DOES THE POLICE HAVE THE RIGHT TO STOP AND SEARCH?
The Police Act in Section 29, states that a police officer ‘…may detain and search any person whom he reasonably suspects of having in his possession or conveying in any manner anything which he has reason to believe to have been stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained.’
Therefore, the police have the power to search, however, it is not absolute. There has to be a reasonable suspicion that the person has stolen or unlawfully obtained property in his/her possession. That is the position of the law. The test to decide what is reasonable, is something referred to as the ‘objective test’ i.e. whether a reasonable man would have conducted the search of a person in the circumstances.
Therefore, in determining whether a search carried out in you is an unreasonable one, you would have to look at your circumstances. For instance, did you sufficiently identify yourself if asked to by the police? Did you answer any of their questions satisfactorily? If you did, then it might be argued that there were no reasonable grounds for the search. If the police officer did not have any reasonable grounds for suspicion, then you might be able to sue for unlawful search and harassment. An unlawful search is also a violation of your right to privacy guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution.
CAN THE POLICE SEARCH MY PHONE, LAPTOP OR ELECTRONIC DEVICE?
The police have a right to search phones and laptops, however this search can only be performed if a search warrant has been issued. If the police officer does not have a warrant to search your phone or laptop or other electronic device then any search carried out is an illegal one.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE STOPPED
We always urge caution in any relation with security officials for your own safety. If you are stopped, you should follow the below steps:
When you are stopped, make note of the officers’ names. Answer all their questions satisfactorily and do not antagonise them. If upon answering their questions they request a search, tell them that you do not believe that they have reasonable grounds to request a search as you believe you have answered their questions satisfactorily. If the officer insists, then comply, however, inform them that you will be raising a formal complaint of unlawful search of you and your property. If officer proceeds with search, comply fully. After search is completed, you should either raise a formal complaint, or you may look to engage the services of a lawyer to make a formal complaint and potentially instigate a suit and claim compensation for unlawful search and harassment.
We should also note that if you are a female person and you were physically searched, then any search performed on you must only be conducted by a female officer, this is the position of the law, and a physical search on you by a male officer would be unlawful.
Oladimeji A. Opeyemi is a final year law student at the National Open University of Nigeria. He is an Human Right Advocate, Legal Analyst and a Social Reformer.
Reach him on: firstname.lastname@example.org or 08106198930, 08060652527.