A friend once narrated his experience with the Nigeria Police. He said that he was arrested by the Police because he owed someone some money and had not paid his debt. The police came to his home, arrested him, handcuffed him and took him away like a criminal who had committed a serious offence. The police did not release him until he signed an agreement detailing a payment plan. The police assured him that they would personally ensure that he complied with the payment plan; they were going to enforce the contract for repayment of the sum owed and any default on his part would lead to his being arrested again.

I have repeatedly heard people threaten their debtors with the police.

A debt is a sum of money due from one person to another, while debt recovery refers to the process employed by the creditor to ensure that the money owed him is paid by the debtor.

It is important to state that owing someone some sum of money is not a crime; the law does not prohibit being in debt, however, the law has made provisions for the recovery of debt when the debt falls due for repayment and remains unpaid. The resort to the police in the event of one being owed is not a part of the laid down procedures for debt recovery recognised by the law.

The police have duty to prevent and detect the commission of crime, to apprehend offenders, to ensure the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged. The duty of the police does not extend to the enforcement of contracts or to the recovery of debts.

The courts have persistently frowned upon the resort of persons to the police in order to recover debt or to enforce a contract. The court stated that “It has been stated many times that the police has no business in enforcement of debt settlements or recovering of civil debts for banks or anybody”.[1]

The only instance where the law permits the police to get involved in a matter which has some bearing on the recovery of money is in a case where fraud is alleged.

Most people have justified the resort to the police on the ground that it is faster and much more effective than the resort to the court; as convincing and valid as that argument may appear, it remains fundamentally flawed and inaccurate on many levels. Illegality or abuse of due process of law never truly solves problems, because he who is a perpetrator of illegality and lawlessness may tomorrow become a victim of the same illegality and lawlessness; the vicious cycle therefore continues.

The police always insist on being given a certain percentage of the sum to be recovered when used as debt recovery agents, the creditor is therefore deprived of an opportunity to recover the entire sum he is owed. The police as well as a person who uses the police for recovery of debt may be liable for Infringement of the fundamental rights of a person. In these lie the dangers of using the police as debt recovery agents.

An agreement for the repayment of the debt entered into at the behest of the police may be held by the court to be void if brought before the courts.

When the proper procedure laid down by law is used for the recovery of debt, the claimant has an opportunity of recovering the entire sum owed him, including interest which may have accrued on the sum loaned to the debtor, and he could even ask the court for damages as well as the cost of bringing the action for the recovery of the money lent to the defendant. The claimant/ Creditor stands no risk of being liable for infringement of the rights of another because he has complied with the procedures laid down by law.

There are mechanisms in the law which could expedite an action for recovery of debt.

The proper procedure to adopt in debt recovery cases is to first write a Letter of Demand requesting that the debt be repaid within a specified time. If at the expiration of the specified time, the debtor fails to repay the money, then it might be necessary to consult a lawyer, (it is best to consult a lawyer at the very moment you intend to take steps to recover a debt which is due).

It is also important that you execute (sign) a formal contract before you lend any person money or supply goods on credit or render services on credit as this would help in establishing in court that you are indeed being owed and the sum you are owed.

[1] Oceanic Securities Int. Ltd. V. Balogun & Ors (2012) LPELR-9218(CA)