*DOES POLICE HAVE POWERS TO SETTLE CIVIL DISPUTES IN NIGERIA? * Daily Law Tips (Tip 568) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LLM. ACIArb(UK)

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Nigeria Police Force is a creation of law. The law also provides the powers and functions of police officers across Nigeria. Hence, since the functions and powers of Nigeria Police are written, it is easy to detect when police officers act outside their statutory powers. The Constitution of Nigeria and the Police Act are the two most important laws to every police officer in Nigeria; while the constitution creates Police Force, the Police Act garnishes it.

The Constitution of Nigeria creates Nigerian Police Force as the one and only (exclusive) Police Force for all parts of Nigeria. It also empowers the National Assembly to make laws for the Nigeria Police Force. The force is to be led by the Inspector General of Police subject to the President of Nigeria. Furthermore, the Police Act clearly vests on Nigeria Police Force, powers over arrest, detention and prosecution on reasonable suspicion of crime. Hence, any function, power or right outside those, cannot be exercised by Nigeria Police Force or its officers. More powers cannot be vested on police by executive orders, force signals, training manuals and presidential directives. Only the National Assembly through an Act, can increase the powers of Nigeria Police. As at today the powers of Nigeria Police has not been increased at all and they cannot settlement of civil disputes.

Civil disputes are way above the powers, rights, reach and pay grade of Nigeria Police Force and any other law enforcement agency in Nigeria. Nigeria Police Force is created for crime and criminal elements and not for dispute resolution. Police Officers are not Magistrates, Judges, Arbitrators or even traditional village heads, so they cannot hear, entertain, determine or resolve any civil matter in any part of Nigeria. Criminal matters and cases are to be sent to Nigeria Police Force while civil cases, matters and disputes are to be sent to lawyers and courts. When a person engages Police officers in a civil matter, both the police officers involved and the person that invited the police officers can be sued for breach of fundamental human rights. Even where a civil matter has some criminal features, Police Officers must concern themselves with the criminal features only and direct parties to seek proper legal advice over the civil features. This applies to police force and any other law enforcement agency in Nigeria.

Below are the fearless words of appellate courts, including the recent 2020 judgment of the Supreme Court on this issue:

“(Police Officers) are neither debt collectors nor Arbitrators and Section 24 of the Police Act 2004 does not list settlement of disputes or collection of debts amongst the duties of the Police.” Quote from the judgment in the case of NWADIUGWU v. IGP & ORS (2015) LPELR-26027(CA)

“As I went through the facts of this case, I was wondering how a purely civil matter could easily metamorphose and transubstantiate into a purely criminal case. The end result now is that the Appellant has suffered irreparable damage, disgrace, shame, odiousness and untold hardship in the hand of the Police that is constitutionally and legally saddled with prosecution of criminal offences. The police have muzzled the rights and freedom of Nigerians even where cases are clearly outside their jurisdiction, power or corridor. If this is not curbed, everybody including the judicial officers will suffer always from floodgates of civil matters being hijacked by the police and transmuted into crimes. If this is not tackled, everybody would have suffered in the merciless hand of the police who has become a law unto itself in this country. The primary duty of the Police by Section 4 of the police Act is the prevention of crime, investigation and detection of crime and the prosecution of offenders. See IBIYEYE V. GOLD (2012) ALL FWLR (PT 659) 1074. The Police is not a debt recovery agency and has no business to dabble into contractual disputes between parties arising from purely civil transactions. See MCLAREN V. JENNINGS (2003) FWLR (PT 154) 528. When, as in the circumstances of this action, a purely civil matter is reported to the Police, such a person cannot go scot-free as the report ought not to have been made at all since it is not within the purview of Police duties. It is a report made malafide and he will be equally liable for the action taken by the Police irrespective of whether he actively instigated them or not, since he had no business involving the Police in a purely civil matter in the first place. Such conduct which portrays disregard of the law and is aimed at using the coercive powers of the State to punish a contracting party in a purely civil matter ought to be mulcted in exemplary damages. See OKAFOR & ANOR V. AIG POLICE ZONE II ONIKAN & ORS (2019) LPELR- 46505.”

Per, UWANI MUSA ABBA AJI ,J.S.C ( Pp. 32-33, paras. A-E ). Quoted from the judgment in the case of KURE v. COP (2020) LPELR-49378(SC)

My authorities, are:

1. Sections 214, 215 and 216 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

2. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 24 and 25 of the Police Act, 1943.

3. The Supreme Court’s decision (on the issue that police has no powers over civil matters) in the case of KURE v. COP (2020) LPELR-49378(SC)

4. The Court of Appeal’s judgment (on the issue that police has no powers over civil matters) in the case of NWADIUGWU v. IGP & ORS (2015) LPELR-26027(CA)

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