In recent times, the modus operandi of law enforcement agencies, especially officers of the Nigeria Police Force and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has come under scrutiny — particularly on issues of arrests, search warrants, and the parade of suspects.
In the past few days, the EFCC has faced criticism over the invasion of the residence of Dorathy Bachor, an ex-BBNaija housemate.
On August 23, the reality TV star said operatives of the EFCC broke into her house around 4:45am. She claimed that the operatives broke down the door to her house, almost causing her mum a panic attack.
Bachor added that when she demanded an explanation for the forced entry, she was told that they were chasing a suspect who ran into her estate.
The incident elicited public outcry from many Nigerians who criticised the anti-graft agency. Amid the criticism, the EFCC said its operatives had knocked on the door of Bachor’s apartment to execute a search warrant in order to arrest suspects of a crime.
Wilson Uwujaren, the EFCC spokesperson, said the operatives were denied access into the apartment, prompting them to “force their way” in.
Following the explanation, many Nigerians have been talking about the legality of the EFCC’s action.
THE POSITION OF THE LAW
What is a search warrant? It is an order which is issued by a magistrate or judge to law enforcement agents for the purpose of conducting a search on a person or place.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 explains how a search warrant should be executed by officers of law enforcement agencies.
Section 146 of the ACJA 2015 states that a search warrant shall be assented to by a judge, magistrate, or justice of peace and shall remain in force until it is executed or cancelled by the court which issued it.
On the timing of the execution of a search warrant, section 148 of the ACJA 2015 states that a search warrant may be executed “anytime” of the day.
The section states “a search warrant may be issued and executed at any time on any day, including a Sunday or public holiday”.
IS FORCE ALLOWED WHEN ENFORCING SEARCH WARRANTS?
Section 149 (1) of the ACJA provides that a person residing in a building shall allow a law enforcement agent to get free and unhindered access to carry out a search.
Section 149 (2) allows the reasonable use of force when access cannot be obtained by the officers executing the search warrant.
It reads: “Where any building or other thing or place liable to search is closed, a person residing in or being in charge of the building, thing or place shall, on demand of the police officer or other person executing the search warrant allow him free and unhindered access to it and afford all reasonable facilities for its search. Where access into the building, thing or place cannot be obtained, the police officer or other person executing the search warrant may proceed in the manner prescribed by section 9, 10, 12, and 13 of this Act.”
WHAT’S THE MANNER PRESCRIBED BY SECTIONS 9 AND 12?
Section 9(1) states: “Where a suspect is arrested by a police officer or a private person, the officer making the arrest or to whom the private person hands over the suspect: (a) May search the suspect, using such force as may be reasonably necessary for the purpose.”
Section 12(2) states: “Where access to a house or place cannot be obtained under subsection (1) of this section, the person or police officer may enter the house or place and search it for the suspect to be arrested, and in order to effect an entrance into the house or place, may break open any outer or inner door or window of any house or place, whether that of the suspect to be arrested or of any other person or otherwise effect entry into such house or place, if after notification of his authority and purpose, and demand of admittance duly made, he cannot obtain admittance.”