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Powers Of The Nigeria Police Force – Rofiat Popoola

Nigeria police

Powers Of The Nigeria Police Force

The Nigeria Police Act, 2020 (hereinafter referred to as NPA, 2020) came into force on September 16, 2020. It was signed by the President of Nigeria, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and it repealed the Police Act, 2004.

The National Assembly enacted the NPA, 2020 for the organization and administration of the Nigeria Police Force. The NPA, 2020 also conferred enormous powers on the Police in the maintenance of law and order in the federation.

The foremost objective of the NPA, 2020 is to provide an effective police service that is based on the principles of accountability and transparency, protection of human rights, and partnership with other security agencies. Okechukwu Nwanguma, the Executive Director of the Rule of Law Advocacy and Accountability Centre (RULAAC), while commenting on NPA, 2020 said “it is different from the old act because it seeks to modernize the police.”

The NPA 2020 has the purpose of providing for a police force that is more responsive to the needs of the public and has its operations entrenched in the values of fairness, justice, equity, accountability, co-operating and partnering with the communities it serves; and also to uphold the fundamental rights of citizens.

The Nigerian Police Force in this contemporary times was established by the provisions of Section 214 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as altered, hereinafter referred to as (CFRN 1999) which states:

“(1) There shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this constitution-

  1. the Nigeria Police Force shall be organized and admnistered in accordance with such provisions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly;
  2. the members of the Nigeria Police Force shall have such powers and duties as may be conferred upon them by law;
  3. the National Assembly may make provisions for branches of the Nigerian Police Force forming part of the armed forces of the Federation or for the protection of harbours, waterways, railways and airfields.” (see Section 3 of NPA, 2020).

Generally, the police are saddled with the responsibility of preventing and detecting crimes, preservation of law and order, enforcement of laws and regulations, protection of lives and properties and maintenance of public safety. These functions are outlined in the provisions of Section 4 of the NPA, 2020.

Powers Of The Police To Arrest

It is important to interpret that one of the distinctive powers of the police includes but is not limited to the power to arrest. The power to arrest is deducible from the general duties of the police as contained in Section 214 (2) (b) of the CFRN 1999 (as altered) & Section 4 of NPA, 2020. Arrest generally means an act of apprehending and taking a person into custody by an allegation of committing an offense for further investigation. This right has been provided for in Section 32 (1) of theNPA, 2020 which states:

“A suspect or defendant alleged or charged with committing an offense established by an Act of the National Assembly or under any other law shall be arrested, investigated and tried or dealt with according to the provisions of this Act, except otherwise provided under this Act.”

Arrest can be made before, during and after the commission of a crime. The purpose of arrest was posited by Justice ADAH (JCA) in the case of UKIRI V EFCC (2018) LPELR-43992(SC), where he held that the purpose of an arrest is to bring the person arrested either before a Court or to secure the administration of the law.

Succinctly, in Dokubo Asari v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2007) JELR 54962 (SC), the Supreme Court held that: “The power of arrest of suspected offenders is vested in the police and no one can take it away from them. This general power invested in the police to arrest and detain suspected criminals is statutory.” See also Isiaka Adeboye & Ors v. Saheeto International limited & Ors (2019) LPELR-46752(CA) for further judicial backing.

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Flowing from the above legal authorities, it is obvious to even a lame man that the police enjoy both statutory and judicial backing in regards to the exercise of their statutory powers to arrest, apprehend and detain offenders. It should be noted however that the statutory powers of the police to arrest a criminal suspect must be in accordance with the provisions of the law with certain respect to the dignity of human person and personal liberty of the offenders (see Section 34 & Section 35 of the CFRN 1999 as altered and Section 33, 35 & 37 of the Police Act, 2004).

Connotatively, in the well-settled case of Igweokolo v. Akpoyibo & Ors (2017) LPELR-41882 CA wherein the Court held that the power of the Police to arrest, detain and interrogate must be exercised by the police in accordance with the law. In the words of the learned honorable Justice Onigbanjo of the Lagos High Court, he opined: “By all odds, the police has the statutory power to investigate, arrest, interrogate, search and detain any suspect. The only qualification is that the power must be exercised in strict accordance with the law.”

Also, in the well-established case of Sunday Jimoh v. Attorney General of the Federation (1998) HRL RA 513 at 515, the Apex Court in Nigeria stated assertively that: “Those who feel called upon to deprive other persons of their personal liberty in the discharge of what they consider their duty should strictly observe the terms and rule of law.”

Furthermore, Section 36 of the Police Act, 2004 and Section 7 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 states: “A person shall not be arrested in place of a suspect.” This type of arrest can be called arrest by proxy or substitution arrest. Generally, the law has no provision for substitutional arrest or arrest in lieu. That is, it is unconstitutional, null and void as affirmed in ACB v. Okonkwo (1997 ) 1 NWLR (pt 480) 194 wherein the Court of Appeal stood a strong stand against arrest in lieu. The Court, per Niki Tobi, JCA (as he then was) said metaphorically: “There is no law that says that the sin of the son be visited on the mother simply because of that relationship.” see also Akpan v. State (2008) 14 NWLR (pt 1106) 72.

Warrant of Arrest

A warrant is an order or document issued by a presiding judge or sitting magistrate on behalf of the state, which authorizes the arrest and detention of an individual, or the search and seizure of an individual’s property (see Section 72 (1) of NPA, 2020). A warrant of arrest may be issued where the law creating an offense states that an offender cannot be arrested without warrant, where a serious offense has been committed or where a person disobeys a summons.

There are three types of arrest viz:

  • Arrest with warrant;
  • Arrest without warrant;
  • Arrest by private person.

Arrest with warrant

Where the offense is not an arrestable offense, either a warrant or summons will be required to be issued in the first instance. Without obtaining a warrant, the police are not allowed to make an arrest. A warrant of arrest shall remain valid until executed or canceled by the issuing judge or magistrate (Section 75 (2) of NPA, 2020). It must however bear the offense, name and description of the suspect as well as an order to bring the suspect before a court (Section 72 (2) of NPA, 2020). A warrant of arrest may be issued on any day including a Sunday or public holiday (Section 74 of NPA 2020) except in a courtroom (Section 77 (2) of NPA 2020) or the National Assembly. For an arrest to be executed in the National Assembly, the permission of the President of the National is required. see Tony Momoh v Senate of National Assembly 1981 INCLR 21.

Arrest without warrant

It is a general rule that an arrest should be made with a warrant. However, to every general rule, there is an exception – interpreted to its Latin version of “Non est regula quin fallat.” There are certain exceptions permitted by law especially as provided in Section 38 (1) (a – v) of NPA, 2020. Such instances are if the person arrested has been suspected on reasonable grounds of suspicion of having committed an offense, or in order to prevent a person from committing a crime or obstruction of a police officer from executing his statutory duty.

Arrest by private person

The right of private arrest exists only in two situations. In the first situation, a private person is allowed to arrest any person who commits a non-bailable and arrestable offense in his view or presence (Section 39 of NPA, 2020). The person making the arrest must hand over the offender to the nearest police officer or police station without unnecessary delay.

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Powers Of The Police To Search

Search is the inspection or examination of what a person considers private to him. Search is carried out with respect to persons, things or premises. The purpose of the search is to detect incriminating objects against the accused. It is an examination of a person’s body, vehicle, house, premises, etc with a view to discovering contraband, illicit or stolen property, or some evidence of guilt to be used in the prosecution of a criminal action for some other crime or offense with which he is charged (see Section 48 of NPA, 2020).

There are three types of search viz.:

  • Search of persons;
  • Search of premises;
  • Search of things.

Search of persons

Whenever a person is arrested by a police officer or private person, the police officer may search the person upon arrest. However, search of a person must be carried out with utmost regard for decency and human dignity. That is why it is trite that a male police officer should search man, it is not expected for a male police officer to search a woman (see Section 53 of NPA, 2020). In fact, a female police should search a female. But this does not prevent a male police officer to search things extraneous to the female. Example is handbags and does not stop a female police from searching a man, but with a due regard for decency and human dignity.

Search of premises

For premises to be searched, a search warrant must be obtained by the police. It can be issued by a magistrate or judge or police officer above the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police. The Law requires a police man to submit himself to search firstly before search of premises to avoid incriminating such premises. Before the execution of a search warrant, there must be the presence of at least two respectable persons in the neighborhood. It should be noted that the police can search or recover any incriminating object not included in the search list (Section 49 (3) of NPA, 2020).

However, where a person by his complaint sets the law in motion against another resulting in the illegal arrest and detention of that person, he will be liable to that person in court. It has been established in Fowler v Doherty ld/13A/67, where the Supreme Court held that the defendant is liable on the ground that nothing incriminating was found in the appellant’s house and there was no reasonable cause for the defendant to suspect the appellant. It should be noted also that a search warrant can be issued at any time including Sundays and public holidays (Section 59 (3) of NPA, 2020) but can only be executed in broad daylight.

Search of things

The Police are empowered to conduct searches on things. Things in this regard, can be vehicle, aircraft or ship as may be necessary to uncover incriminating objects. A police officer may conduct a search of a thing which he reasonably believes contains anything unlawful and such a search can be conducted without a search warrant. This is derived from his general duty to prevent and detect the commission of crimes – Section 4 of the NPA, 2020.

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Powers Of The Police To Bail

Bail means the temporary release of a suspect pending the hearing and determination of a court trial. The main reason for issuing bail is to prevent illegal detention and deprivation of the fundamental right to personal liberty and fair hearing as enshrined in the provisions of Section 35 & Section 36 of the CFRN 1999 (as altered) respectively.

The types of bail are categorized into three as follows:

  • Bail pending investigation;
  • Bail pending trial;
  • Bail pending appeal.

Bail pending investigation

It is also known as bail. Where the investigation of an allegation or matter is not fully completed, the police are mandated to grant bail pending thorough investigation ( Section 63 (1) of NPA,2020). The nature of the offense however determines whether or not a bail will be granted. The police cannot in any way grant bail on capital offenses (Section 62 (3) of NPA, 2020).

Bail pending trial

It is the bail pending the determination and conclusion of a lawsuit. The granting of bail in this instance depends on the discretion of the court on the nature of the offense see Abacha v. state, (2002) 6 NWLR pt 710 (765).

Bail pending appeal

Where a criminal has been convicted of a criminal offense before a trial court, there is no instance of presumption of innocence as enshrined in the Section 36 (5) of the CFRN 1999 (as altered). However, the granting of bail in this respect is based on the discretion of the court in relation to the condition and circumstances of the convict.

Terms of Bail

This implies the conditions and grounds upon which a bail is established and how bail demands are granted and met. It is essential to note that terms of a bail must not be too strict for the accused person to comply with. Wherein it is, the accused person can apply to the higher court for the review of such terms of bail. See the case of Ukatu v. C.O.P. (2001) 6 NWLR Part 710. Thus, bail may be granted on the following terms:

  • Bail on self Recognition: the court rarely grants bail on self recognition except where the accused person is a popular person in the society and there is an assurance of not jumping bail if granted.
  • Bail with bond: it implies an undertaking that the accused will stand his trial.
  • Bail with bond and surety: it implies the assurance of the appearance of the accused person by the surety bond. Bail will be forfeited if the accused person fails to appear before the court.

Conclusively, it is clear from the foregoing that the police are adequately and sufficiently vested with the powers and duties needed for the effective administration of criminal justice in a state.


“Police Power: New Police Act, Same Officers | Premium Times Nigeria”

“Know About The Different Types of Arrest”

“Arrest – Wikipedia”


“CrPC Section 175 – Power to summon persons |”

“Powers of the Police and the Rights of A Person upon Arrest – The Street Lawyers”

Image Credit: Reuters

About Author

Rofiat Popoola is a first year law student at the prestigious University of Ilorin, Nigeria. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Common Law. She is an ardent writer and researcher who prides in writing on contemporary issues affecting her country as a whole. She joined LawGlobal Hub in January, 2023.

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