The Nigeria Police Force has launched a scheme to provide free legal services to arrested or detained suspects in police formations nationwide.
The Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) will grant “duty solicitors” from the Legal Aid Council access to arrested or detained suspects, enabling people detained to contact relatives or arrange legal representation of their choice.
PDSS comes amidst intense accusation against police for “prolonged detention, torture and extortion,” said Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris at a roundtable in Abuja to introduce PDSS to police commissioners.
He told police commissioners to “prevail on officers to allow lawyers under the scheme have access to detainees without any form of hindrance.”
“The current police management has zero tolerance on violation of the rights of citizens and corruption,” he said.
Legal Aid Council and the Open Society Justice Initiative put up PDSS in 2004.
Idris in 2017 signed an amendment to Force Order No 20, meant to provide legal assistance for detained police officers, but extended to include representation for arrested or detained citizens.
The police is a third party to the scheme, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is an observer on the scheme’s advisory board.
CP David Igbodo of NPF legal department said the police needed an “administrative instrument” to reduce mischief among field officers when the police became beset with accusations of illegal detention, denial of access to relative of detained suspects and violation of rights of detained suspects.
Court judgments against police for unlawful arrest and illegal detentions have awarded compensations amounting to nearly N5 billion garnisheed at the Central Bank of Nigeria, he said.
PDSS could help the police avert judgments against it rising daily and safeguard basic human rights of detainees.
“The key issue we need to address, which is a reality, is illegal detention,” said Igbodo.
Some 10 states already run the PDSS—as pilots to evaluate its success and limitations of manpower and funding.
Lawyers from Legal Aid Council and from National Youth Service Corps are under the scheme, but they can only inspect police stations, leaving out other agencies with power of arrest and detention, including EFCC and ICPC.
“We are trying to use some states as pilot to see how far we can go,” said Tunde Ikusagba, director of criminal litigation at Legal Aid Council.
“It depends on availability of fund and number of police stations in different states we are going to cover.”
Under the scheme’s agreement, police Central Investigation Departments are the first to be covered.
“The ICRC collaborates with the Nigerian Police Force to promote respect for the law that protects the rights of persons in detention,” said Eloi Fillion, ICRC head of delegation.
ICRC has helped train some 4,000 officers in best practices during police operations and collaborates with police to promote respect for laws that protect rights of persons in detention.
It currently visits 11 police stations in seven states, a total 1,400 detainees under police custody.
“We clearly recognise the enormous potential of this scheme to protect the rights of suspects through the promotion of a legally compliant pre-trial detention and a collaboration among agencies administering criminal justice,” said Fillion.