Right to Life, It’s the Scope and the Limit of Exercise of Police Powers


Right to Life, It’s the Scope and the Limit of Exercise of Police Powers

The Right to Life finds expression in the entire major human rights instrument including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European and American Conventions and the African charter.

The Right to life also features prominently in the Constitution of all African Countries.

Typically, every person’s right to life is guaranteed but made subject to some factors, particularly the Criminal Law on death penalty.

In this article, we shall look at the scope and the limits of police powers and examine the implications of extra judicial killing, brutality, assassination etc.

In this article, you should be able to identify the Constitutional limitations of the Nigeria Police Force, know the various ways by which they are empowered by the Law to take life and know when police are exceeding their constitutional mandate and the remedies.


Constitutional Statue of the Police

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 made the police force a Constitutional creation.

Under the 1999 constitution section 214 stipulated that “there shall be a police force for Nigeria which shall be styled the Nigeria Police Force and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the federation or any part thereof”.

The Nigeria Police is under the command of the Inspector-General of Police who is appointed by the President at his discretion.


Power of the Police

The Criminal Procedure and Criminal Procedure Code make provisions for circumstances, where the police may use force in the performance of their duties.

In addition to the powers of arrest by police officers, as provided for under the Criminal Procedure Act, the Criminal Procedure Code the Police may use such force as is reasonably necessary to:

Overcome any force used in resisting arrest.

a. Prevent the escape of an arrested person,

b. If arrested for a felony, may kill him if he cannot by any means otherwise be arrested.

c. Suppress a riot. (see the Criminal code section 276 – 278) Though the discretion is to use “reasonably force’, the elastic nature of this phrase amounts to an open cheque for police abuse. Obedience to higher command is clearly stipulated as a defense for police officers who use force to quell riots but not otherwise.

The cumulative effect of these section is that “a Police Officer may use such force as a reason necessary to prevent the commission, whether in his presence or not, of any offence whatever.

The Right to Life and Derogation

The Right to Life asserts the sanctity of human life.

The Nigeria Constitution by Section 33 provides “Every person has a right to life and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.

Most Constitutions provide that the right to life may be derogated from where a sentence of death is imposed under due process of Law.

This particular exception has been touted as being the justification for the imposition of death penalty in Nigeria. Section 33(1) (2) (a) (b) and (c) of the constitution clearly defines situations where the Nigeria Police could use force and even kill in the process of trying to perform their official duty and they will not be liable but many a times the police do extend the scope of their activities.


Police Excesses

Improper use of heated force obviously amounts to “brutality”. But brutality (Lethal Force) is not limited to situations of use of firearms. It could extend to “the deadly deployment of police batons, police belts, police boots, gun butt, even heavy-handed blows. Noxious substances such as “tear gas” may constitute a lethal force.

The constitutional and statutory duty of the Police includes:

• The task of protecting life and property

• The apprehension of offenders

• The detection of crime

• The preservation of Law and order

• Enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged

• Performance of such military duties within and without Nigeria as may be required of them, see section 4 of the Police Act

• “The Nigeria Police is at the vanguard of protecting all the wealth that Nigeria and Nigerians have either individually or collectively.

The capacity of the police to effectively execute its functions is primarily hinged on the exercise of the power conferred on them. To enable the police officers to do their job well, they are vested by the state with a monopoly in the use of certain powers. 

These powers include the powers to arrest, search, seize, and interrogate prosecute and if necessary to use lethal force. Police are employed by society to mention order by dealing largely with disorderly elements of the society.

However, some police officers are overzealous and this is evident in instances of police brutality and human rights infringements.

An example of a suspected case of police brutality was recorded in  South Africa. Stephen Bantie Biko also known as Steve Biko (18 December, 1946 – 12 September, 1977) was a noted nonviolent anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960. He was a student at the University of Natal Medical School.

In the aftermath of the Soweto riots, police began to target Biko. On 18 August, 1977 he was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No. 83 of 1967. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody and was chained to a window grille for a full day. On the 11the September, 1977 police pushed him into the back of a car and began the 740 km drive to Pretoria. He died shortly after the arrival in the Pretoria prison.

Police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike. He was found to have massive injuries to the head which many saw as strong evidence that he had been heavily and brutally clubbed.

The following year on the 2nd February, 1978, the Attorney-General of her Eastern Cape stated that he will not prosecute any police involved in the arrest and detention of Biko.

On Human right Infringements in Nigeria, there are allegation ranging from torture, cruel and inhuman treatments of persons in police custody or arrest of friends and relations of suspects.

One known instance worthy of mention is when the Nigeria Police used teargas on non-violent women staging a peaceful rally on 16th December 2005 in protest against poor air safety following a plane crash in which about 50 of the

106 people were killed.


Investigation Technique

Though by section 34(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and other similar provision, a standard has been enacted for police investigation and techniques.

But in Nigeria, allegations strong that torture as a technique of investigation are common. In some cases investigation, is often preceded by several unlawful acts.

In extreme cases the methods of torture employed may be i.e. beating with horse whip, handcuffing, chaining hands and feet, inserting pins and broom sticks into servitude area of the body, has once be reported against the police, but it was denied.


Extra Judicial Killing

The concept of extra-judicial killing has come to be associated with all manner of unlawful killings by the police. However, the term is used here to mean deliberate and premeditated execution by the police or other government agents of suspects


Summary Execution of Suspects

A case that illustrates the nature of the practice of extra-judicial execution is the newspaper report of a notorious Oko-Oba killing. Sometimes in March 1991, the police was alleged to have arrested seven persons “on suspicion of armed robbery”. They were to return to the house of one of them ostensibly to recover evidence when at some point, the suspects were all send to be lined up and shot dead at close range.

The police came up with a statement that they had only successfully eliminated a seven-man robbery gang who fired on them whilst resisting arrest.

In the Apo traders Saga, seven traders in Abuja in 2006 were killed by the police. The Federal Government set up a panel of enquiry headed by a judge to investigate the circumstances of the killing of the 7 Apo Traders by the police. The police officers was subsequently charge with murder of the traders.

Revenge Killing

Police have also been accused of employing wanton and rampaging techniques in attempt avenge the deaths of their comrades. An accident which was reported in Patani, Delta State in February 1994.

Is a picture of revenge killing? A police sergeant was killed by some robbers on 14th February, 1994. The next day, police went into the town, randomly arrested 7 youths of the town, lined them up and executed them. The police on their part announced on Delta Radio, Warri that they had engaged some robbers in an exchange of gunfire during which seven members of the gang got killed.


Police Checkpoint Killings

The ostensible purpose of roadblocks is to facilitate security checks so as to assist police to arrest car thieves, armed robbers, drug carrier and other criminal suspects. It is also meant to assist in recovering arms and ammunitions. These policemen carry arms some times in a threatening posture.

Unfortunately a number of innocent citizens have met their untimely death at the checkpoints. Example is the killing of Dele Udoh, a Nigeria athlete based in the United State in 1981 at a checkpoint also the killing in 1992 of Colonel Israel Ringim at a checkpoint nearly led to a confrontation between the police and the army.

On this occasion, the Federal government disbanded all check throughout the Federation.


Crowd Control Situations

The crowd-control situations which may attract police intervention include students protest demonstrations, or political agitations. One of the notable incidents of police high handedness is the control of students protest.

Example is the University of Ibadan, when, during a protest in 1977, one Kunle Adepeju was felled by police bullet. In 1981 at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) eight students were killed.

At Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in 1986, four students were shot dead by the police. Also at the Lagos State University (LASU) in 1992, a first year student of biochemistry was killed by the police during a demonstration.

Killing is the ultimate brutal act in dealing with students protest. The Abisoye panel set up in 1986 recommended that police should not use live bullets in quelling students protest; but rather, that rubbers bullets should be introduced which would stall demonstrators but not to kill them.

The government accepted the recommendation. The panel also recommended that mobile policemen should, never be drafted to institutions to quell protest. The government promised to examine this recommendation forms.

The police are also called upon to quell political demonstrations; the same brutal tactics used for students is adopted. (Mass arrest, torture examples are the Bakolorin riot, Sokoto in 1980 and the Ogoni people Rivers state.


Also read: What are the Consequences of Disobedience

Conclusion on Right to Life, its The Scope and The Limit of Exercise of Police Powers

In the area of criminal Law, relating to crows control and police powers needs to be reviewed at lent to be in line with what obtains in civilized societies. The present position of the Law gives the police wide powers to use force to control crowd, investigate crime and enforce law and order in the society.

The need for reform in our Law to control the police powers of deploying force in all cases needs a review. The advantages of reform out weight any social harm implicit in retaining the laws as they are.

If you have comprehended, this article you should be able to explain the constitutional provision that gave police wide powers to maintain law and order and at the same time be able to explain police lawful and unlawful killing in any given situation.

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