4th April, 2017
The Inspector General of Police,
Nigerian Police Force,
Louis Edet House,
REQUEST TO STOP POLICE HARASSMENT OF POOR CITIZENS UNDER THE REPEALED VAGRANCY LAW
As you are no doubt aware, the vagrancy law was introduced to Nigeria by the former British colonial regime for the sole purpose of harassing and humiliating poor people who were said to have had no means of livelihood. The anti-people law was retained for the same purpose by the indigenous ruling class who took over power from the alien administrators in 1960. Thus, in a display of class bias, whenever rich people were found on the street taking a walk it was said that they were exercising their fundamental right to freedom of movement. But whenever the poor exercise such fundamental right to freedom of movement, they were usually arrested by the police who accused them of wandering or loitering.
However, the human rights movement in Nigeria mounted a vigorous campaign in the 1980s for the repeal of the vagrancy law. Happily, the campaign succeeded in 1989 when the then military junta promulgated the Minor Offences (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (CAP M16) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 which abolished the vagrancy law in the criminal and penal codes.
Specifically, Section 1 of the Act stipulates that:
“(a). A person shall not be accused of or charged with-
(i)The offence of wandering (by whatever name called); or
(ii) Any other offence by reason only of his being found wandering (by whatever name called),
And, accordingly, any person accused of or charged with such offence shall be released or discharged, as the case may be, forthwith;
(b) a person who is accused of a simple offence shall not, by reason only of being accused of such offence, be detained in police or prison custody.”
It is sad to note that notwithstanding the abolition of the offence of wandering throughout the country, the Nigeria Police Force has engaged in the indiscriminate arrest and prosecution of many poor people for loitering. We have confirmed that under the pretext of ridding the Federal Capital Territory of criminals and other undesirable elements, the Police recently arrested scores of young people around Asokoro and other high brow areas in Abuja. The suspects were illegally prosecuted, convicted and jailed by magistrates on the basis of the allegation that they have no means of livelihood. The explanation of some of convicts that they had recently lost jobs was not taken into consideration by the trial Magistrates.
Although our law firm has decided to challenge such brazen violation of the fundamental right to personal liberty and fair hearing of those who have been illegally tried and convicted under the repealed vagrancy law in the Federal Capital Territory, we hereby request you to use your good offices to direct all police commands in the country to desist from further arresting and prosecuting poor citizens for loitering or wandering.
TAKE NOTICE that if you fail to accede to our request within one week of the receipt of this letter, we shall pray the Federal High Court to compel the Nigeria Police Force to comply with the Minor Offences (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act forthwith.
Femi Falana, SAN.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), writes from Lagos.
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