .
Currently, we have the Police Act, 2020 as the principal legislation governing the Nigerian Police Force. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria assented to the Police Bill on the 16th day of September, 2020.
Key Highlights of the Police Act, 2020
A. The Act sought to create a more efficient and effective police service based on three major principles. (Sec 1)
1. Accountability and Transparency
2. Protection of Fundamental Human Rights
3. Partnership with other security agencies.
B. The primary functions of the Nigerian Police Force are;
- To prevent and detect crimes
- To protect the rights and freedom of every person in Nigeria as provided by the 1999 Constitution and the ACPHR.
- To maintain public safety and order.
- To facilitate free passage and movement on highways, roads and streets open to the public
- To protect the lives and properties of all persons in Nigeria.
- To vet and approve the registration of private detectives schools and private investigative outfits.
- To adopt community partnership in the discharge of it’s responsibilities.
It is worthy to note that we can now have private detective service units in Nigeria under the new Police Act, 2020. This is good news for criminologists and sociologists who seek to float private firm practice.
Sec 9 of the Act, professionals like Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Psychologist amongst many others are appointed into the NPF as specialist and their professional practice must be to the advancement of the objectives of the NPF.
Sec 20 of the Act mandates the IGP to ensure all that all Police officers must undergo continuing training in basic policing, ethics and code of conduct; Crime detection and law enforcement; Emotional intelligence; Human Rights and other emerging issues.
Part VII of the new Police Act stipulates the powers of police officers.
Notably, sec 32(2) prohibits the arrest of a person on a civil wrong or breach of contract. The norm before now is that civilians engage the service of police officers for civil wrongs and debt recovery.
The Act also expressly provides for “intimate search” without defining it in clear terms. See sec 53. An intimate search can only be carried out by suitably qualified person expressly defined to mean Doctors and Nurses only and it must be at the Police Station, hospital or any other place used for medical purposes only.
Once bail has been granted to a suspect, the police is precluded from conducting a search on him/her except there is a reasonable suspicion of the possession of a stolen article, instrument of violence and poisonous substance or other articles which may furnish evidence against him in regard to the offence.
Sec 35(3) mandates the Police to notify the next of kin or relatives of the suspect immediately after the arrest of the suspect. Furthermore, the statement of the suspect can only be taken WHEN he wishes to make the statement whether or not the suspect’s lawyer is present or not.
Grounds of Suspicion under the Police Act, 2020
W grounds for suspicion by the members of the Nigerian Police force especially the defunct SARS unit was based on appearance. For instance, if you are on dreads, you are presumed to be a criminal. Thus, many Nigerian youth fell prey to police brutality.
The Act redefines grounds for suspicion.
Sec 54 provides that the following are not grounds for suspicion;
1. Personal attributes i.e. age, colour, hairstyle or manner of dress.
2. Previous conviction
3. Stereotyped images of certain persons.
Sec 58 provides for the conditions that makes a search warrant lawful
Upon arrest, the Police must take photographs and fingerprints of all suspects in custody. Where the any of the suspects refuses, the police can apply to the court to compel the suspect to submit himself.
The Act provides for a Central Criminal Records Registry. Judgement delivered by a competent court of record must be entered into the registry within 30 days after the delivery of the court judgement.
Another interesting feature of the Act is the provision of a legal frame work for community policing in the said Act. Part XIV provides for a Community Policing Committee (CPC) to ensure effective and efficient policing of communities in a state or FCT.
We are hopeful that with the implementation of this new Police Act, the criminal justice system in Nigeria would be in accordance with global standards. The era where suspects are treated like trash in Nigeria is fading away and we await the time when the Nigerian Police will indeed be our friend.
Keywords: Police Act, 2020; criminal justice system; Police reforms.
Chinecherem Ubaka is a Legal Practitioner based in Lagos. She can be contacted via email@example.com.
Read more: Highlights of the New BOFIA, 2020