Citizen is a column that explains how the government’s policies fucks citizens and how we can unfuck ourselves.
On Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the new Police Establishment Act 2020, aimed at making the Nigerian police force better.
But the new law has generated sharp criticism, especially on social media. Many critics say that the law has now granted wide and unending powers to police officers.
Reasonable Grounds, Reasonable Apprehension
The new Police Act is filled with many places where it tells police officers to act where it has found “reasonable grounds”, or if there’s “reasonable apprehension”.
For instance, Section 34 of the Act says that a suspect may be handcuffed if there is “reasonable apprehension of violence or an attempt to escape”.
Section 38 also says that a police officer can arrest a suspect without a court order and without a warrant if he suspects that the person has committed an offence on “reasonable grounds” against any law in Nigeria or another country, except the law creating the offence states that the person cannot be arrested without a warrant.
What this means is that a Nigerian police officer can arrest you without warrant if he has “reasonable grounds” to believe you’re a suspect. Whether or not you’re actually a suspect is irrelevant, as long as he reasonably thinks and believes that you are.
What is reasonable?
The question of reasonability differs from one person to another. What is reasonable to one may not be reasonable to another. With this bill, if a police officer thinks that only criminals drive a type of car, he is backed by the law to arrest an owner of that car without warrant.
Legally, the courts have a test for reasonableness, including whether a decision is fair, just and right. But giving the Nigerian police officers these wide powers is definitely not a good thing. They will surely abuse it.
What’s the defence?
Supporters of the law argue that this same section was in the Police Act 2004 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA 2015)
Many supporters of this Police Act have however argued that this same provision is not new and that it was in the Police Act of 2004 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
Irrespective of when this law was first signed, these powers are simply too much for the Nigerian police.
We already know, as Nigerians, that the police is filled with some of the worst Nigerians. Now that a law gives them the power to arrest anyone on “reasonable” grounds, we know they won’t be reasonable with it, as always. And waiting for a court of law to prove reasonableness is just another long grind.
This provision of the law needs to be amended or repealed. For the sake of the Nigerians.
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One year ago, we left Nigeria for an 80-day adventure across West Africa. Something is coming. Unshared stories. New perspectives. Limited series. 10 episodes. Check out: Jollofroad.com
Also, read this: “We Just Dey Start” – We Went On Jollof Road, What Next?