When private security guards dare Nigeria Police in Lagos
As the country’s security challenges fester, individuals, institutions and communities are increasingly putting measures in place to protect themselves from marauding gangs of criminals.
In urban centres like Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna, and rural communities across the country, Nigerians are taking it upon themselves to secure their lives, property and environment as the efforts of the security agencies appear to be insufficient. As a result, roadblocks mounted by vigilante groups are common sights in many rural roads across the country today. In the cities, estate gates and street gates are being built/rebuilt with vigour, and the private security guards employed by the residents associations to man them are usually given very strict orders on how the estate/street should be accessed.
However, last Saturday’s incident at Magodo Brooks Estate gate in Lagos metropolis, where private security guards manning the gate tried to stop the Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, from entering the estate and were arrested, has raised many posers.
On that fateful day, Odumosu reportedly needed to see someone at the estate but the security guards insisted that he must go through all the protocols, which include calling his host and getting permission before being allowed to pass through the gate.
According to social media reports, the commissioner of police refused to comply with the directive and ordered arrest of all the security guards on duty at the gate. He then stationed policemen at the gate. The confrontation reportedly resulted in gridlock in the area.
But the official account of the incident by the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Adekunle Ajisebutu, debunked the social media reports.
Ajisebutu said the CP visited the estate to meet a strategic partner at a function after going around, visiting some places in the state to ensure safety of life and property in Lagos. He said Odumosu was accompanied by his security details and driven in his official car bearing an official number plate and a pennant, including all the paraphernalia of office.
“On reaching the estate gate, he was properly introduced, notwithstanding the visible security details in uniform, including a dispatch rider in his convoy, yet he was prevented from entering the estate by some overzealous private security guards.
“All appeals to the security men to allow the CP go to see someone at a function where an urgent matter bordering on security was to be discussed fell on deaf ears even when they had foreknowledge of his coming.
“In spite of this deliberate humiliation, the senior police officer remained calm. When it became obvious that the security men were going overboard, the CP, after about 30 minutes of humiliation, ordered the arrest of four of the security men, leaving one.
“However, not to make the estate porous, the police commissioner immediately posted well-armed policemen at the gate to support the security man left behind.
“A few minutes later, a female resident of the estate, identified as Adebola Fatiregun, who didn’t witness the incident but heard of it, stormed the gate in anger, inciting other residents against the commissioner of police and his aides.
“She was also arrested for inciting violence and conduct likely to cause a breach of peace,” Ajisebutu said.
The police spokesman confirmed that those arrested were taken to the Isheri Police Division where they made statements and were subsequently released a few minutes later, following the intervention of notable individuals.
He said: “At no time did the commissioner shut or lock down the estate. The police boss could not have done that for whatever reason, knowing that the estate is a residential one.
“Some residents of the estate in solidarity with the arrested security men deliberately closed the gate, thereby creating a temporary gridlock. This they did after the CP had left, perhaps, to blackmail him and make him release the security men.”
The questions, therefore, are: What does the Nigeria Police Act says about movement of policemen? What is the position of the law with regard to the operations of private security organisations? Did the guards at the gate breach any law? How can clashes between the police and private security outfits be avoided?
According to Ajisebutu, the 1999 Constitution provides for freedom of movement.
“The police in particular are statutorily permitted to enter any public place at any time. The Brooks Estate is a public place and the roads leading into it are highways and as such, no one has the power to prevent police officers in uniform from entering the estate or any such public places.
“The internal security arrangements of estates and other public places nonetheless, the statutory powers of the police to have unfettered access to public places must be acknowledged and respected.
“Managements or authorities of estates in the state are advised to constantly brief their private security guards in this regard. Any restriction deliberately put in the way of the police in any of the estates will not be tolerated. Offenders will be dealt with according to the law, just as the police will not condone any form of embarrassment and recklessness,” he said.
But a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, feels the CP “owes every person that he arrested an apology.”
Effiong, in his reaction to the incident on Twitter, described Odumosu’s action as abuse of power, saying since the CP’s visit to the estate was ‘private’, he was confined by law to subject himself to the protocol of the estate.
“The argument that the CP of Lagos State can enter any place without being questioned is legally unfounded.
“Since his visit to Magodo Brooks Estate was private, it was perfectly within the right of the private guards at the estate to have subjected him to the usual clearance protocol of the estate.
“Even if his visit was official, it was necessary for him to identify himself and state his purpose. No reasonable person will believe the statement by the PPRO. The CP could not have been denied access into the estate by the guards for the fun of it.
“It is true that the police have the right to enter any place in a state to carry-out search, effect arrest or discharge such other official functions. However, this power is not limitless; it is subject to certain procedures.
“Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution guarantees citizens the right to privacy, including privacy of their homes. For the police to search the home of a citizen, a search warrant must be produced and the officers seeking to carry out the search must first subject themselves to be searched to forestall planting of incriminating items by the officers.
“The CP claims he went to the estate for a strategic security-related meeting. Magodo Brooks Estate, to the best of my knowledge, is a strictly residential estate. It is not a place where government business is carried out.
“For the CP to arrest security guards because they simply asked him to call the particular resident of the estate whose private party or event he came to attend is nothing but gross abuse of power.
“It is immaterial that the CP moved around with his security team. Any nonentity with money in this country can hire dozens of policemen, and even military officers, to move around with him.
“Had there been proper communication prior to the CP’s visit, he would have been cleared immediately he arrived. It is preposterous for Mr. Odumosu to expect the guards to panic and open the access gate upon sighting his convoy.
“That will amount to dereliction of their duty. If we are going to change this country, we must stop venerating public officers as demi-gods. In Nigeria, we have become accustomed to arbitrariness and abuse of power by public officials. This action by Odumosu is illegal and reprehensible. Odumosu owes every person that he arrested an apology.”
Speaking in the same vein, the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) asked the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba, to investigate Odumosu over what it termed “misuse of privilege.”
In a statement by its chairman, Olanrenwaju Suraju, HEDA also asked Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to apologise to victims of Odumosu’s “breach of public peace and violation of human rights.”
The group added: “It was reported and admitted by the force that the commissioner of police was on a ‘private social visit’ to a friend holding a function in the estate, thus, was expected to act in a civil manner, befitting his class in the society.
“More so, it was expected of Mr. Odumosu to show a sense of mental maturity by playing by the rules guiding entry and exit of the estate executed by the security guards.
“As we know, there are rules guiding every territory. Since Mr. Commissioner was not going for a war (where protocol in an environment may be thwarted), one expects him to follow the un-bureaucratic due process at the main gate as it is obtained in every organised clime.
“We are not ignorant of those sentiments which triggered the CP’s actions against those diligent security guards. The brouhaha, particularly the gridlock at Isheri this incident has caused, is disturbing and highly condemnable.
“We are also not unaware that the Nigeria Police would not spare anyone who tries to disobey its protocol at the entry point of its facilities or anyone who resists its security personnel at the gate.
“If the public are expected to cooperate with the police at any point in time, why would the police not respect other people’s rules?”
A lead counsel at Ben-Wazieh & Ben-Wazieh Attorneys, Leke E. Ben-Wazieh, explained that the legal framework for the operations of private security guards cuts across the Private Guard Companies Act 1986, Private Guards Companies Regulations 2018 issued by the Minister of Interior, and general criminal, civil and constitutional law.
“Private security guard companies are generally registered as limited liability companies by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) with the activities of their directors being regulated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act. Though the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Police Act vest the architecture and responsibility for internal security of the country mainly in the Nigeria Police, the glaring security challenges facing the country gave rise to the high demand for private security outfits to complement the activities of the police and other public security agents by assisting them in intelligence gathering and effecting private citizens arrests, etc.
“The Private Guard Companies Act of 1986 which regulates the licensing of private security companies has many outdated provisions, and for the most part, some private security companies do not fully comply with the provisions of the Act,” he said.
Ben-Wazieh noted that though there is no law which prohibits the activities of licensed private security firms, the companies and their guards are subject to the criminal and civil laws of Nigeria and are generally regulated by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigeria Police under the agencies’ respective community policing policies.
On whether the security guards at the Magodo Brooks breached any law, Ben-Wazieh stated: “From the statement attributed to executive members of the Magodo Brooks Residents Association (MABRA), they claimed that the CP entered their estate to attend a social event at the instance of one of their residents.
“Whether the CP’s visit was in his private capacity as a private citizen attending a social function or in his capacity as a public servant with the intention of carrying out his official functions, as a police officer, of investigating crimes, effecting arrest, preventing crimes, etc, are sub-questions that should be addressed.
“If one is to rely on the premise of the above statement attributed to the executive members of MABRA, then the CP attending a social event does not qualify as an official or primary duty of a police officer and as such he may be attended to or treated as any private person would, provided such treatment/act is lawful.
“Another question would be to what extent the constitutionally guaranteed rights to property, privacy, movement, etc permit the private security guards, while acting on behalf of the property owners, to effect the estate’s rules regulating entry, exit and security within and around the estate.
“Furthermore, one might also question whether the timing of the visit affected the reaction of the security guards. In view of the rising tensions as a result of the recent invasion of Magodo Estate by security operatives, the marking of newly renovated houses for takeover and the alleged harassment of residents of Magodo Estate under the pretext of enforcing a declaratory judgment of the Supreme Court which is not executory in nature, the property owners/residents of the estate and the private security guards under their employ have since been on red alert.
“One might argue that under the above circumstances, the security guards acted proactively or on impulse to prevent another suspected invasion of the estate more especially where there is now a notorious culture among some public servants of not taking responsibility for actions linked to their offices and their feigning ignorance when actions of their overzealous agents backfire,” he said.
To the lawyer, the clash between the CP and security guards could have been avoided if there was proper communication between both parties.
“Furthermore, the roles, hierarchy and scope of authority between the police and private security outfits must be clearly defined in such a way as to reduce unnecessary friction. The growing misconception amongst some guards of private security firms of being only answerable to their employers and the vague definition of their roles usually lead to unhealthy friction between them and police.
“This lack of clear legal definition had led to a brief misunderstanding between the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu when the AGF stated that the setting up of the paramilitary organisation called Amotekun was illegal.
“The state governors as chief security officers of their respective states also have a major role to play in curbing incidences of friction between the police and private security companies’ guards. But as sad as it may sound, though Nigeria remains a federation, it does not practice true federalism and as such many state governors have little influence in regulating the affairs of the police.
“The very recent defiance of the directives of the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, by a Chief Superintendent of Police during an oral exchange between both parties at Magodo Estate is illustrative of this point.
“Though the powers of the Nigeria Police are wide by virtue of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Police Act, Administration of Criminal Justice laws and other enactments regulating the Nigeria Police, the powers are not without limits as they must act reasonably in compliance with relevant laws of the land to prevent abuse thereof or unnecessary friction with private security guards and citizens at large.”
Ben-Wazieh concluded that “restructuring the country to a more federal state and a strong political will to enforce sanctions against law breakers, irrespective of how highly positioned they are in society, will go a long way to make things better and reduce unnecessary friction.”