Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke
Tobi Soniyi and Adebiyi Adedapo
The police will soon forfeit their power to prosecute suspects under a new arrangement being worked out by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
The AGF and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), said at a lecture yesterday in Abuja that in the impending dispensation, his office would assume the power to prosecute any criminal suspect.
Adoke, while delivering a keynote address at a national dialogue on torture, extra-judicial killings and national security, organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), also said extra-judicial killings in the country had claimed about 7,195 lives, adding that the situation has contributed to the wave of terrorism in the country today.
Adoke’s comment on extra-judicial killings coincided with the demand by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) that the Federal Government should stop denying the fact that its security forces have been killing people under the pretext of fighting the Boko Haram insurgency.
Justifying the moves to strip the police of prosecution powers, Adoke said the force was peopled by non-professionals who were no match for the experienced and qualified lawyers to defendants in the court.
He said henceforth, the police would only concern themselves with investigations into criminal activities of suspects.
According to him, the inability to diligently prosecute offenders and the general state of helplessness for the victims of crime to get justice have led to a culture of self-help in the country.
The minister, who admitted that the wanton rot in the criminal justice system has escalated the culture of self-help and spate of terrorism in the country, said the Federal Government was concerned that the police had through the years relied on “Police Force Order 237” to commit extra-judicial killings.
He added that the order, which allows the police to shoot any suspect or detainee trying to escape or avoid arrest, has led to extra-judicial killings of 7,195 people in four years. Of those illegally killed, 2,500 were detainees, he added.
“Although these figures have been stoutly disputed by the police, even the most charitable defenders of the force cannot deny that some dishonourable officers indeed have taken the law into their hands in the most barbaric fashion by killing suspects and innocent citizens,” Adoke said.
Also at the dialogue, the Managing Partner Legal Resources Consortium, Mr. Olawale Fapohunda, disagreed with the Federal Government over its comment on the ills in the police system, saying the approach of the government to police reform had made the police endangered species.
Fapohunda dismissed the idea of state police because the solution to the problems of crime, insecurity and terrorism in Nigeria is not due to the police structure, but achieving a police service, which is efficient, honest and professional.
He said the police could not meet the challenges of criminality because of lack of modern tools to carry out their jobs.
He said rather than the Federal Government implementing police reforms, it had ceaselessly been setting up reform committees.
“The inauguration of the Parry Osayande committee with terms of reference similar to previous high level committees on the police, is a clear indication of lack of interest of the administration on police reforms,” he said.
Also, the NBA yesterday in Abuja called on the Federal Government to stop denying the fact that its security agencies have been killing people under the pretext of fighting Boko Haram insurgency.
The president of the association, Mr. Okey Wali (SAN), who said this at a round table forum organised to mark this year's Human Rights Day, stated that while insurgents were violating the rights of the Nigerian people through extra-judicial executions and mindless bombings, the security agencies had also been engaged in extra-judicial executions and unlawful and unconstitutional detention of insurgents.
He said: “We also want to reiterate that Nigeria has an obligation to investigate allegations of extra-judicial executions by security agencies.
“There is nothing shameful about acknowledging mistakes and indiscretions and pledging to make amends.
“Denying cases of extra-judicial executions and unlawful detentions in the face of overwhelming evidence can only diminish our prestige and respect in the comity of nations.”
He stated that extra-judicial executions by the police amounted to a disregard of the duty to organise the apparatus of the state in such a manner as to guarantee the rights recognised in the African Charter.
He called on the Federal Government to investigate all the allegations of extra-judicial executions and torture levelled against the various branches of the security agencies, saying impunity would persist so long as cases of this nature are not investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
He noted that both the military and the Department of State Security Service (DSS) have been detaining people illegally.
Quoting from the relevant sections of the National Security Agencies Act and the constitution, Wali said: “No provision of the said law or the constitution gives the SSS or the military or the police the right to detain suspects ad infinitum.”
He said that Nigeria must at all times be a country founded on the rule of law and due process.
He advised all security agencies holding persons in their custody to transfer such suspects to the Nigerian Police Force for prosecution.
He also urged the AGF to compile the names of all persons in detention on terror-related activities and such persons should be given their due process rights.
According to him, it is a lame excuse to pretend that these categories of persons are being detained in anticipation of an amendment to the Terrorism Act, adding that such an amendment if passed would not be retroactive.