By: Femi Falana SAN
In recent times, the harassment of people including lawyers by police and other security operatives has been on the ascendancy. Apart from condemning such harassment, the impression has been created that lawyers are helpless in arresting the ugly descent to anarchy.
No doubt, section 35 of the Constitution and article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Ratification and Enforcement Act have guaranteed the fundamental right of every person in Nigeria to personal liberty.
As a result of the regular infringement of the fundamental right to personal liberty, the provisions of two laws have imposed duties on Chief Magistrates and designated Judges to put an end to illegal arrest and detention of persons. Thus, by virtue of section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and Police Establishment Act 2020, Chief Magistrates shall visit all police stations in their jurisdiction, at least once a month.
During the visit, the Visiting Magistrate is empowered to release detained suspects, grant them bail, or order that they be arraigned in a court of competent jurisdiction. High Court Judges shall visit other detention facilities including detention centres of EFCC, ICPC, SSS etc, and exercise the same powers conferred on Visiting Chief Magistrates.
While only a few Chief Magistrates have conducted visit to police stations no Judge has ever visited any detention facility since 2015! Police Authorities have failed to comply with section 66(3) of the Police Establishment Act which states that “There shall be assigned to every police division at least one police officer: (a) who is qualified to practise as legal practitioner in accordance with the Legal Practitioners Act; (b) whose responsibility is to promote human rights compliance by officers of the division.”
Furthermore, section 35 of the Police Act makes it a mandatory duty for every investigating or arresting Police to inform any person arrested of his rights:
i. to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice.;
ii. consult a legal practitioner of his own choice before making, endorsing or writing any statement or answering any question put to him after the arrest;
iii. free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or other organizations where applicable and to notify the next of kin or relative(s) of the suspect immediately after the arrest of the suspect.
Therefore, lawyers have unqualified right to visit police stations and other detention facilities with a view to representing their clients, without any harassment from police and security officers. It is crystal clear from the aforementioned legislations that lawyers are to blame for the increasing harassment and intimidation of the Nigerian people, including lawyers, by officials of security agencies in the county. The blame has arisen from the failure of Nigerian lawyers to enforce the relevant provisions of the aforementioned legislations.
To stop incessant harassment of lawyers and other citizens, the human rights committee of every branch of the NBA should henceforth accompany Chief Magistrates and designated Judges during visits to police stations and other detention facilities in the country.
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