Whether The Nigeria Police Force Is A Debt Recovery Institution? A Case Study Of Habeeb Okikiola (AKA Portable)

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By Rabiu Aliyu 

It is not an uncommon practice in today’s Nigeria for creditors to use law enforcement agents like the police, civil defense and military officers to intimidate debtors so that they can pay their debts, the court has on several occasions ruled against this practice and condemned it totally as unethical both on the part of the law enforcement agents and the creditors who engage them for such unlawful endeavour.

On Tuesday May 14, 2024. The police in lagos state, southwest Nigeria arrested popular musician, Habeeb Okikiola popularly Known as portal. The arrest was as a result of a debt he incurred after buying a Mercedes Benz G-Wagon from a car dealer in the state. The arrest as seen in viral video online, the police assaulted singer Portable which is not only illegal, unethical and immoral but also totally condemned and uncalled for.

It is a trite and settled law that Nigeria police is not a debt recovery institution in any way.

Interestingly, section 4 of the Nigeria Police Act 2020 provided that, “the police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as it may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other act”.

In essence, the core functions of the Nigeria police force is to fight crime, prevent the commission of crimes and protect the lives of citizens and their properties.

Similarly, Debt recovery or delving into the arena of civil dispute is not covered as one of their functions and whenever the police delve into a civil dispute they are acting ultra vires (i.e. beyond their power) which is only orchestrated by corruption and abuse of power.

Furthermore, section 32 (2) under the Part VI (Powers of Police Officers) of the Nigerian Police Act 2020 stipulates that the police should not be involved in issues of civil wrong or breach of contract.

The section states “a person shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract”.

For the sake of emphasis, section 8(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 states verbatim the provision of section 32 (2) of the Police Act.

Fast forward, the court in a plethora of cases have ruled that the police are not debt collectors and should not be involved in activities that involve debt recovery.

At this juncture, I will refer you to the case of McLaren & Ors V Jennings (2003) 3 NWLR (pt.808) 470. the appeal court ruled that debt collection is not part of the duties of the police.

Also, in the case of Kure v C.O.P (2020) 9 NWLR (pt 1729)296. The apex court ruled that issues involving breach of contract are not part of the primary duties of the police, while wondering how the police could “easily metamorphose” a civil matter to a criminal case.

In the same vain, in the case of Oceanic Securities Int. Ltd V. Balogun & Ors (2012) LPELR-9218, the court expressly mentioned that;

“it has been stated many times that the police has no business in enforcement of debt settlements or recovering of civil debts for banks or anybody”.

See also the case of Na Allah v Kafar Kade (Nig) Ltd (2020) LPELR-49596 (CA), Okafor & Anor v AIG Police Zone II Onikan & Ors (2019) LPELR – 46505 (CA), etc.

The police, being interested in debt recovery matter could only mean that they are likely to have collected money from the complainant, or perhaps have entered a deal of what they will get with the complainant. This is why most police officers always try to get involved in civil disputes, especially in debt recovery. They often enter into a deal with the complainant to take off a certain amount of percentage from the money when the money have been recovered. It happen many times and for sure no police officer can feign ignorance to this.

Therefore, a police officer becoming a debt collector makes a total mockery of the force but due to corruption in the force, they have claimed blind, deaf and dumb and make it an order of the day.

However, where there’s allegation of fraud, the police and other law enforcement agencies may be use to bring the suspect in and employ the adequate measures under the Nigeria law to recover the debt. It is pertinent to know that a creditor who uses law enforcement agents to recover debt, when there is no allegation of fraud does not only violate the law, but also open the door for debtor to bring an action against them for breach of their fundamental right.

 

This breach can be as a result of criminal assault, false imprisonment or criminal intimidation which are contrary to the provisions of chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended ).

 

The act of the police in case of singer Portable is contrary to the provisions of chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), moreover the section 46 (1) of the constitution provides that “ Any person who alleges that any of the provisions of this chapter has been, is being or likely to be contravened in any state in relation to him may apply to High court in the state for redress “ therefore, by the dint of this provision, singer Portable institutes against the Nigeria police for the violation of his Fundamental rights.

This is also an indictment on the citizens who help police abuse their powers by taking civil disputes to the police. The proper procedure is, if you are being owed or if you are aggrieved by anything else that falls under the purview of civil dispute is for you to go to court.

Go to court for the recovery of the debts and seek other accruing damages the court can grant, the court has the jurisdiction and never the police. Moreover, section 6 (6)(b) of the 1999 Constitution confers judicial powers to court to entertain all civil matters and not the police.

For clarity, it provides: Sec. 6(6)(b) “…. to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person”

In Nigeria, we have other laws that are associated with debt recovery among which are Nigeria:-

– Companies And Allied Matters Act (CAMA) CAP C20. LFN, (as amended) 2020.

– Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2019.

– High Court Civil Procedure Rules of Various States.

– Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria Act (as amended), 2019

– Bankruptcy Act, CAP B2, LFN 2004.

Therefore, it is imperative to state that, the act of the police to singer Portable is arbitral, barbaric and uncalled for in any civil society. Finally, you should go to court for your civil disputes, the court has jurisdiction and never the police. The police are not a debt recovery institution or in any confer with the power or jurisdiction to entertain civil matters.

About the Author

Rabiu Aliyu is a LL.B 3 student at faculty of law, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with keen interest in legal writing, advocacy and good governance.

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