Human rights lawyers have advised Nigerians to resist intimidation from police officer who demand money for bail of crime suspects in their custody.
The Nigeria Police Force say “bail is free,” most crime suspects in police detention pay to secure their freedom.
But some human rights attorneys have recommended the Police Complaints Response Unit (PCRC), a desk that handles issues of police officers misconduct in the course of engaging with citizens.
They spoke at a training on strengthening the capacity of young human rights lawyers in Abuja, recently.
Emmanuel Okorie, coordinator of Hope Behind Bars Africa in Edo State, said the PCRC “responds promptly to complaints over police officers misconduct.”
Recalling a personal encounter with some police personnel who demanded “money” for his client’s bail, Mr Okorie said he reached out to the complaints desk.
“Some police officers in Edo State blocked me from meeting a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), where my client was being detained,” Mr Okorie began.
“So, reached out to the PCRC desk, and they called the police station where my client was being held. Immediately he was released without me paying a dime. In fact, the police officers who demanded money for bail were sanctioned,” he narrated.
The lawyer gave Twitter details of the complaints desk, which includes phone numbers for WhatsApp, text messages and phone calls.
The phone numbers include — 08057000001, 08057000002 (for calls), while 08057000003 is for WhatsApp and text messages.
A check by this reporter on the Twitter handle of the complaint desk says, “POLICE COMPLAINT (@PoliceNG_CRU) https://twitter.com/PoliceNG_CRU?t=0SCiMkaEDeMpQrtDgOsWgA&s=03
“COMPLAINT RESPONSE UNIT (CRU) of @PoliceNG. Resolving complaints against police officers in Nigeria 24/7. #NoToImpunity | #BailisFree | #PoliceAccountability.”
Similarly, Genevieve Johnson, Senior Supervising Solicitor of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act Monitoring Committee (ACJMC), advised Nigerians to “escalate issues of police personnel misconduct to superior officers of the force.”
The ACJMC was set up to ensure diligent implementation of the ACJA; a novel legislation aimed at curing endemic delays in Nigeria’s criminal justice.
Mrs Johnson who also works with the Police Duty Solicitors Scheme (PDSS), to address pretrial detainees issues, sensitised participants at the workshop on some basic provisions of the ACJA which are often violated by police officers.
‘Pretrial detainees prone to rights abuses’
Mrs Johnson noted that “pretrial detainees are susceptible to many abuses especially placing these parallel to to a plethora of legislations.”
For the most part, detainees are unaware of their rights, then the few literate and even intelligent detainees lack the mechanisms or wherewithal to enforce their rights; that is without counting the illiterate, poor and very vulnerable members of the society.
“The detainee is inevitably posed with the question of whether he can pay the 3 Bs — bribe, bail and barrister to be out of the net of illegality.”
In the proper legal perspective, she clarified that upon arrest leading to detention in most cases; a person should be told why he has been arrested or detained, have a right to speak with a lawyer of his choice and be informed of available legal assistance.
Giving an overview of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Mrs Johnson reminded the young lawyers of the “Anti Torture Act 2017,” capturing the duty of government to pretrial detainees.
She cited “The Police Act 2020 Secs 61 (1), Sec 32 (2),” implying the provisions for administrative bail and arrest for only criminal causes.
“Police Force Order 20 providing access to Duty Solicitors to freely make enquires/assist detainees.”
She concluded by encouraging the young human rights lawyers to get involved in upholding and implementing the available legislations on pre trial detentions.
Gaps in rights enforcement
Speaking on the essence of the training programme, Funke Adeoye, founder of Hope Behind Bars Africa, a nonprofit organisation; catering for the “unjustly incarcerated” said human rights underpin the progress of every democratic society.
She said the event was meant to “strengthen the capacity of human rights lawyers in Nigeria” through training, and a lunch of a handbook on relevant laws.
“Having been working in the criminal justice sector for four years, we noticed certain gaps — there is a high rate pretrial detention in Nigeria — 70 per cent of inmates are awaiting trials.
“Nigeria has a lot of untapped talents in terms of lawyers. So, we decided to work with young lawyers — volunteer lawyers; train them and see how we can make use of them for pretrial work,” she explained.