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When Will The Nigeria Police Stop Dabbling Into Civil Matters?

Kehinde Adegbite

The message landed in my phone from an unknown number but on reading his message, the messenger happens to be a known person who I have not seen for years.

He said he needed my advice and wanted to know when he could give me a call. I replied by telling him to call me in 30 minutes’ time which he did.

On what subject did he want my advice?

At first, I didn’t know until he called and narrated his story but as a lawyer, it’s not strange to me to be contacted for advice by persons who got hold of my number by whatever means.

In his own case, being a web developer, a customer contacted him to develop his website and the web developer charged the customer N100,000 which he paid in full at once.

Upon the receipt of the money, the web developer didn’t hesitate to set out to do his work. So, he also immediately paid for domain, hosting and some logos which are materials necessary to develop the site. In all, he said he spent N70,000 out of the N100,000 for those materials.

The web developer sent the logos to the customer so that the latter could make his choice as to which template he preferred but instead of saying he didn’t like all the logos, the customer said his money should be returned to him and that he was no longer interested in the site.

The web developer, on the other hand, couldn’t refund the money because he had spent a huge chunk of it to buy materials for the work. Yet, he was able to refund about N20,000 to the customer but the customer re-transferred the money to him, saying that the amount refunded was too small.

The next thing that followed was that the customer took the matter to the Police and an Officer contacted the web developer on phone, asking him to refund the customer’s money.

With the Police intervention, the web developer didn’t mind to refund the money but just yesterday, the matter took a new dimension.

The web developer was called from the Police Station again and this time, he was asked to report at the Station unfailingly on Monday, that’s tomorrow 18 April 2022, or else he will be arrested and charged to court because, according to the Officer who called him yesterday, his superior Officer was already complaining that the web developer ought to have been invited to the Station, be detained and only be released on bail so that he would know the gravity of his offence.

But the question is – what offence? What offence does the web developer commit in that circumstance?

Is the matter between the web developer and his customer not a mere civil matter, a contractual relationship?

Why should the Police be involved in a matter like this?

This case is just one out of many that get reported to me from time to time.

There’s another one that I will take to court in two days’ time.

My client sold land to a woman outside the country but suddenly, the woman abroad changed her mind after possession of the land has been given to her and after she has started spending money to do some work on it. She wanted her money back.

Of course, my client ignored her but before we could say Jack Robinson, she reached out to some persons in EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), leading to the arrest and detention of my client for days as if she had committed a crime for selling land.

Apart from detaining her, the agency asked my client to return the money paid to her for the land.

Is EFCC or the Police a  debt recovery agency?

Stories are plenty where the Police and other law enforcement agencies dabble into matters that have no bearing of criminality.

How many Nigerians can challenge the Police in court in situations like this and how many even know that it’s wrong and illegal for the Police to arrest and detain them for non-criminal, pure civil matters?

The law is clear on this – section 8 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 says – _A suspect shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract._ 

Judgments of superior courts abound frowning at the involvement of the Police and other law enforcement agencies in civil matters or acting as debt recovery agency.

As I don’t intend to bore you with many judicial pronouncements on this issue, I will cite only one.

In _Ken Nwafor V EFCC (2021) Legalpedia (CA) 31150,_ the Court held:

“It is true that notwithstanding enormous powers and duties conferred by law on the EFCC, the Respondent, under the EFCC Act 2004 and all such other laws enabling it in that behalf, the EFCC is not saddled with the authority to interfere with and meddle into disputes of purely civil nature between Citizens in contracts of which the law courts are best suited and appropriately empowered by the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to deal with as they are presented before the courts as parties. In other words, and simply put, it is neither the duty nor the power or function of the EFCC to serve as agents of any person, be it an individual or a corporate citizen or even the Government at either the Federal or State or Local Government level, to collect debts from debtors, under any guise or pretext of investigating a crime in a purely civil dispute without any tinge of criminality.”

The quoted words put it aptly but the question is – when will the Nigeria Police stop dabbling into civil matters?

Perhaps, they may stop when citizens become more aware of their rights and rise to assert them where violated by the Police or other law enforcement agencies.



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