Saviour Akpan, the Executive Director of COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peace Building, has said that the notorious trend of arresting someone in place of another person, known as ‘arrest in lieu‘ or ‘arrest by proxy‘, is an unlawful and wicked practice.

Akpan said that officers of the Nigeria Police Force who indulge in such act abuse their power of making arrests. He said this in Uyo, on Friday, during a radio programme on ‘Security, Human Rights, and You’ aired on Passion FM.

According to him, observations in the past months revealed that the police in Akwa Ibom State severally carried out arrest in lieu, a situation he said was becoming unbearable.

He said: “A father cannot be arrested in place of his son, or mother arrested in place of her daughter. Same way, a relation cannot be arrested in place of a suspect. Anyone who commits an offence must face the consequence.

“It is still very shameful that in a democracy like ours, the Nigeria Police Force, not only in Akwa Ibom State, but all over Nigeria, are still carrying out arrest in lieu”.

Criminal responsibilities are non-transferrable. Section 7 of the Administrative Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 and Section 36 of the Nigeria Police Act 2020 explicitly prohibit arrest in lieu.

Section 7 of ACJA 2015 states “a person shall not be arrested in a place of a suspect”. This implies that it is illegal for the police to arrest a father in the place of his son or a mother in the place of the father, especially in criminal cases.

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In Nigeria, the court had ruled on several cases that a person cannot be arrested in lieu of another person. For instance: In the case of Sunday Odogwu v. The State (2013), the court of appeal ruled that an accused person cannot be arrested and held responsible for an offense he or she did not commit.

Akpan expressed worry that the police in Nigeria have failed to prime themselves as role models before every other organization that had been extracted from it.

“The report on Police Community Violence in Nigeria published in 2000 outlines reasons members of the public attack policemen in the line of duty.

“When people attack policemen, it is not because they dislike the police, they look at the police as a direct representative of the state that they can see face to face”.

Akpan urged that those who have been arbitrarily arrested by the police anywhere in the country should set in motion certain sections of the Nigerian laws which provide for a remedy.

“The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in Section 36 (6) expressly provides that any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person.

“The public should build up their confidence in this direction and continue to engage the police, most especially, and every other law enforcement agency on their rights when they feel that it has been infringed upon”.

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According to the human rights activist, the police are legally backed to maintain law and order, case in point, arrest persons that flout the law, or in other cases, persons that obstruct an officer during the discharge of duty.

He said: “Any police officer who arrest in lieu is overzealous, which is also unprofessional. A professional police officer is not overzealous because he is not paid by the State to persecute the citizens. He is paid by the State to maintain law and order.

“A situation whereby the police, as the lead agency in internal security, fail in their responsibility, fail in building public trust and confidence to the criminal justice system, automatically, that would aggravate jungle justice in our rural communities.

“And that’s because people would not believe that if they hand over an alleged suspect to the police that the person would be made to pass through the normal judicial process and face the consequences as prescribed by law to serve as deterrent to the would be wrongdoer”.

Akpan stressed the need for a modern robust practice in the criminal justice system as Nigeria prepares for the 2023 general elections.

He urged that those who have been arrested by the police should be accorded humane treatment, even as he appealed to police officers to have regard for the fundamental human rights of arrested persons.

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“As the nation prepares for the 2023 elections, we should begin to put it up to politicians for them to include in their programmes that we want a police system that will respect the fundamental human rights of people, with regards to arrest, detention, prosecution, and so on.

“If the police arrest you in lieu, don’t obstruct them because that would be another offense. But the officer should be able to let you know why he or she is making the arrest.

“And if you discover that you were unlawfully arrested, detained and probably money was extorted from you to get you out, when you were not the right suspect, please meet a lawyer to establish a case in that direction.

“In addition, you can raise a petition to the Commissioner of Police of that state, detailing what happened and ensure that you follow through to have the police officer properly dealt with in accordance with the law.

“If you are a police officer and you are carrying out unprofessional behaviour in the course of your work, you are further dampening the public trust and confidence on your organization.

“The Nigeria Police Force is populated by Nigerians who are persecuting Nigerians, meanwhile these are the people they would even come back to meet in the society when they retire”.

©Itoro Bassey

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