THE Nigerian Police Force is empowered by the constitution and the Police act to arrest and in certain cases, detain suspects who are accused of committing one crime or the other against the Nigerian State.
The trend now is that once an allegation is made, whether or not an accused is guilty, the police arrests and in some rare cases, invites the accused person or defendant to come to the police station.
Before or after making statements, the suspect is clamped into detention in what is more or less a dingy, clingy and dehumanizing cell which sometimes is nothing better than an animal pen. At this stage, the suspect is left at the mercy of the Nigerian Police officers.
What follows is more imagined then real. At this point, Police Slogan “Bail is free” automatically becomes “Bail is not free.” At this stage also, the relations of suspects and even lawyers bargain with the police for the amount to be paid as bail.
The suspect’s relations or his lawyer must negotiate with the I.P.O. if they want the person to go on bail. If you refuse to play ball, your client is left at this evil contraption called cell and has to stay in inhuman, degrading and dehumanizing conditions. It must be noted that under this condition, the suspects can stay for days without food, sleeping facilities, toilet facilities and the right to be treated with dignity.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended provides in Section 34 (1) that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly, sub-section (a) of the above section provides that no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.
My argument here is that even if an accused person is presumed guilty, he should still have respect for his person until the court presumes him guilty; he is innocent in the eyes of the law, and even a convicted criminal should have his right protected and not be subjected to detention under the present conditions of Nigerian cells.
These dehumanizing cells frustrate and sometimes cause mental and physical, health and psychological damage to the suspects post detention and these results in minors, underage, young girls and women being lumped together with hardened criminals without differentiating the gravity of their various offences. This turns them on post detention as hardened criminals because of their incarceration with professional criminals who indoctrinate them while in detention.
The skewed detention system in Nigeria which puts suspects into cells without sincerely profiling the accused persons to know those whose offence are bailable, those who are serial criminals, (to avoid lumping together) those who need to be detained and in good and habitable condition has opened a big window of graft for the Nigerian Police to dehumanize and extort Nigerians in outrageous proportions.
This paper is therefore aimed at exposing the rot in Nigeria Police detention system and to proffer solution to the problem and how to stop the widespread exploitation of Nigerian citizens in the name of detention.
It is proposed that the Nigerian Police put in place a systematic reform of the police detention centres across the country to make it habitable and up to international best practices. The police should also as a matter of urgency, stop the practice of lumping suspects together irrespective of crime committed or age of suspects, review the Police Act to restrict circumstances and situations where the police can detain a suspect without a valid court order.
The law should encourage the police to carry out discreet investigations before arrest so that once suspects are arrested, it is assumed to be the climax of investigations, and which shows that there is a link between the suspect and the crime.
Once there is a link and investigation completed, the response time between charging them to court and granting bail will be drastically reduced and detention time also reduced.
Thus accused persons will not be left at the mercy of the police.
Every man loves freedom. When suspects are held in these dehumanizing conditions, they are ready to pay any amount to secure their freedom and the police use this as an excuse to demand for humongous sums of money for bail.
In order to checkmate this man’s inhumanity to man, the law must make adequate provisions for the protection of the dignity of suspects, prevent their being persecuted and exploited by the police for crimes which some of them may still turn out innocent. Finally, let us all join hands to reform the Nigerian Police Force detention centres.
Both high and low, politicians, businessmen, professionals, paupers and the common man have had causes to be invited and sometimes detained. The experience is better real than imagined- no bed, no toilet, no bathroom, no food or water with mosquitoes; and worse still, the suspects will be crammed into cells in their underwear’s like animals in over congested and smelling cells.
This is the height of impunity and it must stop. If the authorities fail to respond promptly, there is need for one to take up public interest litigation to compel the Nigerian Police Force to reform their detention cells to respect the dignity of Nigerian citizens.
Uzoka wrote from legal practitioner and freelance writer based in Onitsha.
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