INTL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: NBA LAGOS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE ENGAGES NIGERIA POLICE FORCE IN INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE

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Where does the protection of fundamental human rights begin, and the need to ensure law and order in society begin? Are these two mutually exclusive, or are they complementary? Should the average Nigerian citizen have to choose between security and fundamental liberties – or can he or she have both?

NEWSWIRE Law & Events Magazine correspondent in Lagos reports that the Conference Hall of the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Zone 2 Command at Onikan, Lagos Island was abuzz with anticipation on Friday, December 2, 2022, thanks to the nature of the subject about to be discussed between the top echelon of the police and the leadership of the Human Rights Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos Branch.

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Led by Mrs. Abiye Tam-George, Vice-Chairman of NBA Lagos Branch and Chair of its Human Rights Committee, the lawyers slated this important activity to mark the 2022 International Human Rights Day, a global celebration which will culminate on December 13.

Welcoming participants to the session, Mrs. Tam-George described the Dialogue (which was anchored by Olanrewaju Obadina, the Alternate Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the NBA Lagos Branch, and SP Aremu, the Public Relations Office of the Zone 2 Command) as an attempt to engender a saner society, one which is characterized by trust in our policing system on the part of the general public. Lamenting the fact that the relationship between lawyers and police officers has in some instances been adversarial, she said it ought to be complementary instead, seeing that both police officers and lawyers are servants of the law, devoted to preventing or prosecuting crimes and misdemeanours, and ensuring the good ordering of a just and equitable society. She also touched on often-repeated charges (by lawyers) of overzealousness on the part of some police officers, and charges (by police) of unruliness and arrogance on the part of lawyers, saying such incidences were inimical to the quest for justice in our society. Human rights, she added, are not just about the general public, but also about the welfare of police officers and the enhancement of their conditions of service.

Also welcoming attendees on behalf of the NPF Zone 2 Command, DCP Umar Shelleng said the police derives its powers and responsibilities from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as other statutes including the Police Act – meaning that the Police, like all other citizens, was under obligation to respect the law of the land, including the fundamental rights of fellow citizens. But to fulfil its obligations, he emphasized that the police needs lawyers by its side – not in its way, as is often the case.

Other top officials of the NPF Zone 2 Command, and both the Lagos and Ogun State Police Commands who graced the occasion were the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Adeyinka Adeleke; DCP Ishola Olanrewaju; ACP Segun; ACP Olugbenga Salako; ACP Chinwe Akpota; Heads of various Units and Departments at the Zone 2 Command, and the Lagos and Ogun State Police Commands. The NBA Lagos Branch was also represented by Barr. Mrs. Muyi Oniwon, Barr. Mrs. Kemi Yesufu, Barr. Nwachukwu Okafor, Barr. Ibrahim Bello and Barr. James Sonde.

According to NEWSWIRE’s correspondent, the session featured a robust exchange of views, ideas and concerns around the issue of human rights, namely, how to protect and sustain them vis-a-viz the constitutional obligations of the police. Among those who made presentations and important contributions to the discourse were Mrs. Tam-George, AIG Adeleke, Officers in Charge (OCs) of the Legal and Human Rights Units in the Lagos and Ogun State Police Commands as well as their counterparts at the Zone 2 Command.

In the course of the discourse, the following issues were addressed along with recommendations:

  • Though a 100% rate of compliance with human rights issues is not possible under our present circumstances, all stakeholders must strive for a healthy pass mark at the very least;
  • Human Rights is not a privilege but a right. For this reason, it should be institutionalized in all the protocols of policing – especially as regards the rules of engagement;
  • the Pan-African Model of Policing for Africa (a document of the Pan-African Parliamentary Committee on Human and People’s Rights) as well as the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights, should serve as a template for how law enforcement organisations like the NPF should proceed in this regard; and it will be beneficial for relevant police personnel to be trained in the provisions of these documents;
  • Law enforcement officers must refrain from arbitrariness in their dealings with suspects and detainees, such as depriving them of their liberties outside of due process;
  • All stakeholders must strive to reduce friction between police personnel and lawyers. Following Mrs. Tam-George’s assertion that in most cases, these friction-causing incidences were the handiwork of ‘fake’ lawyers, it was suggested that a more effective machinery be put in place to verify the identity of lawyers acting on behalf of their clients in police custody;
  • A committee comprising lawyers and senior law enforcement officers should be set up to implement human rights protocols and deal with individual cases as they arise;
  • Henceforth, passage of criminal laws in Nigeria must include the input of the police, to ensure the operability and enforceability of such laws in our clime – which has not been the case in the past where police personnel are routinely excluded from such proceedings;
  • The pressures police officers face, as humans and as family breadwinners, are a tremendous obstacle to their ability to observe and protect human rights. Therefore, such pressures must be addressed frontally;
  • Other obstacles, such as customs and traditions, and our people’s lack of patience with due process in criminal cases (which accounts for the unfortunate tendency towards ‘Jungle Justice’) must also be addressed for a robust human rights culture to thrive;
  • The effort to ensure such a culture must also take into account the political environment, as well as the economic implications (do we have the means, for instance, to adequately feed and clothe detainees, reach out to their respective families, and otherwise protect their fundamental human rights?);
  • There has to be a comprehensive database in order to ensure a more rigorous means of identification (as far as suspects’ bail, and compliance with bail provisions, is concerned);
  • Although we are no longer in the days of ‘Kill-and-Go’ police brutality and impunity (thanks to the in-house self-cleansing efforts of the police authorities) this is no licence for lawlessness, or a dilution of the powers and an erosion in the obligations of police as far as maintenance of law and order is concerned. But there has to be an attitudinal change in the behaviour of all partners in the enterprise of justice – especially lawyers – who should sometimes ‘stoop to conquer’. They must not always insist on dictating the pace and direction of legal processes;
  • Lawyers must understand the distinction between the pursuit of justice and the need to do their clients’ bidding (which may not always be in accordance with law or the demands of justice);
  • Police officers sent to guard wealthy individuals and politicians (many of whom have lost their lives on such assignments) should be properly equipped with protective items such as bullet-proof vests, helmets, etc.). Such wealthy persons and politicians must be made to provide these items, and to sign an undertaking to ensure the right conditions of service for the said officers, before these officers are sent on assignment;

At the end of the discourse, AIG Adeleke gave his approval for the formation of a 10-man Committee (comprising 5 senior police officers namely, the 3 OCs of the respective Legal Units and 2 OCs of Human Rights at the Lagos and Ogun State Police Commands) and 5 lawyers from the Human Rights Committee of the NBA Lagos Branch.

The Engagement Dialogue came to a close with a vote of thanks by Barr. James Sonde.

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