Tales abound of Police escapades across Nigeria. I had a personal experience recently with the men in black. A Police officer tried his best to convince me that I had run a red light. I had seen the traffic light turn green. I was a hundred percent sure about this. I wouldn’t succumb to his insistence that I had run a red light or that I had moved when the light was amber. My friend thought I was bold enough to tell him I had seen green because I am a lawyer. No, I was bold enough to tell him that because that is exactly what I saw. Green. I was also sure that his job description did not include manipulating the minds of motorists. This incidence spurred a discussion about the actual functions and powers of the Nigerian Police. What are these functions? Are there limitations to their functions?
Generally, the police is a body of people who are empowered by the state to protect lives, property, to enforce the law and reduce civil disorder. The police is usually described as a law enforcement authority. However, as will be seen shortly, the functions of the police exceed the aspect of law enforcement.
The Nigeria Police Force is the principal police and law enforcement agency serving Nigeria. There are certain governmental agencies that control the Nigerian Police. These are: The Police Service Commission, the Nigeria Police Council and the Ministry of Police Affairs.
The Police Service Commission appoints, promotes and disciplines all police officers except the Inspector General of Police.
The Nigeria Police Council organizes and administers the Nigeria Police Force. It also carries out other functions that are incidental to organization and administration. But the Council is not concerned with matters related to the use and operational control of the Force, or the appointment, disciplinary control and dismissal of members of the Force. The Council also has the task of the general supervision of the Nigeria Police Force. It advises the President on the appointment of the Inspector-General of Police.
The Ministry of Police Affairs formulate policies that will ensure efficient and effective policing of Nigeria.
The Police Act
The functions of the Nigerian Police Force are stated in the Police Act. The Police Act provides for the organization, discipline, powers and duties of the Police in Nigeria.
There are general duties of the Police which are:
- Prevention and detection of crime
- Apprehension of offenders
- Preservation of law and order
- Protection of life and property
- Due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged
- Performance of such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by the Police Act or any other Act.
The Police in Nigeria has more specific powers which include:
- Conducting prosecutions before any court of law in Nigeria.
- Arresting, without warrant, any person who is found by the police to be committing any felony, misdemeanor or simple offence; or who the police reasonably suspects of having committed those offences or being about to commit such offences.
The Police may also arrest without warrant, a person who is charged by another person with the commission of an offence.
It should be noted that where a specific offence provides that a person charged with that offence should be arrested with a warrant, then such alleged offender cannot be arrested without warrant.
- The Police also has the power to search persons, premises and belongings. On search of persons, where a police officer reasonably suspects any person of having in his possession or carrying in any form, anything which he has reason to believe has been stolen or is unlawfully obtained, the police officer may detain and search such a person.
- The police has the power to take and record measurements, photographs, and fingerprints of people who are in lawful custody from time to time. This is for the purpose of identification.
Limitations/Restrictions on powers of the Police
There are limitations to the powers of the Police in Nigeria. Although the Police Service Commission disciplines police officers, there is a code of conduct for police officers. The Code of Conduct demands accountability from Police officers as they exercise their powers.
Police officers should never employ unnecessary force or violence. Only reasonable force may be used in their discharge of duties.
Police officers must also ensure confidentiality in the discharge of their duties. Security and privacy of members of the public should be maintained.
Acts of bribery or corruption are also prohibited in the discharge of their functions as Police officers.
A police officer is generally seen as an official representative of the government who must carry out his functions within the bounds of the Law. He therefore owes a duty to serve the community, protect the innocent, keep the peace and ensure that there is liberty, equality and justice for all.
**Warrant: This is a warrant of arrest. It is a document which directs the police to arrest a particular named offender. It contains the name and particulars of the alleged offender, the concise statement of the alleged offence, the order directing the police officer(s) or some other person to arrest and bring the offender named in the warrant, the date of issue of the warrant, the signature of the authority that issued the warrant of arrest.
**Felony: This is an offence that is declared by law to be a felony. It is punishable with death or imprisonment for three years or more.
**Misdemeanor: This is an offence that is described by law to be a misdemeanor. It is punishable by imprisonment ranging from six months to less than three years.
**Simple offence: This is an offence other than a felony or misdemeanor. It is often punishable by imprisonment of less than six months.
- Police Act Chapter P19 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004
- Nigeria Police Code of Conduct.
- O. Olanrewaju, Classification of Crime. www.djetlawyer.com/classification-of-crime/