Blood had dripped in the sweating face of the Lagos man in his frenzied pursuits of daily bread. It has been trouble in the front and death in rear. The survival impetuosity has turned everybody to accomplices as the police import the hobbessian aggression and sometimes brutality of the highest barbarity to cut corners via dupery on the Citizens, raping them of their law-guaranteed rights. Irredeemably corrupt policemen thrive in this metropolis, more than any part of the Nation, like bacteria or virus do inside the person of a brothel-prostitute.
But with what seemed the wink of a crab, the Lagos Policeman must now think twice before he can do it the “business as usual” way, as the old criminal law system in Lagos state had given way and a new era of criminal law administration has commenced in earnest since July 2, 2008, when Justice Adetula Alabi-led Lagos judiciary pronounced the new reformative criminal procedure Law to take immediate effect.
With Section 9(3) of the new Lagos Criminal procedure Law, which reads that “where any person who is arrested with or without warrant volunteers to make a confessional statement, the police shall ensure that the making and taking of such statements is recorded on video and the said recordings and copies thereof may be produced at the trial provided that in the absence of video facility, the said statement shall be in writing in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice”, some reliefs have now been brought the way of the unwary victims of police oppression in Lagos.
Firstly, there has been a Law in this land which says that an arrested person shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner, or any other person of his own choice. That is section 35(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But the Police in this Country have, in flagrant violence to and violation of this Section, resorted to taking confessional statements from the arrested without allowing the “victim”, as he appears to be, the benefit of an access to a lawyer or any other person whosoever, as he may so wish. With section 9(3) of the new Lagos criminal procedure law before an arrested person’s statement can be taken, he must have volunteered to make one. When he volunteers to, such statement must be video-recorded, to preserve its originality it seems, and if the arrested must make a written statement, it must be in the presence of his lawyer.
The beauties of the ingenuity in the mind of the propounders of this new law are not limited literarily to the aforementioned but also the introduction of the concept of “non- custodial” sentence term, vide its Section 350 which now allows a convict a communally beneficial option of coming from his house everyday to engage in community service, regardless of social status, like clearing the dong-littered bushy path-way, or gutter, filled abrim with suffocating malodorous dumps, some of which might be as old as Julius Berger’s first construction.
In his daily experience, the Lagos man never can stop being fooled and hoodwinked into accepting, without being convinced though, that the police are law. The Lagos lawyer too shares a part of this superstition as the legal rescual interventionist role of a lawyer in the face of police arbitrariness which ordinarily is meant to bail out the legally non-informed and less-informed citizen off police “net” has thinned down to insignificance as now and then the police ignorantly but bluntly assert their “powers” to flout the Laws, to demand bribe, to extort the innocent, the ignorant and to perpetually, and unrepentantly too, carry out the legally unsupposed illegalities, before the very eyes of the lawyer and all these with seeming endless impunity.
The law says “bail” is free, the DPO hangs the inscription on all the walls of the police station, but under his thorough supervision, his subordinates demand money from both the lawyer and his client with the same degree of assertiveness, in this clime, with which a lawful right is exercised.
The law of this land does not empower the police to arrest the relatives or any other person whosoever in place of a suspect, but Nigeria police take to doing this with such equal degree of pleasure with which they go after prostitutes inside the brothels, under the pretext of enforcing law against prostitution, but end up in the prostitute’s inner room, do the same exercise men are forbidden from doing and for which Adam, in the old Garden of Eden, brought curse upon us all, to the derision of our moral being. But what Section 4 of the New Lagos Criminal justice Law is saying is that “No person shall be arrested in lieu of any other person”. This Section now expressly forbids the police from arresting relatives of suspects. Now in Lagos, relatives of runaway suspect, while not compromising on their moral reprehension of criminally sinning family members, can, at least now sleep with two eyes closed.
SECTION 340 of the Police Regulations requires a police officer to have a thorough understanding and knowledge of the laws. But in what seemed like a perfect irony of situation, the Nigerian police, in styles and colourful arrogance, have irretrievably exhibited overgrown ignorance of the knowledge of all the laws, which they, in laughable paradox, pretend to enforce. Now with the many criminal taboos hurled on the police pathway in Lagos, lawyers and the new Lagos man, who is a potential prey, must stand up boldly to avail themselves of the opportunity provided by this new law to press home further their genuine points on human rights abuses by the police.
Tope Temokun is a Legal Practitioner writes from Lagos.