Photo Credit – Silverbird Television
Human rights abuse by the police is a phenomenon that is disturbing and worrisome to Nigerians. This has left many citizens to be injured physically, mentally or psychologically as they go through these experiences in the hands of those whose responsibility is to protect them. There exist frightening experiences in which the citizens hardly have any complements for the police, detest interaction with police personnel as they see it as a prelude to arrest. This has been traced to the committal human rights abuses by the police against members of the citizenry. It is therefore suggested that the Police need training and retraining in the area of human rights, punish erring officers as a deterrent to others, improvement in salary and welfare package as well as promoting community policing as a way of improving the protection of life and property of people, which is one of the cardinal reason for their existence.
The Nigeria Police Force has a wide range of powers conferred by laws, such as The Police Act, which have been abused by certain officers of the force thus leading to the general distrust among the public. The powers conferred on the Nigeria Police are vast and wide and a lot of people mistakenly believe they have no rights against the police while they perform their duties.
This is, however, not the case. Despite the wide powers conferred upon the police, the average Nigerian does have certain rights the police cannot ignore:
- The Nigeria Police do not have the right to search your premises without a search warrant or an authorization written and signed by a superior police officer of a rank above cadet assistant superintendent of police. You have the right to demand to see and read the warrant or authorization for the search. Denial of this right is a violation of your rights.
- The police cannot confiscate any properties unrelated to the alleged crime that led to the search of your premises. You have the right to retrieve any property unlawfully confiscated during a search and claim damages against the police.
- Should the police attempt to arrest you, you have the right to know what offence you are being accused of. There have been, unfortunately, various cases of people being arrested by the police without being informed the reason for their arrest. The police do not have the right to hold you or question you without telling you what offence you are suspected of committing.
- The police do not have the right to arrest you for an offence committed by another person no matter your relationship with that person. Stories abound of family members of suspected offenders being detained by the police when they are unable to find the suspect. You cannot be held accountable for the crimes committed by another person.
- No matter the harassment you receive from the police or the offence you are accused of, YOU ARE PRESUMED INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY BY A COURT OF LAW! This right is guaranteed by Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- You cannot be forced to write a statement without seeing your lawyer first. You have a right to have your lawyer present with you if you are arrested for a suspected crime and cannot be denied the right to consult your lawyer before writing any statement. Any statement you are forced to write after being denied this right is inadmissible against you in court. If you are to write a statement with the police, ensure you write the statement yourself or confirm the statement written is accurate before you sign it. When signing your statement, make sure you date it.
- It is your right not to be forced or make a statement under duress by the police. A statement must be given voluntarily by the person making the statement without physical coercion or threats. It is your fundamental right not to be tortured into making a statement or confession. The 1999 Constitution grants you the right to dignity of human person which prohibits anyone from torturing you.
- If you are detained by the police for any offence other than one punishable by death, you cannot be held for more than 24 hours before being brought before a court within forty kilometers having jurisdiction or a period of two days in any other case. You have the right to be released on bail with or without sureties. Bail is FREE! It is a promise or undertaking made by an accused person to appear in the court of law or police station or any place required under the undertaking. The amount entered in the undertaking is a guarantee recoverable by the court from the accused or his surety on default of the accused. You are not meant to pay the sum before being released. Unfortunately, a lot of Nigerians have fallen victims to corrupt police officers who demand that bail be paid before the accused is allowed to be freed.
- While in detention, you have the right to see your lawyer, doctor or family members.
- You have the right to bring a civil action against the police for damages suffered from a violation of your fundamental rights against the police. You also have the right to a public apology from the police if you are unlawfully detained.
Most Nigerians have erroneously made their lives so vulnerable to all sorts that some corrupt policemen capitalize on their ignorance to unleash terror on them. The powers conferred on the police by the law are meant to protect the citizens and not bully them. This is one of the services we pay taxes for.