Nigerian Cases on False Imprisonment
Below are some rationes decidendi of Nigerian courts in actions of or relating to false imprisonment. False imprisonment is a total restraint of the liberty of a person for however short a time without lawful excuse.
Meaning of False Imprisonment
Jim-Jaja v. C.O.P. (2011) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1231) 375
False imprisonment is a complete deprivation of liberty of a person for any time, howsoever short, without lawful excuse. The imprisonment is complete when the defendant directly and intentionally causes the confinement of the plaintiff and completely deprived him of his liberty. The length of the confinement is only relevant for assessment of damages. It is false imprisonment ifthe plaintiff was arrested and detained by the police in consequence of false and spiteful allegation of the complainant (third party).
ARAB CONTRACTORS (O. A. O.) NIGERIA LTD v. GILLIAN UMANAH (2012)LCN/5318(CA)
It is indeed trite, that the term false imprisonment, as a common law misdemeanor and a tort, denotes a restraint of a person in a bounded area without any justification or consent. The term applies to both private as well as governmental detention. According to R.F.V. Heuston, in SALAMOND ON THE LAW OF TORTS, 17TH edition, 1977 at 123 –
[In the phrase false imprisonment] false is…used, not in the ordinary sense of mendacious or fallacious, but in the less common though well established sense of erroneous or wrong; as in the phrases false quantity, false step, false taste, etc.
See also BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 9TH edition, 2009 at 677 – 678 thus:
Some courts have described, false and false imprisonment as causes of action which are distinguishable only in terminology. The two have been called virtually indistinguishable, and identical. However, the difference between them lies in the manner in which they arise. In order to commit false imprisonment, it is not necessary either to intend to make an arrest or actually to make an arrest. By contrast, a person who in falsely arrested is at the same time falsely imprisoned. “32 Ani Jur. 2nd False Imprisonment c3 (1995).” – PER I. M. M. SAULAWA, J.C.A.
Will giving Information to the Police constitute False imprisonment?
ARAB CONTRACTORS (O. A. O.) NIGERIA LTD v. GILLIAN UMANAH (Ibid)
“It’s a well settled principle, that an action for false imprisonment (or false arrest, as the case may be) will not lie against a private individual who merely gave information which led the police, on their own initiative, to apprehend a suspect. See ISHENO vs. JULIUS BERGER (NIG) PLC (2008) 6 NWLR (pt.1084)582 at 597. Conversely, for an action for imprisonment to lie against a private individual, the complainant has an onerous duty of establishing that the defendant was actively responsible for setting the law in motion against him. See OKONKWO vs. OGBOGU (1996)5 NWLR (pt.449) 420 at 33 per Ogbuegbu, JSC.” – PER I. M. M. SAULAWA, J.C.A.
LUCKY NEWMAN OLODO & ORS v. CHIEF UMEME JOSHUA (2020) Legalpedia (CA) 91911
“The law is trite on what false imprisonment is. An action can be against a private individual who maliciously gave false information to the Police and caused another person to be arrested or wrongfully detained. It is a tort. In Okafor Vs. Abubofuani (2016) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1525) p.117, Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC has this to say:
“It is a correct representation of the law that if a report as in this case is made to the Police which has been found to be totally false, malicious and without foundation it is the maker of the report that is liable in damages to the Plaintiff for false imprisonment. This is because it is the maker of the report which complaint ignited the action of detention carried out by the Police that does not bring in the Police as a party to the action in the false report and imprisonment”
However, action will not lie against an individual who merely gave information to the Police which led the Police in the exercise of their discretion to arrest a suspect. See Isheno Vs. Julius Berger (Nig.) Plc (2008) 6 NWLR (pt. 1084) p. 582”
Nwadinobi v. Botu (2000) 9 NWLR (Pt. 672) 220
An action for false imprisonment will not lie against an individual who merely gave information which led the Police, on their own initiative, to arrest a suspect. The position is also the same in respect of a report made to the Police where a particular person is named as the person suspected of stealing the missing property of the person making the report and the person named is subsequently arrested and detained. This is because the act of indicating to the Police a person whom one suspects of the commission of an offence is not itself sufficient to make the person who pointed out the suspected person liable for false imprisonment should the Police decide on their own initiative to arrest that person.
The person making the report to the Police may however be liable if it is shown that the report to the Police is totally false, malicious and without foundation and that the Police did not act on their own volition.
What the Plaintiff must show to succeed in an action of False imprisonment
OKECHUKWU & ANOR v. NWOSU & ANOR (2018) LPELR-44893(CA)
“False imprisonment occurs when a person’s movement is restricted within an area against his will and without any lawful justification. The law is settled that in an action for false imprisonment, the claimant must show that the defendant was actively instrumental in setting the law in motion against him.” – Per MISITURA OMODERE BOLAJI-YUSUFF, JCA
Is it necessary to give evidence of damage
ONUCHUKKWU v. FIDELITY BANK (2017) LPELR-50015(CA)
“The law is also that in an action for false imprisonment, it is not necessary for a plaintiff to give evidence of damages in order to establish his cause of action or to be entitled to the award of damages. Once he proves that his right to free movement was unlawfully, wrongfully and unjustifiably breached and violated, he is generally entitled to the award of damages for the tort.Mandilas & K. vs. Apena (1969) 1 NWLR, 199. Okonkwo vs. Ogbogu (1996) 5 NWLR (449) 420. Afribank Nigeria Plc vs Onyima (2004) 2 NWLR (858) 654.” – Per MOHAMMED LAWAL GARBA, JCA