Investigation and Arraignment by Security Agencies; An Overview of the Right to Personal Liberties of Nigerians

Security Agencies

The Task of Crime Prevention/ Detention

Crime prevention and/or policing in every society is agreed across all schools of thought to be a very difficult task. However,  a country like ours, it is more difficult considering the absence of necessary technology based apparatus of investigation like a collective database of all citizens and residents of the Country, CCTV footages that help fix an offender on the spot of committing the offence and at the material time. 

All these taken into cognizance, Nigerian security agencies are already on the back foot in the arduous task of crime prevention and detection.

Nigerian Security Agencies and Powers of Investigation/ Arraignment

Various security agencies in Nigeria are empowered by their various enabling laws to arrest, detain, and investigate any person suspected to have committed any offence and bring such person before a court of competent jurisdiction to determine the guilt or innocence of such person.

The Nigerian Police is the body saddled with the bulwark of crime prevention, detection as well as arraignment of suspect before the court. The Supreme court in the locus classicus case of Osahon v F.R.N (2006) 5 NWLR (Pt. 973) 361 had ruled that the Nigerian Police Officers have unlimited right to prosecute any matter in any court in Nigeria. This further highlights the importance of the Police to crime prevention and detection in any Nigeria.

Other Security Agencies have by virtue of various sections in their enabling laws the duty to arrest, investigate and arraign suspected offenders in courts. Section 5(1)(b) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act empowers the EFCC to investigate all financial crimes; the Act goes further in Section 6 to further widen the scope of the powers of EFCC to cover certain Acts which inter-alia are Money Laundering Act, Advance Free Fraud and Other Related Offences Act and any other law or regulations relating to economic and financial crime.

The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps are also empowered by the NSCDC Act to arrest, investigate and subsequently arraign any person that vandalize any Government infrastructure and generally assist in maintaining law and order. More so, the National Drug law enforcement Agency (NDLEA) have been empowered by the NDLEA Act to also arrest, detain, investigate and ultimately prosecute any drug related offender.

It is however worthy of note that; irrespective of the powers given to these Government Parastatals to carry out these aforementioned duties, the Constitution of the Federal Republic prosecuting suspected offenders in Nigeria by guaranteeing our rights to personal liberty. 

Right to Personal Liberty of Nigerians

In explaining right to personal liberty vis-à-vis the powers of security agents to arrest and prosecute suspected offenders, specific recourse must be made to the presumption of innocence until otherwise is declared by the court as provided in Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Thus, any person suspected to have committed an offence, be he in custody or not must be treated as though he has not committed the said offence until the courts declare that he did.

Section 35(1) of the CFRN; apart from generally guaranteeing the right to personal liberty gives exceptions to the right, but for an act to fall under such exception, it must be in accordance with a procedure permitted by law. The exceptions so stated in (a) to (f) are explained below:

Exceptions to the Right to Personal Liberty

If the personal liberty of a person is infringed upon in execution of court order declaring him guilty of an offence, such infringement is excused. A perfect example of this is the imprisonment sentenced imposed on a convict. Infringement on personal liberty of a person directly resulting from his disobedience to an order of court is also excused. 

If the personal liberty of a person is infringed for the purpose of bringing him before a court in execution of the order of court or upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed an offence. This further explains arraignment; as any person suspected to have committed an offence may be arrested and detained; either by warrant (order of court) or upon reasonable suspicion. The length of such detention will be discussed in the latter part of this article.

If a person has not attained the age of 18, infringement on his personal liberty such as confinement in a particular environment for the purpose of education and welfare of such person is excused by law.

More so, infringement on the personal liberty of any person who has been diagnosed of a contagious disease, persons of unsound mind and drug addicts for the purpose of their healthcare and protection of the community is excused by law.

On final note, for the prevention of unlawful entry into Nigeria or to carry out extradition of any person from Nigeria and any procedure leading thereto shall not be considered an infringement to personal liberty of such person.

Time Limit

It is also worthy of note that as contained in the proviso to Section 35(1), no person shall be kept in custody for a period more than that which is prescribed for the offence which he is accused. Thus, if a person for instance who is accused of committing an offence punishable with imprisonment of 4 years has been in prison for a period of 4 years during the pendency of his trial, either on Appeal or trial, such person shall be released.

Section 35(2) provides that any person arrested has the right to remain silent or choose not to answer any question until consultation with a legal practitioner or any person of his choice. This in essence means that it is unlawful for security agents to immediately squeeze out information from a suspect if he chooses that his lawyer or any person must be consulted with before his statement is taken or any question is answered by him.

More so, any person arrested and detained must be informed in writing the facts and grounds of his arrest within 24 hours of arrest as provided by Section 35(3).

Any person arrested or detained in suspicion of having committed an offence, shall be brought before the court within reasonable time. Reasonable time is defined as one day where the is a court within 40 kilometers, if beyond such distance, 2 days or such period as may be considered reasonable by the court.

If a person is arrested and is not tried for the offence for which he is suspected to have committed within 2 months if he is in custody or is not entitled to bail or 3 months if he is on bail, such a person shall be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions as may be necessary to ensure he shows up for resumed trial.

It is also worthy of note that periods prescribed above are limited in application to persons arrested or detained upon reasonable suspicion of having committed a capital offence.

Conclusion/ Recommendations

It will be flagrantly against common sense to turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the fact that Security Agencies in Nigeria arbitrarily contravene the sections explained above and get away with same with relative ease. We therefore cannot all fold our arms and allow this ugly trend to continue. How then do we curb this abuse of the right to personal liberty of Nigerians?

Generally, section 35(6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that any person unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the person or authority in question.

More specifically however, it is further recommended as follows:

  1. Stay in touch with a legal practitioner.
  2. In situations of arrest, politely insist on being taken to a station where officers and men of such security Agency are identifiable and recognizable.
  3. Be ready to make example of any Security Agency that violates your right to personal liberty through the courts.
  4. Avoid offering bribe to Security Agencies; allow your innocence be brought to fore by the courts.
  5. Do not struggle with an armed officer or; avoid initiating any unfriendly physical contact with any security agent.


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