Every living being is entitled to certain Rights and the Government is meant to ensure that the Right of her citizen is protected. “The concept of human rights in relation to the lives of ordinary people refers to the protection and extension of their dignity, integrity and worth as human beings” therefore, Human Rights can be defined as “rights that every human being possesses and is entitled to enjoy simply by virtue of being human” That means as long as human has breath in him, he is entitled to his right no matter the race, colour, tribe or background he is meant to enjoy his fundamental Human Right.
In Africa, especially Nigeria, the right to personal liberty seems the worst affected because wrongful arrest or detention by security personal especially the policemen, abound. The right of Liberty is not guaranteed even though the 1979 Nigerian Constitution states that:
“Every person should be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty”
Citizens in developing and third world countries suffer from limited knowledge and information on their human rights, many are illiterates, the few that have basic education of their rights may not know the right place to tender their complaints when their rights are violated, therefore policemen in these regions use the ignorance of the citizen to trample on their human rights and freedom to liberty.
Over the years, the perception of the police force by the public has been that of unfriendly, harsh and brutal the first impression of the police in Nigeria is that they always exceed their powers and the words “The police is your friend” written boldly in every police station is seen as sarcasm, this is because over the years, the police force have used unlawfully powers to extort and detain citizens.
It is actually rare to see citizens in third world and developing countries report crime or help accident victims, because very often, when they do, they become first, accused and detained unlawfully.
“Responding to questionnaire administered by the Constitutional Rights Project (CRP) citizens were asked their assessment by the constitutional suspects, 235 of the 298 members of the public questioned described police altitude as cruel, inhuman, and/or corrupt as represented in the table below”
Assessment of the police altitude to suspects.
Kind, helpful 63 (21.14%)
Cruel, inhuman, corrupt 235 (78.86 %)
From the assessment above, the view of the citizens is such that the common man cannot trust the police to protect his rights.
Police check points was not a common sights on Nigeria Highways until 1970s when check points where mounted to curb the activities of raising crime rates in the country.
Today, these check points have been turned to violation of human rights and exhortation points making motorist especially commercial vehicles targets, those who refuse to part with money are threatened with arrest or detention while in some case lives are lost in the process, as with this case: “ in 1981, Dele Udoh, a popular Nigerian athlete based in the United States who was home to represent Nigeria at a tournament, was shot dead in policemen in Lagos, following an argument at a police check point”. It is so sad that citizens plying roads are always afraid when they see policemen because motorist are always harassed for one fault or the other, and when citizens want to argue or exercise their rights with the policemen, they get arrested or detained. Citizens no longer have the heart to exercise their rights for fear of being detained at the police station, because when taken to the police station, most of them end up detained for years without seeing the four walls of a court room, take for instance “Monday Owere, who had been in custody for six years without trial. He had no file”.
Another instance was that of: “Bashiru Oladiposi, a middle aged Lagos commercial driver, who was arrested by the police and dumped in prison custody since the past six years without communal”. His ordeal actually began in June, 2001 when he was stopped by a female traffic warden who demanded to know why he plied Anthony area of Lagos instead of Lagos Airport designated for commercial buses to ply, in Oladiposi bid to hurry on to his route he attempted to bribe her and when his passengers resisted and urged him not to, they lady threw a fit which attracted people to the scene, they were eventually carted away by policemen to the station at Surulere and a file opened at Ebute Metta magistrate court on October 31, 2001, the case lasted for years while Oladiposi was in the police cell.
If Oladiposi was aware of his right, he would have not spent years in the cell, he was not aware that he had constitutional rights granting him the right to a lawyer or to speak to a friend in many cases the accused lack the financial ability to solicit for legal services, this is where the Government and civil right duties should come in and help. Because citizens are ignorant of their rights, languishing in police cells awaiting trial thereby defeating the law which requires that detention not exceed a given period of time such that the suspect must either be released on bail or charged to court in a reasonable time, reasonable time under the law is:
a) in the case of an arrest or detention in any place there is a court of competent jurisdiction with a radius of 40m kilometres in the period of one day and
b) In any case a period of two days or such longer as in the circumstances may be considered by the court to be reasonable”.
The problem of delay in treating suspects cases are also tied to the courts, as a result of unnecessary adjournment of cases, non- availability of witnesses and unpreparedness of the prosecutor, which mostly are handled by the policemen. There is a call to redress the issue of tampering with citizen’s liberty, there is a need to sensitize the populace about their rights which should not be left to legal profession alone, the Government and other bodies can also take the challenge of educating the populace, so that they can fight for the less privileged fundamental human right.
1. Juriscope, (2006) Vol. 1, 2nd Edition: Law quest Limited. 48,MBA plaza, old Aba road. Portharcourt.
2. Babatunde O. (1995) Human rights practices in Nigeria, Jan. 1995-1996: Constitution Rights Project, Lagos.
3. The 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
4. Clement N. (1993) Pg. 54: Human Rights practices in the Nigerian police: Mbeyi and associates (Nig) Ltd. Lagos.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Blessing Ocholi is a graduate of Madonna University Okija, she studied Library and Information Science and currently working as the Librarian in Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission Abuja, Nigeria.