Contrary to the order of the Attorney General of the Federation and minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, that stripped the Nigeria Police Force, NPF of its power to prosecute criminal cases, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris has stated that NPF will go on with the prosecution of criminal cases in the country. Our correspondent reports that Idris had on Wednesday in Abuja stated in a parley with states’ commissioners of police that the police was not aware of the order of the AGF and minister of Justice and will therefore continue with prosecution of criminal cases in the country.
Reacting to an enquiry from a correspondent on the matter, Idris said he was hearing of such development for the first time. He explained that he has not seen any memo or directive from the AGF and minister of Justice, suggesting that the police’s power of prosecution of criminal cases has been withdrawn.
According to him, “the position of the police is that we are not aware of any changes or directive yet. Except we get any memo, suggesting otherwise, the police will carry on with its investigation and prosecution duties.”
The IGP’s position, however, comes as a surprise to Salihu Isa, media aide to the AGF, who signed the ministry’s memo to this effect. Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday, he disclosed that the Nigeria Police high command representative was part of the federal government’s parley in which the decision was reached to bar the police from further engaging in criminal prosecution in accordance with the judicial reform of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and as captured in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015. Following the police denial, however, Isa, promised that the matter would be sorted out.
“It is normal that when people think they have power and you want to remove it from them, they will act that way. The ministry will find a way of sorting it out. The police sent a representative to the meeting and was part of the meeting where the release I sent emanated. But if they say they are not aware, things would be sorted out,” Isa told our correspondent.
Police prosecutors refused to air their views on the matter, as they dismissed the order of the AGF and minister of Justice as operating in the realm of speculation or at best a suggestion to the police.
As part of measures to reform the justice sector, Malami had on Thursday, August 22 in a statement signed by his media aide, Isah, barred the Nigerian Police Force from prosecuting criminal cases. Malami, said the action was in line with the provision of section 106 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, which puts the responsibility of prosecuting all criminal matters on the Federal Ministry of Justice, and above all, aims at ensuring that the federal government’s anti-corruption war is not tarnished or further frustrated.
According to the Justice Ministry’s statement, the ministry has so far taken over about 8000 case files from police for prosecution.
Experts on human rights matters and legal luminaries, however, applaud the action of stripping the police of power to prosecute criminal cases by the federal government, noting that the Nigeria police lack requisite expertise and integrity to continue discharging such a sacred task.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday, experts said the decision though belated was laudable observing that police officers and the police as an institution are overly tainted.
National coordinator, Human Right Writers Association
(HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko said the Nigeria Police Force as currently constituted was too weak and compromised to effectively carry out the functions and duties of law enforcement.
“Over the period of many years the hierarchy of the Nigeria Police Force has consistently undermined the rule of law by the employment of subterfuge and other subterranean methods to destroy many criminal cases in which the police bosses have been paid to undermine by the alleged offenders.”
He alleged that “Most times, the undue criminal justice administration delays are occasioned by systematic ways the police officers have had to transfer police prosecutors out of jurisdiction whereby they were handling cases and most times case files are stolen and destroyed, thereby contributing to the massive numbers of awaiting trial inmates,” he added.
HURIWA attributed the high number of inmates awaiting trials in the nation’s prison to several adjournments, occasioned by lack of proficiency, adding that for the nation to get its criminal justice administration right, there was the need “to stop the incompetent police force from undermining quick dispensation of justice.”
According to HURIWA, the justice minister’s decision if carried out strictly will lead to efficient justice system.
Also speaking, the National Coordinator of Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), Okechukwu Nwanguma said “Nigeria police as currently constituted and administered lack competence, skill and integrity to prosecute criminal cases.”
Nwanguma noted that the task of arrest and investigation needed to be separated from prosecution describing the decision of the federal government as in consonance with the new administration of Criminal Justice Act.
Malam Yusuf Ali, SAN told our correspondent that the AGF has taken the right step in the right direction. He noted that the AGF has the powers to initiate or withdraw any criminal case against the state. “The dearth of lawyers gave rise to the powers given to the police to prosecute. Police were only trained for security. The AGF can initiate or take over any criminal case against the state from anybody,” Ali said.
The immediate past secretary-general of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Afam Osigwe, equally observed that the law gives the AGF the powers to initiate or withdraw any criminal case against the state.”
A legal practitioner, Ibrahim Alasa, however differs. He said the Police Act needs to be amended, if the AGF decides to strip the police of the powers. He, however notes that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act gives lawyers the exclusive power to prosecute cases.
Unlike Alasa, Osigwe, posits that the AGF does not need any amendment to any law if he decides to take over cases from the police. “He does not need any amendment of the law to do that. The law gives him the powers to initiate or withdraw any criminal case against the state,” he reiterated.
While the Ministry of Justice’s statement was categorical to the effect that prosecutorial powers on criminal matters have been withdrawn from the police, some stakeholders disclosed that the coming into effect of such a decision was contingent upon the recommendation of a federal government committee, set up to look into the merits or otherwise of such decision. It is on this ground that Ahmed Raji, SAN posited that it would be right for the AGF to await for the recommendation of the committee before going ahead with the decision to strip the police off that powers. “I don’t think the AGF can do that by fiat. He should await the recommendation of the committee before taking decision,” Raji said.