President Buhari signed the new Police Bill into law on Thursday, September 17 to enhance professionalism in the police force. The new Nigeria Police Bill 2020, repeals the Police Act Cap P19 Law of the federation, 2004. It also provides for a more effective and well-organised police force. A force driven by the principles of transparency and accountability in its operations and management of its resources.
The bill also enables and establishes an appropriate funding framework for the police, in line with what is obtainable in other federal government’s key institutions. This is to ensure appropriate funding for all police formation. The Act has 142 sections, all explaining the general rights of the police to include among others, protection of the rights and freedom of every Nigerian and non-Nigerian; the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; provision of humanitarian assistance for citizens; facilitation of movement on highways; without subjecting citizens to extortion, and adoption of community partnership in the performance of their duties.
Our main interest: the Powers of Police officers
Section 38(1) of the Act explains the powers of police officers to arrest suspects without an order of a court and without a warrant. It states that a police officer may arrest a suspect whom he suspects on reasonable ground, of having committed an offence in Nigeria or any other country unless the law creating the offence provides that the suspect cannot be arrested without a warrant; who commits an offence in his presence; who obstructs a police officer executing his duty; or who has escaped or attempts to escape from lawful custody; in whose possession anything is found, which may be reasonably suspected to be stolen property, or who may be reasonably suspected of having an offence with reference to the thing; whom he suspects on reasonable grounds, of being a deserter from any of the armed forces of Nigeria among other things.
The Act, in section 50 mandates the officer, before a search as outlined in section 49(1), to disclose his name, station, search object and grounds or authorisation for undertaking the search. The officer shall be in uniform or wear a visible or valid police identity card to exercise the power to stop and search. Efforts shall be made to minimise embarrassment. Force can only be used when the person being searched is unwilling to cooperate or resists.
In section 54, the Act states that a person’s attributes, including his colour, age, hairstyle or manner of dressing shall not be grounds for reasonable suspicion. Others are previous conviction for possession of an unlawful article, or stereotyped images of certain persons or groups suspected to be committing offences.
What exactly is reasonable? Our definitions of “reasonable” differ, so what the officers of the Nigerian Police Force define as reasonable may be utter ridiculousness. This Police Bill 2020 does not seem to protect the citizens of the country, rather it only empowers the police officers to do what they have always done. And now, they have legal backing to do so. Abi, what do you think?