Assault on Police Officers, a serious Criminal Offence: Is Seun Kuti’s action justifiable?

By Chinaza Egwuatu

 




The internet is agog with the recent video showing Seun Kuti, a Nigerian singer, assaulting a Police Officer on duty in Lagos. According to him, the police officer tried to kill him and his family. There have also been other instances of Nigerians assaulting Police Officers on duty at various times, for various reasons.
In August 2018, one Babatunde was charged with assaulting a Police officer on duty in Osun State.

In December 2019, four Nigerians were charged at the Ikeja Magistrates’ Court for assaulting and unlawfully detaining a police officer. In the same 2019, two men were sentenced to two years imprisonment for attacking a policeman.


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In 2021, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Sunday Erhabor was assaulted on duty by a traffic offender. In the same year, another Assistant Superintendent of Police was assaulted by another civilian. In 2022, Mr. Billy Tokunbo was arrested for assaulting a policeman on duty and also driving against traffic. The perpetrators of these acts provided various reasons as their justifications.

One would ask, when can a police officer be assaulted under the Nigerian law? Is there any justification allowed by law?
Section 356 of the Criminal Code Act states that Any person who
(2) assaults, resists, or willfully obstructs a Police officer while acting in the execution of his duty, or any person acting in aid of a police officer while so acting; is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years (paraphrased).

Section 98 of the Police Act, 2020 provides thus: “A person who assaults, obstructs or resists a Police officer in the discharge of his duty, or aids or incites any other person to assault, obstruct or resist a police officer or other person aiding or assisting the Police officer in the discharge of his duty, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of ₦500,000 or imprisonment for a term of six months or both.

Assaulting a police officer is generally considered a criminal offence in most jurisdictions. Police officers are law enforcement officers and as such have a duty to uphold the law and maintain public safety, and any physical attack on them is taken seriously by legal systems. Such actions can result in criminal charges and legal consequences. Over the years, the Police have retained their efforts in providing protection for the lives and properties of citizens.

While we can agree that Police officers sometimes are unruly, unprofessional, and power-drunk in the exercise of their duties, that is not a justification for one to assault a Police officer. The rationale behind seriously criminalizing assault on police officers is the fact that the primary function of the Police under section 4 of the Police Act is a revered one, and ordinarily, the Police are expected to command respect towards the citizenry.

Section 4 of the Act provides thus The Police Force shall-
(a) prevent and detect crimes, and protect the rights and freedom of every person in Nigeria as provided in the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and any other law;
(b) maintain public safety, law and order;
(c) protect the lives and property of all persons in Nigeria;

There are several legal options available to Seun Kuti assuming he was truly maltreated by the Police officer in question as he claims.

The Police Act in section 131 (1) empowers the Inspector-General of Police to establish a Police Complaints Response Unit in the Force Headquarters and each of the Police Commands in all the States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.

Section 133 (1) The Unit shall receive-
(a) complaint or information of police officers’ misconduct from the public; or
(b) complaint of police officers’ misconduct from other police members or authority.
(2) The Unit may receive-
(a) any complaint alleging that the conduct complained of resulted in the death of or serious injury or other gross human rights violations;
(b) any complaint showing that a police officer may have committed a criminal offence; or
(c) any complaint which shows that a police officer is involved in an act constituting professional misconduct.

It follows that Seun Kuti’s defence or allegations that the police officer whom he was seen assaulting in the trending video tried to kill him and his family is not only unfounded but also lacks justification as the Act allows him a route to seek legal redress through the Police Force, which is by making a petition to the Inspector General of the Police or the Commissioner of Police, Lagos state as the case may be.

He also has an option of instituting an action against the Police officer or the Nigeria Police Force for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights. The provision of section 46 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) is to the effect that if a right as listed from sections 33 to 44 (Chapter 4) of the Constitution has been breached, is being breached, or is about to be breached in any State in Nigeria (including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja), such person may apply to a High Court in that state for redress.

Taking all these provisions into consideration, the significant point to note is that assaulting a Police officer is a serious offence in Nigeria, without any justification. Seun’s action cannot be treated as self-defence but instead, as a clear case of self-help which refers to an individual’s implementation of their legal rights without resorting to legal writ or consultation of higher authority.

The Laws provide no valid reason or justification to assault a police officer. Hence Seun Kuti is not justified in any way for whatsoever reason, for his assault on a Police officer. If found guilty in a trial, he will face the punishment provided by the law.

Chinaza Egwuatu, MCIArb is a Legal practitioner at Managing Partner at Summit Field

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