Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the new Nigerian Police (Establishment) Act, 2020 is indeed a notch on Nigeria’s belt. The emergence of this new Act is a necessary development in light of the prevalent security crisis in Nigeria. The new Police Act, which saw the light of the day on the 17th of September 2020, officially repeals the Police Act Cap. P19. Laws of the Federation, 2004, and it expressly communicates a more efficient Police Force, governed by the fundamental principles of accountability, fairness, justice, and protection of human rights.
The new Act carved out laudable provision, some of which are unprecedented in nature. The following significant provisions of the new Nigerian Police (Establishment) Act, 2020 are worthy of note:
a. Power of the Police to arrest for a civil wrong
By the provision of section 32(2) of the Police Force (Establishment) Act, 2020 which is similar to section 8(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, it is expressly stated that Police Officers cannot arrest any person in respect of mere civil wrongs and breach of contract. This provision thus prevents the Police from abusing their powers as well as interfering in the recovery of private debts and other related matters.
b. Notification of arrest to the Suspect’s family by the Police
Before the emergence of the new Nigerian Police (Establishment) Act, 2020, persons arrested by members of the Nigerian Police were often denied their right to inform members of their family of their arrest. However, by the provision of section 35(3) of the Police Force (Establishment) Act, 2020 the Police is now tasked with informing the next of kin or relative of the suspect about his arrest without any financial obligation on the suspect.
c. Arrest in lieu
Section 7 of the erstwhile Police Act supports the arrest of persons “in lieu” of the alleged suspect of the crime. Thus, under the former Police Act, the Police can arrest any of the suspect’s family if the suspect is unable to be located. However, this provision has been removed by the section 36 of the Police Force (Establishment) Act, 2020. Section 36 states succinctly that a person shall not be arrested in place of a suspect. This means that a family member or relations of a suspect can no longer be arrested and only the alleged suspect may be arrested.
d. Statements by the accused
As a display of Police’s influence, the erstwhile Act gives power to the Police to compel a suspect to make a statement; however, this is no longer the case. By the new Police Act, a suspect may willingly elect whether or not to make a statement – section 60 of the Police Force (Establishment) Act, 2020.
The new Act goes further and states that the statement of the suspect must be made in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice or an officer of the Legal Aid Council or any person of his or her choice. Additionally, suspects who cannot speak, write, or understand the English Language must be provided with an interpreter who shall confirm their statement. (Section 60(3)).
e. Notice of delayed detention by the Police
By virtue of section 64 Police Force (Establishment) Act, 2020, a suspect who is arrested for an offense must be released on bail within 24 hours. If not released, an application may be sent to a court with jurisdiction on such an offense. This provision, however does not apply to capital offenses. This provision further states that such an application may be made orally or in written form.
However, it is incumbent upon the court to determine if the continuous detention of the suspect is reasonable or not.
In conclusion, with the spirit of optimism, the new Police Act 2020 embodies sleeping potentials that can only be awakened through strict and conscious implementation of its provisions. Only then can the new Act achieve its purpose and fulfill the principles of justice for the sole purpose of promoting peace, protecting lives and properties. Flowing from the sagacious words of the Hon. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila about the potentials of the new Police Act, he poignantly quipped:
“This is not cast in stone and will continue to be tweaked to mirror our society in the here and now…”
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