Despite the proclamation of stiffer penalties against erring officers by the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, extra-judicial killings are on the increase in different parts of the country. However, a human rights lawyer, Barrister Olanrewaju Ajanaku, speaking recently on a TVC programme, This Morning, believes that the illegal can be curbed. PAUL OKAH who monitored the programme brings excerpts.
Mode of arrest
When police personnel go about to arrest citizens suspected to have committed one crime or the other, the mode of arrest or the way the arrest is carried out and the punishment meted out on people that are being arrested is different from what the law prescribes. The law simply says, if you want to arrest a person, all you need to do is to tap the person, that is if you are coming from behind him or her, or stop the person and say you are under arrest. If it is an arrest under warrant, you show the person the warrant of arrest. There are some arrests that can be done with a warrant and there are some arrests that can be done without a warrant. But what you see these days is having the person being pointed to them as the suspect who committed the crime; what you see them doing is hitting the person with the gun or kicking the person from the back and all sorts while effecting such arrest.
While trying to get statements from those they have arrested, what the police do, because they have the law behind them and the power of the gun also with them, is to do anything to you to ensure that you speak what they want to hear. If they ask you questions and it seems you are not forthcoming or giving them what they want to hear from you, then you will see the other side of these police officers. However, it is not all police officers that are ill-mannered, as some of them are now refined. Nevertheless, what they do is descend on you, beat you up, tie you, and hang you to ensure that when you are under that pressure, you will be ready and willing to give them information that may not even be true. At that moment of being under pressure, you will want to say things that are quite ill against yourself, so that you can be freed from the beatings and hanging by police officers. That is simply what brutality is on the part of police officers.
Legality of coercive arrests
The law permits the use of force in arresting suspects. When you have told the suspect that he is under arrest and you want to bring him in and he refuses to follow you, the law says you can use minimum force to take the person in and not for you to start kicking, hitting and using the butt of the gun on him – that is not minimum force. You have exerted maximum force on the person that you wanted to arrest and the law frowns upon that. If at the end of the day the person arrested was not guilty of indictment against him in the first place and you, perhaps, in the cause of arresting the person, wounded him, will you be able to adequately compensate such person?
That’s why the law sees this and says, ‘Exert minimum force on the person you want to arrest,’ but in this wise, it is not so. We have seen these things happen, not just in Lagos, but all parts of the federation, where police, in trying to arrest people believed to have committed any crime, brutally beat them before bringing them in. In that wise what do you do? You succumb.
Still on obtaining statements
The law is very clear in obtaining statements after an arrest of a suspect. In the administration of the Justice Law in Lagos state 2015, which most states have copied and even the administration of Criminal Justice Acts that covers the federation particularly the FCT, it is clearly stated that when a statement is being obtained from a suspect, it must be video recorded.
Another issue is that while recording, there must be a presence of a legal practitioner or a family member of the suspect. Section 93 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice of Lagos State (ACJL) and Section 264 also of the ACJL 2015 are trying to ensure that the rights of a suspect are protected. You must have your lawyer during interrogation for a statement. Mind you there is something very important that some of our policemen don’t do now. The law says that you must record. The mode of recording should be your interactions, not you interacting while taking the statement. It must show clearly your interactions with the person, whether the person writes while you are questioning him or you write on behalf of the person; if you have his consent. While doing the question and answer series, the session must be visually recorded. It is very paramount. The law is very clear.
If you infringe on this position of the law, as a policeman, the law is also there to protect the person of whom you have taken such statements from.
Innocence of suspects
Our law enforcement agencies should ensure that, despite whatever atrocities they feel a suspect has committed, they should be cool and let the family member or lawyer be there. But while recording, make sure it is one on one.
If you have not been taken to court and the court doesn’t find you guilty, Section 36 (6) of the 1999 Constitution is very clear that any person that has been arrested is still presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. The contrary is proved when the person has his/her time in court. You can’t just presume the person is guilty when you haven’t taken the person to court. You can’t extra-judicially kill when the law has not pronounced the person guilty. We see cases of policemen killing people, shooting and hanging them.
The tempo of extra-judicial killing has reduced, but police still need to do more. Police officers should be trained in the aspect of taking statements from their suspects. Upon arrest, suspects should be treated as humans and not animals.
When you go to some stations you will be surprised and appalled at the way people are treated. A week ago, I was at a police station. They didn’t immediately know I was a lawyer. Somebody was there and he was asked to remove his shirt and about two police officers gave him slaps on his back and a fist blow to the face. They took the person to the questioning room and then I heard a gunshot. I don’t know where he was shot, but I heard shouts from the person and I moved out. I told them they should interrogate the person properly and when they carry out proper investigation they will have their evidence. Accidental discharge is a defence usually brought up by police officers or other persons who are armed and the bullet was discharged from the arm the person was carrying. So, in defence, when someone dies as a result of the discharge of the bullet from the gun, they would say ‘I never knew the safety was open or freed up and perhaps when I wanted to drop the gun a bullet was discharged.’ A well-trained policeman is to ensure that the safety cap is always on. But the law will decide whether it should avail such police officer or not.