In Nigeria, crime control and the administration of justice are taken care of by the Criminal Justice System. The criminal justice system is composed of three primary and discernible components: police, courts, and Prisons.

These components are sometimes alluded to as subsystems. From this perspective, the components of the criminal justice system are seen as interrelated, interdependent, and striving to accomplish a unified goal. This perspective of criminal justice often focuses on how cases flow through the system, causing ripple effects as cases move starting with one segment then onto the next. The actions of police officers on the streets, for instance, influence the workload of courts, and the decisions of judges in courtrooms influence the operation of jails and prisons.

Police hold a special place in the criminal justice system. Not exclusively do the activities of law enforcement officers influence the operations of the whole criminal justice system, yet police are said to be the “gatekeepers” of the system: “They are usually the first to reach the suspect and are in a position to settle on some imperative decisions about what will happen to those individuals. Perhaps the most incessant decision that a police officer makes is . . . to initiate a charge through the courts to escape infringement of fundamental right issues.
Indeed, despite these versatile duties of the police, they at most times go into a voyage to arrest, detain, and harass peaceful creditors who fall victims in the hands of money lenders or its likes.

In many instances of indebtedness, the common practice of many debtors in Nigeria is to file a petition at the police station, requesting the assistance of the police in recovering the debt. This is also the case in mere tenancy disputes and mere commercial disputes. Once such petition is filed with the police, the first step usually taken by the police is to arrest and detain the alleged debtor until he or she is willing to undertake to pay or issue postdated cheques in favour of the aggrieved debtor. The question being asked by many is whether the use of the police to recover a debt or settle a commercial dispute is permissible in law; the methods adopted by the police is also another issue.

Subsequently, by Section 4 of the Police Act, the primary function of the police under the Act is to prevent, detect and control criminal activities. However, there is no provision enabling or empowering the police to adjudicate over allegations of breach of contract between private citizens, enforce contracts, or even collect common debts. The law also does not allow any person to use the Police to settle a private score with his enemy or opponent while acting in the guise of reporting a complaint to the Police.

By and large, the above position is borne out of the rationale that every person is entitled to his personal liberty and shall not be deprived of such liberty except on the conditions provided under Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria. What this means is that every person has a right to go about his or her lawful business unmolested or unhampered by anyone else, be it a Government functionary or a private individual.

It is imperative to note that where there is a civil or commercial dispute between two or more parties, the doors of the Courts are wide open for aggrieved persons to seek remedy. As such, the courts have always frowned on the use of false and spiteful allegation by any persons to enforce contracts or instigate the police to recover funds from a conceived debtor. On the part of the police, the Courts have repeatedly held that there must be evidence to reasonably show that the citizen has committed or is likely to commit a crime and as such, it is completely wrong to arrest, let alone caution a suspect, before looking for evidence implicating him.

Finally, it is important to note that the law does not take lightly on a person who deliberately instigates the police to recover debts, enforce contracts or engage in the adjudication of civil/commercial disputes. The law in Nigeria is that those who set enforcement agencies in motion in this way are as liable as if they had done it themselves. Police officers must, therefore, be wary of being lured into a situation in which they find themselves becoming partisan agents of wrong-doers in the pursuit of a private vendetta.

Written By Mr. Calabar E. Daniel (LL.B), (L.B.), (CIPM)

The Author Mr. Calabar E. Daniel reserves all rights to this content and work and no part shall be plagiarized without the consent of the Author

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