Administrative Law

Powers of the Nigerian Police: Does it Extend to Civil Matters?

It is indeed common in Nigeria to see a person who owes somebody money report him to police for installing an action against him; or in order to recover the money from the Borrower. This may push a question into the throat of layman as whether police can perform or functions as ‘ debt collectors’ or in other phraseology, whether police have constitutional vires to entertain civil claims with related to debt, land and civil transaction.

This article aims at exposing the wool which covers the skins of police for readers to see bare the constitutional duties and powers of police in Nigeria.

π™‹π™Šπ™’π™€π™π™Ž π™Šπ™ π™‹π™Šπ™‡π™„π˜Ύπ™€ 𝙄𝙉 π™‰π™„π™‚π™€π™π™„π˜Όπ™‰ π™‡π˜Όπ™’π™Ž:

“The Constitution of Nigeria and the Police Act are the two most important laws to every police officer in Nigeria; while the constitution creates Police Force, the Police Act garnishes it”.

The Nigerian police force was established by the Constitution and secured its admirable position under section 214(1) of the supreme law of the countryβ€” 1999 constitution (2011 Amended). It states thus: β€œthere shall be a police force for Nigeria which shall be known as the Nigeria Police force”

In order to have a functionally robust police Force in Nigeria, the constitution provides under section 214(2)(b) that:

 β€œThe members of the Nigeria Police Force shall have such powers and duties as may be conferred upon them by law”. The Law which regulates Police in Nigeria is: π™‹π™€π™‘π™žπ™˜π™š π˜Όπ™˜π™© of 2020.  The Act under section 4 that provides thus:

β€œThe policy shall be employed for the prevention and detention of crime…”

The laws of Nigeria are clear on what should be the role or duties of police as, unveiled above, they are to deal with crimes and criminal activities and investigation on crimes and where an offence borders on civil claim it is outside the jurisdictional power of police. This cannot be because police functions as an agent of Attorney General who has only right with regard to offences or crimes forbidden by the state. In simple language he only represents state on Criminal matters.

By virtue of Section 4 of the police Act, the primary duty of police in Nigeria, is the prevention of crime, investigation and detection of crime and the prosecution of offenders. See IBIYEYE V. GOLD (2012) ALL FWLR (PT 659) 1074.

It is a general principle of law that police have no legal power to entertain and delve into civil matter. This has been copiously established in numberless cases that Police lacks power and legal capacity to entertain civil matter and Courts, other than any Enforcement Agency, are reposed with the legal Robes or jurisdiction to entertain such, as established in the case of MANGAL V CP PLATEAU STATE &ORS (2021) LPELR . The court held thus:

β€œThe law has since been settled, that the police do not and is not allowed to involve itself in purely civil disputes, especially one touching on Land ownership… each time a party’s complaint to the police involved such issues of land dispute… the standard instruction is for the police to hands off and advises the parties to see civil resolution of the dispute in a civil court”.

moreover, that civil claim is not within the powers of police thus, it cannot entertain same, It was judicially observed in KURE V COMMISSIONER OF POLICE (2023)9 NWLR (pt 1729)296.

The court held inter alia that:

β€œWhen a person reports a purely civil matter to the police such person cannot go scot-free, as the report ought not to have made at all since IT IS NOT WITHIN THE PURVIEW OF POLICE DUTIES…”

Dishearteningly, the Nigerian police are fond of involving in land matters, mostly in remote villages because of either legal ignorance of the ruralists or because of the greediness of the police to delve into any matter that will bring fortune to them. The act which is in total conflict and dissonance with the provision of π™‡π˜Όπ™‰π˜Ώ π™π™Žπ™€ π˜Όπ˜Ύπ™ which vested High Courts with an exclusive power and original jurisdiction to hear, and determine Land related dispute. Thus, under section 39(1) of the LAND USE ACT:

Section 39(1) β€œthe high court shall have exclusive original jurisdiction in respect of the following proceedings:

   (a)- proceedings in respect of any land the subject of statutory right of occupancy granted by The Governor or deemed to be granted by him under this Act; and for the purposes of this paragraph, proceedings include proceedings for a declaration of title to a statutory right of occupancy.

    (b) proceedings to determine any questions as to the person entitled to compensation for improvements on land under this Act.

Similarly, any statutory provision under the π™‡π˜Όπ™‰π˜Ώπ™€π˜Ώ π™π™Žπ™€ π™‹π™π™Šπ™‹π™€π™π™π™” π™‡π˜Όπ™’ 2018 completely ousted police from the list of authorities that can entertain civil claim with regard to land. Subsection 3 of section 13 (1) straight forwardly, clearly and unequivocally states that:

 β€œThe Nigeria Police and all other law enforcement Agencies have no jurisdiction or powers to entertain or determine any complaint in respect of land or landed property in the state”.

Interestingly, this has been judicially blessed and vindicated in the case of OKAFOR &ORS V. AIG &ORS (2019) LPELR 5098. It was held thus:

β€œThere is no doubt that the powers of police do not extend to the settlement of land disputes”

Moreover, the police cannot act as ‘debt collectors’ neither can they force somebody to honour an agreement which is voluntarily entered by private individual. The only resort can be to the appropriate court of law.  as established in the case of MANGAL V CP PLATEAU STATE &ORS (2021) LPELR (π˜ͺ𝘯𝘧𝘳𝘒). The court held thus:

β€œThe law has since been settled, that the police do not and is not allowed to involve itself in purely civil disputes, especially one touching on Land ownership… each time a party’s complaint to the police involved such issues of land dispute… the standard instruction is for the police to hands off and advises the parties to see civil resolution of the dispute in a civil court”

 In addition, the Police is not a debt recovery agency and has no business to dabble into contractual disputes between parties arising from purely civil transactions. See MCLAREN V. JENNINGS (2003) FWLR (PT 154) 528.

Similarly, and judicially, it has been averred in the case of NWADIUGWU V. IGP& ORS (2015) LPELR that:

β€œThe police are neither debt collectors not arbitrators and should be careful of delving into civil disputes as they do not come into the purview of their functions, duties and clearly above their powers”.

As beautifully elucidated by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LLM. ACIArb (UK) in his works that:” Civil disputes are way above the powers, rights, reach and pay grade of Nigeria Police Force and any other law enforcement agency in Nigeria. Nigeria Police Force is created for crime and criminal elements and not for dispute resolution. Police Officers are not Magistrates, Judges, Arbitrators or even traditional village heads, so they cannot hear, entertain, determine or resolve any civil matter in any part of Nigeria. Criminal matters and cases are to be sent to Nigeria Police Force while civil cases, matters and disputes are to be sent to lawyers and courts. When a person engages Police officers in a civil matter, both the police officers involved and the person that invited the police officers can be sued for breach of fundamental human rights. Even where a civil matter has some criminal features, Police Officers must concern themselves with the criminal features only and direct parties to seek proper legal advice over the civil features. This applies to police force and any other law enforcement agency in Nigeria”

𝙄𝙉 π˜Ύπ™Šπ™‰π˜Ύπ™‡π™π™Žπ™„π™Šπ™‰: The Nigerian police has no right over a purely civil matter or suit and in a situation where police delve into such, the dissatisfied party challenge their action in an appropriate court of Law.

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About Akilu Sa'adu

Akilu Sa'adu is a 200 level law student from the Faculty of law Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. He is an arbitration enthusiast ;champion for Human rights advocate; and a preacher for religious observance of Rule of law in Nigeria. He can be reached via his wattsapp no: 07046112021 Or his email: akilusaadu212@gmail.com