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ACJA: Human rights, SARS and the limits of law enforcement

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Senator Iroegbu, Godsgift Onyedinefu and Gift Wada

The SARS also cry?

What could have made officers of the Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) feel threatened and vulnerable? After all, they have a long time remained unperturbed despite barrage of criticisms and obvious loathing from Nigerians led by social media activists. So who and what is the cause of what the concerned officers of SARS have described as an ‘administrative ordeal and operational nightmare’? The answer is nothing and no one but a piece of legislation that was signed into law in 2015 known as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). Consequently, the demands enunciated under ACJA and championed by by the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC) towards reforming the criminal justice system in Nigeria, have left SARS personnel sweating. This is particularly true against the backdrop of sustained public scrutiny of their operations and calls for that it be disbanded.

To this end, officers of SARS are concerned about the growing public disapproval of their modus operandi, which many see as antithetical to the fundamental human rights with some social media campaigns like #EndSARS receiving widespread support. But more worrisome to them are limitations placed by the ACJA 2015, which “hurts our operations”.

This was the highlight of a two-day training in Abuja at the weekend organised by the Rule of Law and Anti corruption (RoLAC) programme of the British Council, funded by the European Union (EU) and facilitated by the ACJMC. The training was part of the ongoing efforts to curb cases of illegal arrest and detention by SARS and other law enforcement agencies.

However, the officers used the opportunity provided by the training platform to distil out their fears and misgivings about some of the provisions of the law. According to them, complete compliance with ACJA could hamper the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations with regards to apprehending criminals and crime suspects.

Here are some the ways the officers claimed SARS’ operations could be hurt:

ACJA interferes with “modus operandi’, favours suspects

Participants at the training of SARS officers on ACJA

The SARS officers was emphatic that the legal procedures imposed by ACJA limits and interferes with their modes of operations. They noted that the law tilted more on the side of the suspects than the victims and law enforcement agents.

“We have been complying with some of the rules laid down by the ACJ but the few added ones, which we see favouring the suspects is where we are trying to see how we can figure out in trying to adapt… but the fact remains that it affects our.modus operandi”, one of the officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.

Investigation before arrest doesn’t work for SARS

The SARS personnel also voiced out their opposition to the requirement that investigations be conclusively carried out before any attempt to arrest crime suspects. They were of the opinion that delays in arresting armed robbery suspects is harmful to their overall operational procedures.

“The issue of investigating a suspect before arresting them doesn’t go down well with us and the way we understand the system. If you are to investigate an armed robber before arr6est him, at what time do you think that you will get what you want” he queried.

Against this backdrop, they argued that arrest should still be made before investigation, noting that “once they are confirmed as armed robbers, there is no need of wasting time but to get them arrested”.

Release of detained suspects hurts investigations

It was also noted that despite the provisions of ACJA, the law enforcement agencies are often reluctant to release detainees, or get a court order especially if they have committed serious crimes under the excuse that “it will jeopardise investigations”.

“Some officers said the difficulty in arresting the detainees is huge and it broke their heart that we moved them. So one thing became clear , which is the need to sensitize them to know the morale behind the movement and that is why we are having this training,” a consultant at RoLAC programme, Mr. Peter Omenka, explained.

‘It gives crime suspects upper hand, harms the public’

Participants listening attentively

“Everybody is victim of this dare devil armed robbers. Instead of giving them upper hand through ACJA, I suggest we retain the way we have been going after these robbers. Let it remain instead of trying to say we should go after them after thorough investigations. To me investigating them before arrest is not normal,” one of the SARS insisted.

Also speaking on the ACJ provision, which demands an investigation before arrest, another SARs officer Henry Ohikhiare, warned on its adverse effects on criminal Justice, saying: 

“The public and government should beware, some people will key into this new regulation to start committing crime. 

“And let the public have it in mind that no one is left out, even the judiciary is not left out. We are aware of the kidnap of so many magistrate and judges around the federation. That is a big lesson for us to learn so that we don’t do things that will affect us tomorrow.”

Damaging interference by senior officers and politicians

SARS officials also lamented that interference from senior officers, politicians and other influential men of the society has been a great impediment to their operations.

Consequent upon these facts, the officers recommended that as a way forward the rule of law should be complied with by everyone in the society as this would help in maintaining justice.

In addition, another of SARS official, Peter Gwasin, called on the government to provide adequate facilities such as electronic gadget for investigation and appealed for fund to help in mobilization during their investigation.

Unlawful arrest, detention of suspects still unacceptable’

Facilitators take participants through the training on why SARS should comply with provisions of ACJA

While recognising the challenges and limitations facing SARS, the facilitators from ACJMC and RoLAC insisted that the unlawful arrest and detention of crime suspects beyond the provisions of ACJA and fundamental human rights, is unacceptable.

Speaking on these issues, Omenka said the training became necessary to address cases of gross human rights abuse during arrest and detainment of suspects.

He explained that prior to October 2019, Magistrates under the new ACJA 2015, visited places of detention to inspect how arrest were made and why.

According to the RoLAC Consultant, the Magistrates reviewed the cases with SARS and helped to release a lot of the detainees who have stayed beyond the time provided by ACJA.

SARS should be reformed not disbanded 

With the issues of gross abuse of human rights and the clamour for the abolition of SARS, the stakeholders suggested that instead of abolishing the crime fighting outfit, their modes of operation should be drastically reformed.

Speaking on the two-day workshop, a legal officer with the ACJMC, Mr. Joshua Dada, who condemned the clamour to abolish SARS, noted that reforms are rather needed owing to the function they play towards curbing of crimes in the society.

“We considered it’s not imperative to end SARS but rather imperative to reform SARs because it was established for a reason to deal with issues like armed robbery and other crimes. We understand that some of their modus operandi wasn’t inline with world best practices.

“We considered also that if they are trained and informed how to go on with their operation, then they will be a lot better, so we brought this training for that purpose”.

“We would love a general reform for the whole of the system. In everything, interns of how they carry out their arrest, in terms of their investigation, in terms of length of time people stay in their detention facilities, even in terms of the management of their facilities,” Joseph said.

The two-day workshop which held on the 11 and 12 of December 2019 at Treasure Suit hotel in Abuja, dealt with human right issues such as the arrest of suspects without investigation, the unlawful detention of suspects for over 24 hours without court trial, humiliating manner of arrest, use of force, treatments of accused persons.

ROLAC and ACJMC partner with Police on human rights

ROLAC is a 4 year programme funded by the European Union and managed by the British council which has the aim to enhance good governance in Nigeria by curbing contributing to strengthening rule of law, by curbing corruption, reducing impunity and increasing access to justice for women and children.

The programme is at work in five states of the federation and the federal capital territory: Adamawa, Anambra, Kano, Edo and Lagos.  

Credits| Opera News Hub

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