Supreme Court and Police Recklessness – Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

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Recently the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch popularly called the TIGER BRANCH announced to the public of its intention to ‘walk the talk’ against the Police’s harassment and oppression of the populace including the lawyers. The Lagos State Commissioner of Police having smelt a rat called for a ceasefire between the Police and the Tiger and at the end of the day the parties had a press conference where they had amicable discussion.

The attempt here is not to demonise the Police as an institution but to once again look at what the Police are not getting right so as to assist the Police Leadership in making amend where necessary. Several years back, I wrote an article where I asked the question: ARE POLICE DEBT COLLECTORS? Therein I quoted a Professor of Law, Ben Nwabueze (SAN) as follows:

“The duty of the police is definitely by law ,the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, preservation of law and order, the protection of property and the enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged. For effective discharge of these duties, members of the police are given wide power including power to conduct criminal investigation; to arrest persons in certain circumstances without warrant; to serve court summons, to release on bail persons arrested without warrant; and to detain and search suspected persons”

I believe the law still remain the same till date but unfortunately many policemen and women have hidden under the said ‘wide power’ to perpetrate functions that are not within the power of police including collection of debt and hostage taking among others. When on the Court of Appeal Bench, Hon Justice Niki Tobi of blessed memory in the case of ACB Vs. Okonkwo (1997) 1 NWLR (Pt. 480) Page 123, descended heavily on those police officers who are in the habit of resorting to hostage taking and equally advised the police authority when he said:

“I know of no law which authorizes the police to arrest a mother for an offence committed or purportedly committed by her son. Criminal responsibility is personal and cannot be transferred. While am aware of cases of vicarious liability in criminal law, the instant case is certainly not one. A police officer who arrest “A” for the offence committed by “B” should realize that he has acted against the law, such police officer should be in addition to liability in civil action, be punished by the police authority. As a matter of fact, it bothers us so much for the police operating the law of arrest, after three decades of Nigeria’s independence to arrest and detain innocent citizens of this country for offence committed by their relations. That is a most uncivilized conduct and one that any person with a democratic mind should thoroughly detest and condemn. I detest and condemn the uncouth practice”.

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When Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo was appointed the Inspector General of Police some years back, I said in article titled THE IGP’s BURDEN :

“…The rate at which people are being robbed and kidnapped these days is becoming too alarming and this has put the security of lives and properties of the people at stake. All these are parts of the burden to be confronted by the Inspector General of Police in which he would require the supports and the cooperation of all his officers and men whose welfare he must also seriously look into because to whom much is given much is expected. And since the IGP himself has assured us in his words when being confirmed as the substantive IGP that: ‘The ethics of my profession demand, and I will ensure public safety, and security of all citizens. They demand that I protect the innocent from deception and ensure the constitutional rights of all citizens to equality and justice’. With this statement being from the horse’s mouth, one hope that the IGP would go a long way to justify all the good things that have been said about him by positively revolutionizing the entire Nigeria Police Force. If this is truly done, Mr. Onovo’s name will surely be on the positive side of history.”

Today , Mr. Onovo is no longer the Head of the Nigeria Police Force but the Head is Mr. Ibrahim Idris who should now be shouldered with this burden with all its lieutenants from the down to the top . Many Nigerian citizens have had the cause to drag the Police to courts for one violation or the other. Some of these cases that reached the Supreme Court on Police Recklessness were never in favour of Police as the Apex Court did not take that act very lightly as can be seen from the various remarkable pronouncements of our jurist.

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REMARKABLE PRONOUNCEMENTS

ON POLICE RECKLESSNESS
“Indeed, the evidence before the trial court was quite overwhelming and points to the guilt of the appellant. Situation like this whereby policeman rashly bring out their guns (albeit to merely threaten or frighten citizens) is rapidly becoming rampant. They are meant to use the guns to safeguard the lives of the citizenry they are paid to protect, but the reverse is the case. A policeman will not hesitate to pull the trigger of his gun at the slightest provocation, and would indeed do that with relish and reckless abandon, not caring whether the consequence of his act will be fatal. The incident in the instant cases is a locus classicus. A law enforcement agent who is supposed to bring sanity and order on the road brings out his gun and fires it just because a driver obstructs his right of passage (that is even if there was an obstruction, as the evidence in court is that there wasn’t). In fact the mere fact that he deemed it necessary to bring out a gun from wherever he had kept it is enough act of recklessness, even if no shot was fired, and in this case there is ample evidence that it was. I believe such rash act must be stopped to prevent innocent lives from being wasted.”
Per MUKHTAR, JSC (as he then was) in Agbo Vs. The State (2006) 6 NWLR (Pt. 977) Pg. 586 Paras A-D

ON POLICE RECKLESSNESS
“Let me observe here, that it is becoming very notorious and most disturbing these days when policemen, use guns purchased for them with public money and meant for the protection of the citizenry are freely used to mow down innocent citizens of this country with reckless and careless abandon and in each cases or every event, the aggressive policeman, is heard to say and rely on “accidental discharge”. Enough, I think is enough. Unless the courts put down their feet so to speak and make it abundantly clear to our policemen in this country, that never again will such plea or defence be available to any of them accused of murder or acceptable by the courts, then of course, Nigerians will continuously be sprayed with bullets from the police who will hide on the plea “he was killed by stray bullet” or by “accidental discharge”. I suppose that when a gun is properly locked, stray bullets and accidental discharge syndrome will not occur. Invariably, accidental discharge, always occur, when some of the drivers, are unwilling and refuse to pay the N20.00 (Twenty Naira) or such money being extorted by the police at every check point (and there are so many on our roads, separated by very short distances). When such drivers refuse to stop, Oh yes, they must be carrying contraband goods or some imagined incriminating stuff. This state of affairs is of common knowledge and it is a notorious fact on our Nigeria roads.”
Per OGBUAGU, JSC in Adekunle Vs. State (2006) 6 SC Pgs. 233-234

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ON POLICE RECKLESSNESS
“This case represents the height of man’s inhumanity to man. The appellant and his co-accused police constables employed by the nation to protect the lives and properties of its citizenry embarked on this unlawful mission in their brazen brutality, terminated the lives of these five innocent and defenseless victims, with unimaginable damages to their beloved ones and families back at their various homes. The case demonstrates the regrettable reality that the numerous police check points along our highways only give the citizenry a false sense of security.”
Per TABAI , JSC in Oyakhire Vs. State (2006) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1001) Pg 177 Paras C-D

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