The need for better funding of the police and how officers can enforce suspects’ rights were among issues discussed at a training for senior officers ADEBISI ONANUGA reports.

Allegations of rights abuses by the police are common. Illegal arrests and detentions and forced confessions are prevalent. How can these be tackled? These were discussed when leading rights activists engaged senior police officers in Lagos.

It was at a one-day training for senior officers of the Lagos State Police Command, organised by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and coordinated by founder, Crime Victims Foundation of Nigeria (CRIVIFON), Mrs Gloria Egbuji.

Stakeholders demanded increased funding for the Police.

At the event were activist lawyer Femi Falana (SAN), Olatunde Adejuyigbe (SAN), and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police (CP) Mr. Imohimi Edgal.

It’s theme was: Towards a reformed Nigeria Police Force.

Also at the event was Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Basic Training, Police College, Ikeja, Wale Ajao.

Is state police the answer?

Falana in his paper, “Reformation of Nigeria Police” said many Nigerians preferred the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to the police on some criminal matters because the commission has adequate fund to conduct investigation.

He argued that for the Police to be truly reformed, it must be adequately funded.

Falana stressed that a good crime investigation is the hallmark of a modern day police force and key to the success of their activities.

He said: “There is a need to sit with the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) for sufficient money to be availed the police for diligent investigation. Close Circuit Television Cameras (CCTVs) must be installed in all police stations.

“Police stations are supposed to be given running grants but it is not so. They are made to depend on the public to assist. This is why sometimes, it is about who pays the piper. It is not their fault but the fault of the society.

“This is why I advise people clamouring for state police that certain things must be put in place first. Is it a state that cannot pay salary that will arm its police?”

According to Falana, the Police did not have to raid a house to find out whether or not arms were stock-piled there.

He said there were radar based equipment now that could be used to determine if arms are stock-piled in any building.

To him, the Police must be funded to acquire equipments to trace calls being made by suspects on wanted list and their location as against storming the place.

Falana said same equipment can be used to scan vehicles even from a distance to a checkpoint, adding that the police do not have to stop vehicles and start check items in them.

He maintained that all these come at a cost, which is why the police must be properly funded.

“Policemen do not have to stay on the road to monitor traffic offenders. There are supposed to be cameras monitored from a control room.

“The police do not have to be on the road arguing with offenders. Anyone who commits traffic offence, should simply be posted his ticket at his residence.

“We need to let the government know that you cannot police the road without gadgets. You cannot deal with suspects without equipment. You have to be very careful and be ahead of your suspects.

“The key to the success of the police is for government to fund them adequately. When I was in Guinea Bissau, I noticed Nigeria Police men on Peacekeeping mission there performed very well because they were well kitted and funded,” he said.

Falana condemned the government for sending security operatives to fight terrorists with inadequate weapons.

“You can sue the government for failing to protect your relative especially if he’s a bread winner who died during a crisis,” he said.

Pay good salaries

The activist-lawyer counseled officers and men of the force to do their work in a manner that would not put them into trouble.

He urged them to resist pressure by those influential in the society and their superiors who may put them in conflict with the law.

He said for the country to have a reformed force, the salaries of the police must be paid regularly and promptly too.

“If you must detain any suspect beyond 24 hours, get a court order and show reasonable cause and circumstances why that order should be made especially in cases like murder, armed robbery and not landlord and tenants matter which are civil matters.

“Under the law, you cannot arrest either of the parents or any relation in lieu of the suspect. Where that happens, lawyers now cite the officer that does that and he is sanctioned by the court. Except you desist, I can assure you, your job is on the line,” he admonished the officers.

Falana stated further that under the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (2015), Police now has the responsibility to call the next of kin of even a thief for purposes of bail.

He said relative should be informed that the suspect is in custody and that such calls should be at the expense of the police, hence, another reason the agency need more funds.

‘Checking homosexuality in prisons’

Falana called for conjugal visits and access to telephone calls for inmates, noting that visit by spouses would check homosexuality and lesbianism in the prisons.

Falana had used some of the songs of the late Afro Beat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to illustrate how rights of suspects are violated by the police.

He said “rather than the laws dealing with Fela, he dealt with the law”.

He told the story of how the Afro Beat King was arrested and handcuffed by officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) under General Musa Bamaiyi (rtd) for smoking ‘India Hemp’.

Unlike in the past, Fela, he said, opted to give statement and was able to state in it that he was handcuffed.

Falana , who was counsel to the Afro Beat king, said when Fela was to be charged before the court, he drew the attention of the prosecuting counsel to what Fela wrote in the supposed confessional statement about being handcuffed.

He said the development forced the agency to withdraw charges against him.

Falana also told the story of why Fela sang the song, “Gba me l’eti kin di olowo”.

He said Fela was driving round Ojuelegba when he had a brush with a man. He said the man came out of his car and wanted to slap him for brushing his car.

Falana said the man restrained himself when he heard people in the area shouting ‘Fela! Fela!! Fela!!”. He said had the man slapped Fela, he would have sued him for assault and claimed damages.

He explained that what Fela did in many of the instances of his brushes with law enforcement agencies was enforcement of his right.

‘Respect suspects’ rights’

Falana told the senior police officers that every suspect has rights under the laws, which the police must respect until they are proven guilty by the court.

He said the fundamental rights of every criminal suspect have been guaranteed under sections 33, 34, 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.

Such rights, he said, include right to life, dignity of human person, personal liberty and fair hearing.

He lamented that the law enforcement agencies and the police usually violate these rights because Nigerians are largely ignorant of their rights.

He said this explained why they are subjected to illegal arrest, detention, torture and other forms of degrading treatment.

Falana said government was lucky because most Nigerians do not  know their rights.

Falana argued that a suspect should not be tortured or handcuffed, except ‘reasonable force’ is required in in dealing with suspects.

The arresting officer, he said, must take inventory of items found on a suspect.

‘It’s wrong to force suspects to confess’

Adejuyigbe reminded the officers against forcing or demanding  confessional statements from criminal suspects.

He said: “Police have no right to demand for a confessional statement from a suspect, having told him he has a right to remain silent.

“The need for it must come from the suspect himself or after consultation with his lawyer, failure of which such statement would be rendered useless in court by a smart lawyer especially when taken in an answer and question format.”

The learned silk said this explained why most of the cases prosecuted by the Police are dismissed by the courts on grounds that the statements were not voluntary.

According to Adejuyigbe, the power vested in the Police under section 4 of the Police Act must be exercised in accordance with the law.

He added that how police handles detection of crime, step-by-step, would determine the outcome of prosecution.

On how to effect an arrest, he said the police must justify the arrest and detention of any person by telling him why he is being arrested at the point of arrest.

According to him, arrest must be based on sufficient evidence and carried out within the confines of ACJL.

“It is wrong for the police to abuse, drag, assault or harass the person to be arrested,” he said.

Adejuyigbe referred to Section 2 of ACJL,  which forbids an arrested person from being handcuffed except by order of the court after giving reasonable ground that the person may be violent.

He reiterated to the senior officers that both the Constitution and the ACJL forbid arrest by proxy.

“In the eyes of the law, a wife and husband are two separate persons,” he said, adding that in the event of arrest, reasonable period to grant bail must not exceed two days.

He cautioned against discrimination against women on the issue of bail, stressing that women too have constitutional rights and right under the ACJL to stand surety for a suspect.

‘Why media parade of suspect is wrong’

Adejuyigbe faulted the parading of suspects in the media.

“Media parade of suspects negates the issue of presumption of innocence in law. It is unconstitutional. There is a reason for inserting ‘presumed innocent in law’ until proven guilty by the court,” he said.

Adejuyigbe contended that the reform of the Police must be premised on the Constitution and other extant laws for it to be a success, stressing that a reformed Police must reflect modern realities.

He stated that the Police must be sufficiently funded and equipped to be able to work efficiently.

“We can’t have an analogue Police Force to work in a digitalised society,” he said.

‘Imohinmi warns against rights violations’

Imohinmi emphasised the need for men of the force to uphold the rights of the people and criminal suspects.

“We must have respect for human rights. We must also know that obedience to rule of law is paramount to effective community policing,” he said.

The Police Commissioner (CP) disclosed plans by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to establish interrogation rooms, equipped with modern recording cameras, in 10 area commands.

He said the contract has been awarded and that the contractor will soon move to the sites.

Edgal said the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem has agreed to set up homicide desk at the Lagos State Forensic and DNA Centre in Lagos.

“In the event of murder,  officers  in charge of homicides would move to site of crime for proper investigation with forensic experts,” he said.

The CP also expressed conviction that the training would impact positively on men of the force and change the perception of the Nigeria Police Force in the mind of the public.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Southwest Coordinator, Lucas Koyejo, agreed with Falana and Adejuyigbe that funding is key to effective community policing.

He added that that raiding of streets by the Police amounted to violation of the rights.

Mrs Egbuji disclosed that her organisation has  trained over 130,000 senior police officers and sectional heads across the country on the need for men of the force to respect the rights of the people, including criminal suspects.

She said the Police authority attached much importance to the training programme now that the force is going through reformation process.

She said this was why senior lawyers with experience on issues on rights violation were invited as resource persons to share their experience with men of the force.

Egbuji contended that training and re-training of the officers of the force would ensure that they no longer get into trouble in the course of their work but perform their duty efficiently as dictated by the law.

CDHR President Malachy Ugwummadu said the theme of the training was informed by the on-going restructuring in the force.

Ugwummadu emphasised the need for officers and men of the NPF to uphold human rights.

“Consequently, knowing what constitutes human rights and how to apply them in administering your day-to-day  duties as police officers will not only position you as efficient people in society but also as people worthy of value and respect,” he stressed.

Culled from Thenation

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