Before January 15, 2019, Baban Timothy, a resident of Anguwan Chamba in Yola, Adamawa State, has had nothing to do with police but his ordeal on this date and thereafter changed his view of Nigerian cops.
It was few hours after noon when some officers thumped their daring bangs on Timothy’s door. The police officers were in search of his son, Timothy Irmiya, and another suspect, Saddam, both of them at large.
They have been accused of causing the death of Emmanuel Hassan (Dogo), a student of Adamawa state Polytechnic and are now wanted.
Timothy Irmiya was not at home and the 63-year-old had told the unnerving cops but they would have none of those explanations. He was taken into custody immediately.
"I was taken to the state CID and interrogated about the whereabouts of my son. I told them I've not seen him for about two days and I had no way of knowing his whereabouts at the time. But I assured them I will support the police in investigation; yet they refused to let me be, but took me into custody.
"I felt sad that my son was accused of killing somebody, but to be candid I was also disappointed that I could be arrested for my son's offense.
"As I speak with you, I was admitted to bail with all sorts of conditions, but up till now, I've no idea where my son has gone to," he said of his experience.
Timothy’s case is not an isolated one.
It is the sad reality many residents of Adamawa, one of the country’s North-east states face in the hands of Nigeria Police Force
Disregard For Law
In Nigeria, the police have continued to arrest and detain family members of wanted suspects, in flagrant abuse of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). The act promulgated in 2015 forbids the police to arrest a citizen in lieu of another.
But more often than not, officers of the federal police do this, and with impunity.
The ACJA 2015, which was domesticated in Adamawa state in 2018 clearly prohibits the arrest of a person in lieu of those wanted by the police or any of the Criminal Justice Institutions.
Part 2 (7) of the act, states in no ambiguous words that "a person shall not be arrested in place of a suspect".
This provision notwithstanding, there are hundreds, and possibly thousands of cases of arrest in lieu in Adamawa State currently.
For instance, six victims of arrest in lieu, as covered in this report; are on bail with cases pending at the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Their bails were considered after parting with money illegally.
Ardo Misa, 75-year-old from Nassarawo, Demsa Local Government Area, was also arrested and detained for three days to produce his son, Umaru, who was a suspect in another murder case.
Mr Misa was informed by the officers that his son, Umaru, was implicated in a homicide case.
"I was up early on the fateful day, early February to see what little milk I could get to milk from my cows, only for me to meet about five armed policemen right in front of my house. That being my first encounter, I was frightened, more so that they spoke to me harshly. 'We came to arrest Umaru; we learnt he's your son', they said.
"I replied to them that I've truly not seen him for a while, so they said I must come with them. They arrested me right there in front of my house at Nassarawo Demsa, without the courtesy of telling my wives where they were taking me to. It was after a day, my family got to know I was detained at the state CID.
"I was detained for three days, and was admitted to bail after paying a fee to that effect. My problem is that I don't even know if my son is alive by the way. I was detained in a dark, overcrowded and stinking cell. My people brought me food from home all those days...do you understand how it feels like at my age to be locked up in a cell with young people?” a visibly traumatised Misa said.
However, his travails with the officers did not stop even after being illegally detained for three days. Often the officers come in search of his son and for each of this visit, he parts with some amount of money as ‘bribe'.
"They released me on bail but they threatened that I have to find ways to bring Umaru to face the law, if not they'll re-arrest me some day. As if that is not enough, from time to time the police would come by, looking for Umaru, but they would demand for money any time they're around.
"One of those days, I told them I hadn't any money, but they threatened to go with me; my wife had to go into her savings to give them something before they allowed me. As you see me, I get scared, even by mere seeing a policeman or a police van on the road, because I feel they may be coming after me," he narrated.
In Vimtim, the birthplace of former Chief of Air Staff, late Alex Badeh, two septuagenarians, Joseph Tiva and Adamu William, both community leaders were arrested by the police officers to produce some youths in their community in April this year.
The youths allegedly mobbed and vandalised a car of a security operative attached to the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, in last March.
The polytechnic guard was reportedly clubbed to death in a mob action by irate youths from Vimtim, a community in Mubi North Local Government, over land boundary dispute.
Tiva and William, who were detained at the state CID for more than one week, disclosed that they have been battling with trauma since spending two days in police custody.
Worse is life with bail conditions.
For the two men, travelling out of Vimtim could be a arduous task as they their bail conditions involve seeking police approval for such a journey.
They were also made to commit themselves to fishing out the suspects before they are freed from the hook, an assignment they’ve been unable to discharge and until the suspects are found, their bail conditions stand active.
Same was the experience for Suleiman Muhammadu, 65, and Idris Abdullahi, 63, both from Shelleng, in Shelleng Local Government.
They were recently granted bail after spending three days in police custody for a crime they knew nothing about.
They were in police net in lieu of their sons, Buba and Mu'azu. Both are said to be prime suspects in a case of kidnap around the Numan axis of the state.
When asked if they were aware of an act prohibiting arrest in lieu, all the victims interviewed responded in the negative.
We Don’t Arrest In Lieu –Police
Audu Madaki, Commissioner of Police, Adamawa State Command, denied there was any arrest in lieu, under his watch.
"Mr. Journalist, I can tell you that under my watch nothing like arrest in proxy happens,” he said.
"About the case you asked me of, let me tell you what I know; I'm aware a man was arrested and detained because of concealment and abetting a suspect who happens to be his son to evade arrest.
"I do not have his name handy, but I think it could be one of those men you're talking about. I'm aware, of the case of a man from Mubi who was arrested because his son was wanted, and we were informed that his father was concealing him, that's why we arrested him," he said.
The commissioner went ahead to narrate how acting on credible intelligence, he arrested a father to produce a member of his family.
He explained further, "And get me clearly, if the law catches you on concealment and abetting a suspect to evade arrest, the law empowers the police to arrest and even prosecute you.
"When I served as Area Commander in Lagos, I was honoured by the department of public prosecution because a family was concealing one of their own who was defiling people's children.
"Acting on credible intelligence, I decided to arrest the head of the family, relying on concealment and abetting suspects to evade arrest and it worked.
"And I make bold to say that long before the ACJA, arrest in proxy has been prohibited by the criminal procedure act. So I don't understand all the hullabaloo about the ACJA.”
Approach Illegal –Lawyers
Some lawyers said the approach by the commissioner is alien to provisions of known laws.
Barrister Joseph William, a lawyer, queried the possibility of proving a case of concealment and aiding a suspect to evade arrest.
"You see section 9 of Adamawa state Criminal Justice Law, prohibits arrest in lieu. Just like the ACJA, the Adamawa law also states that, 'a person shall not be arrested in place of a suspect'.
“But the police would always try to beat the system by claiming they're effecting such an arrest because the person aided or concealed a suspect. But the question is how can you prove that in a law court? Look, it is not possible for anybody to prove this.
"Therefore, there is everything legally wrong about arresting a father because his son was allegedly caught on the wrong side of the law," William argued.
On how a person could be deemed to have been preventing the arrest of a suspect, William said the police needs more than mere relationship.
"The person must have been at the scene of the crime when it was committed and also knows the person(s) suspected of the crime. Even at that, he is liable only if he or she refuses to assist the police with relevant information," he said.
Corroborating William, another lawyer, Barrister Leader Leneke, said the police only has a right to invite in cases of suspicion and not arrest.
He explained, "The police must prove that the person has knowledge of not just the crime but also the whereabouts of the suspect(s). What this means is that if the police think you can be helpful in their quest to get a suspect, they have the right to invite you but not to arrest and/or detain you."
He likened the method of the Adamawa CP in getting suspect by arresting their parents as ‘Kangaroo approach.’
Leneke said, "This is a kangaroo approach. It’s alien to our jurisprudence, because both the ACJA and the Administration of Criminal Justice Law have prohibited arrest in lieu.
"Therefore, using the method is nothing but intimidation. And you know, the Nigeria Police thrives on the intimidation of suspects."
Despite the commissioner’s position, sources within the police told this reporter that officers regularly arrest in lieu and that the method helps nab real suspects.
A police Area Commander in Yola, Adamawa state, who does not want to be named because he is not authorised to speak on the matter said the method ‘helps’ the force.
"It is unlawful to arrest a person in place of a suspect, no matter their relationship…but it helps to force suspects out of hiding," he said.
How Victims Can Seek Redress --Lawyer
Barrister Sunday Wugira, a rights activist based in Yola, said victims arrest can seek redress in a law court to enforce their fundamental rights.
He advised such persons to approach a court of law relying on provisions of section 35 (6) of the 1999 constitution as amended to seek compensation.
"Section 35 (6) states, 'Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person; and in this subsection, 'the appropriate authority or person' means an authority or person specified by law.
"By this provision any victim of arrest in lieu can approach a law court or give any lawyer a brief to seek compensation from a court of competent jurisdiction.
"In case the person is so poor or illiterate, they can discuss their ordeal with family members, friends, or members of their community who may in turn link them up with available legal aide organisations.
"It is a simple matter, you can walk into any law court or law firm, as it were and narrate your experience; I guarantee that to you'll get a listening ear," he said.
This report was funded by The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).