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Human Rights Violation at Police Stations: Implementing Section 66(3) of the Police Act Could Minify Frictions Between Lawyers and Policemen [See 14 Other Benefits]

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By Sylvester Udemezue

Section 66(3) of the Nigeria Police Act 2020 provides that “There shall be assigned to every police station at least one police officer: (a) Who is a legal practitioner in accordance with the legal practitioners Act; and (b) Whose responsibility is to promote human rights compliance by officers of the division.” There have growing calls for implementation of this provision of the Act, with a view to getting more lawyers into the Nigeria Police Force with attendant benefits. However, some lawyers and commentators appear to have a pessimistic view of  the provisions of Section 66 (3). A respected learned senior colleague recently declared as follows:

“Except for the benefit of reducing the number of unemployed lawyers (if we will consider that a benefit), I’m of the view that deployment of lawyers to police stations as DLOs/DHROs under S. 66(3) or under any other extant legislation will NOT scratch the problem of human rights abuses prevalent at the stations [–] not even on their surface. Anyone who has intimate knowledge of the command structure of the security forces where these abuses are perpetrated will be less enthusiastic to advance arguments in favour of deployment of lawyers to DLO/DHRO desks. Truth be told, our colleagues, as DLO/DHRO officers, will be no more than lame ducks pandering to the whims of superior officers of the forces and positioning themselves to get their cuts from the corruption that has eaten out the hearts of public officials. Will the promotion and or career advancements of the DLOs/DHROs not depend on the whims and caprices/recommendations of men of the forces? I can picture the lawyers buckling under in order to get promotions instead of asserting the principles that uphold human rights observance. We should be discussing ways of building strong institutions, abeg”.

With due respect to this learned colleague, the present author strongly believes that implementing Section 66(3) Nigeria Police Act 2020 is not just about putting more lawyers in the Nigeria Police Force. It is much more than that! Lawyers employed and posted to police stations across the country, pursuant to Section 66 (3) of the Np Act, 2020, are not put there to join regular investigations or to carry guns or to police join patrol teams or check-points or the operations section or to undertake other traditional work of the police, but solely to supervise and promote human rights observance by police officers serving in the police station. Thus, implementing Section 66 (3) is a special-purpose project aimed at promoting respect for human rights suspects and detainees, in line with international best practices and prevailing 21st-century benchmarks. Below are listed 12 probable benefits which this author believes are derivable from implementing Section 66 (3) of the Nigeria Police Act, 2020:

  1. Lawyers deployed to police stations pursuant to Section 66 (3), are on a statutorily delineated, special-purpose work: promotion and supervision of human rights observance by the traditional policemen in their respective police stations.
  1. Implementing section 66(3) of the NP Act, would signal the beginning of installation of a legal department/section in every Police Station in Nigeria, headed (or composed of) the Lawyer who may be designated the DLO/DHRO (Divisional Legal Officer or Divisional Human Rights Officer) just as we have DPO, DTO, DCO. No matter how pessimistic one is about implementation of the section, a police station without a legal section cannot claim to be exactly the same as one with one. Hence, while the problem of human rights violation at police stations may not completely abate with implementation of Section 66 (3), it is submitted that it would most likely be reduced. A reduction in cases of human right violations at police stations across the country is a step in the right direction.
  1. Implementing Section 66(3) would make it easier for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Legal Profession in general to have someone, one of their own (the DLO/DHRO) to hold accountable in any Police Station where things are found to have gone wrong in the area of human rights observance. While there is no doubt that lawyers employed pursuant to section 66(3) have become members (albeit special-purpose members) of the Police Force, such lawyers are at the same time members of the Legal Profession, bound by Legal Ethics and rules of professional legal responsibility, about which NBA and other regulators in the legal profession would be in a position to hold them obliged to observe in view of the special nature of their assignment. The situation would therefore definitely improve because they’re like policemen on a special assignment on behalf of the legal profession and administration of justice.
  1. Implementation of section 66(3) would drastically reduce, cases of lawyer-police frictions/face-offs and incidences of police brutalization of lawyers in the course of Lawyers’ professional practice. With Section 66 (3) implemented, every lawyer who visits a police station would have on ground, his learned colleague (the DLO/DHRO), to relate with as the first point of call, and who more-or-less is in a position to see things at least (and even if slightly) different from the other (traditional) police men in the operations’ section, who are trained on use of force. Lawyers employed pursuant to section 66 (3) are Force men in theory, but professional NON-FORCE MEN in practice. Second, even when/where such face-off or standoff arises between a visiting lawyer and investigating police officers, at least there would now be someone [the Divisional Legal Officer (DLO) or Divisional Human Rights Officer (DHRO)] on hand to intervene to ensure things don’t get out of hand.
  1. Having lawyers permanently in a POLICE station, as the DLO/DHRO, will substantially reduce incidents of filing of FRIVOLOUS CRIMINAL CHARGES, which would in turn gradually, ultimately result in decongestion of the courts and the prison yards (Correctional Centres). Many charges, especially in Magistrates’ Courts in the South of Nigeria, are baseless, frivolous and ought to not have been filed in the first place. Presence of a DLO/DHRO in a police station would see many charges either drafted by the DLO/DHRO himself or at least scrutinized by him to ensure there is a prima facie case or some legal basis for criminal prosecution, before the charges are filed in Court. Having a lawyer’s advice before drafting or filing a criminal charge in Court, would go a long way towards curbing rampancy of frivolous criminal prosecution which contributes greatly to corruption, debasement of administration of justice and over-clogging of courts. Frivolous criminal charges/prosecution is a form of violation of the rights of defendants in such proceedings.
  1. With a DLO/DHRO in each Police Station, cases of badly-drafted criminal charges would reduce drastically. Currently, most so-called criminal charges in police stations are drafted by mostly law-ignorant lay police men, who are hardly aware of the horizons of the legal rules of drafting criminal charges: (1) the rule against duplicity, (2) the rule against ambiguity, (3) the rule against misjoinder of offences and (4) the rule against misjoinder of offenders, as well as of the legal structure of a standard criminal charge. Defects in charges could lead to striking out of the proceedings or acquittal of an otherwise guilty defendant.
  1. Having a DLO/DHRO in a Police Station would create an avenue for regular interaction between the DLO/DHRO on the one hand, and the regular policemen involved in criminal investigation and operations; this would help to promote awareness, enlightenment and enthusiasm in the areas of human rights observance and general effective discharge of police duties and responsibilities. Many cases of infringement of human rights by policemen and women in police stations, arise from ignorance and illiteracy on the part of defaulting police officers, aside over-zealousness, among others causes. A DLO/DHRO in a Police Station will help bring about some positive difference.
  1. Having lawyers permanently in every Police Station would make it easier to provide feedback to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on affairs of each Police Station, especially as they relate to human rights observance and promotion. The DLO/DHRO in each police station would to some extent play the role of a liaison officer, a sort of bridge-builder between the various NBA Branches on the one hand, and Police Station within their jurisdiction on the other hand. Sometimes, DLOs/DHROs within police stations under the jurisdiction of an NBA Branch could even be invited during the NBA Branch’s monthly meetings, to brief the NBA on efforts being made by their respective police stations, in the area of human rights observance and promotion.
  1. Flowing from point number 8 above, collaborations and relations between NBA branches and police stations within their respective domain will improve considerably and become even more fruitful. Such smoother relationships and collaborations will lead to tremendous improvements on the human rights records of each Police Station thereby helping to avert or reduce frequent frictions between lawyers and the police, or to quickly and more effectively resolve such frictions where they occur at all. Prevention of such frictions or an accelerated resolution thereof, is highly beneficial to the image of both institutions, no doubt. Recall Henry Ford’s famous words: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success”, and of Booker T Washington’s too: “Alone we can do do so little; together we can do so much”. Finally, on this point, such collaborative efforts would help in building trusts and confidence, gradually, between members of the legal profession and of the police force. Being aware of what each side is doing, applauding their efforts, acknowledging their successes, and encouraging them in their pursuits and discharge of their responsibilities, is a greater form of collaboration that lead to greater progress for the rule of law and human rights promotion.
  1. Also important is the fact that implementation of section 66(3) would lead to many more unemployed lawyers being immediately employed, into the police force, not to do traditional police jobs, but special-purpose legal work: human rights observance and promotion; supervising arraignments, drafting or supervising drafting of criminal charges, and many more. Nigerian lawyers need the job. This would help reduce unemployment in the legal profession, to the advantage of the police force, the society, and the rule of law in general.

  1. The DLOs/DHROs at the various police stations would play the role of an on-hand/in-house Legal Advisers to the traditional policemen in each police station, beginning with the DPOs, DCOs, DTOs, SOs, rank and file. This would help to avert or reduce scandals against/involving the police, especially those arising from alleged violation of human rights of (vulnerable) members of the public.
  1. Compliance with International Standards: the tradition of having full legal sections/departments in police stations is the practice across the civilized world. Advantages of Lawyers working as in-house legal officers hand-in-hand with traditional policemen are innumerable. Meanwhile, gradually, from having just one lawyer (the DLO/DHRO) at each police station, the need to increase the number would arise leading to a full legal department/section being installed in each police station as earlier hinted in this work, with greater opportunities for assistance/support in the various assignments at each police station, requiring lawyers’ expert skills, knowledge and abilities.
  1. Having lawyers permanently in every Police Station, may have ready Prosecutors sometimes courts (especially in inferior courts), thereby reducing incidents/domination of criminal prosecution by non-lawyer policemen with its attendant ugly effects on smooth, effective administration of criminal justice. I recall that in my humble intervention at a session during the 2019 NBA Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, held in August 2019, in Lagos, I had called for the establishment of legal sections at police stations across the country. Then, in a commentary circulated on social on September 01, 2019, and later published to the wider public on December 30, 2019, I had written thus in this respect:

“… if the Police Act is amended to provide for setting up of a legal section in every Police Area Command, and Divisional Police Office, each of such legal sections to be headed by a Divisional Legal Officer (DLO), just as we have Divisional Police Officer(DPO) as the executive head of the entire police division and then a Divisional Crime Officers (DCO) and DTO (Divisional Traffic Officer),etc. The DLO would become the head of the legal section in the police division, with mandate to advice the DPO, DTO, DCO, and other men and officers of each police station on observance of human rights requirements in treatment of arrestees (arrested persons) and detainees, to draft criminal charges and First Information Reports (FIR) for filing in relevant Magistrate Courts, advising the police on what offense to charge to court and on what to not charge, and on when to institute a charge and when to not, etc. This would in turn decongest our courts as fewer cases would be filed, because frivolous charges would have been weeded out at the investigation level. Besides, Lawyer-police officers from the various legal sections of police divisions would also participate in prosecution of cases in Magistrates courts. This has two more additional advantages:(a) There would be need to employ more lawyers into the police force to meet this high demand for prosecutors; and (b) With Lawyers as prosecutors at Magistrates Courts, defence lawyers would wake up and begin to take their cases at the Magistrates courts more seriously, seeing that they’re no longer dealing as prosecutors, with only police officers who have little or no knowledge of prosecutorial know-how/expertise or finesse…Besides, the ends of justice would be better realized since we now have only legal officers on all sides — Magistrates, Prosecutors, and Defence Counsel. Finally, with each police station having a LEGAL SECTION headed by a DLO, complaints of Human rights abuses at the police stations would reduce drastically as the level of police compliance with chapter 4 of the Constitution as well as other provisions relating to investigation and prosecution would increase.” [See: “Enlarging Job Space & Making Lawyers More Useful to Society: My Double-Edged-Sword Recommendation To 2019 NBA Annual Conference on How To Brighten The Future Of Nigeria’s Legal Profession” By Sylvester Udemezue (in: TheNigeriaLawyer; December 30, 2019)].

  1. Existing O/C LEGALs versus DLOs/DHROs: The O/C Legals at the various police command headquarters in Nigeria are traditional policemen, trained in investigation, etc, unlike lawyers who would be posted to each police station in the country, on a special-purpose assignment, pursuant to Section 66 (3). Again, as opposed to the current practice where the O/C Legals and few other lawyers are found only at police command headquarters, lawyers who would be employed pursuant to Section 66 (3), would be spread across all police stations in all police commands in Nigeria, on a clear-cut special-purpose statutory assignment, default or dereliction in which could attract penal and professional sanctions against them personally, in that the DLO/DHRO might be the first suspect in any case of violation of human rights within the police stations under his watch. Accordingly, it is in the best interest of each that he is up and doing; in each case of alleged violation, the DLOs/DHROs office/table is the first port of call by interested lawyers, the NBA, the Commissioner of Police, and human rights and civil society organizations, pressmen, etc and he would have responsibility to convince the public about efforts he has made to prevent occurrence of such lawyer-police frictions or alleged violation of human rights of suspects, detainees and arrested persons. A DLO/DHRO could be reposed, sanctioned or disciplined for established cases of dereliction of duty, misbehaviour or other lapses on his part. Furthermore,each DLO/DHRO is subject to both Police disciplinary procedures and the legal professional disciplinary processes; he could easily be proceeded against in cases of professional misconduct. The DLO/DHRO is therefore in a position/status different from that of an O/C legal or other his lawyer-policemen. Third, although the various O/C Legals ought to join in encouraging human rights observance in their respective police commands, and they also, being police men, have a responsibility to not violate human rights, yet it is common knowledge that O/C Legals at police commands are posted there primarily to represent and defend the Police Force, and not on any special-purpose assignment, unlike the DLOs/DHROs. While the DLO’s/DHRO’s primary assignment at a police station is to promote human rights observance by police stations, the O/C Legals and all the lawyers currently in the Police Force, are employed to work generally as policemen, and to defend the interest of the Police Force at all times, although policemen (including O/C Legals) are constitutionally obliged to respect human rights of suspects and detainees.

 Conclusion:

Based on the aforesaid, it could be seen that implementing Section 66 (3) of the Nigeria Police Act 2020 will be highly beneficial to efforts by stakeholders, at enthroning an efficient mechanism towards improving respect for human rights by policemen and women in Nigeria, thereby averting or, at least, reducing frequency of frictions between lawyers and policemen over violation of human rights of Nigerians at police stations across Nigeria. Implementing the section would operate more like the case of using one stone to kill many birds at the same time.

▪️ To be continued.

 


Respectfully,
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems)
Proctor,
Reality Ministry of Justice (RMJ)
08109024556.
therealistministry@gmail.com
(04 January 2024)

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