9 July 2013

Nigeria: Police Can't Prosecute Pipeline Vandals - Court

The authority of the police to prosecute crimes has again suffered a major blow as a Federal High Court sitting at Lokoja, Kogi State held that the police's power to prosecute pipelines vandals has been transferred to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

In a judgment delivered on June 17th, 2013, Justice I.E. Ekwo, said section 3 (1) (f) (vi) of the NSCDC Act (Amendment) Act 2007 has expressly conferred the authority to investigate offence of oil pipeline vandalizstion and to initiate proceedings thereto on behalf of the Attorney General of the Federation to NSCDC.

The judge said: "This means that even if it is the Nigeria Police that apprehended any person suspected to have committed such offence, it is the duty of the police to hand over such suspect to the NSCDC for prosecution."

The case that resulted in the judgment was a one-count charged filed by the police against one Abuh Daniel who was said to have loaded one big storex tank with crude oil without licence an offence contrary to and punishable under section 17 (a) and (b) Miscellaneous Offences Act. Cap M17 LFN 2004.

Upon perusing the charge, the judge suo motu raised the issue whether the Nigeria Police is the appropriate organ of government authorized by law to prosecute the offence.

He consequently asked the prosecutor and the defence to address him on the issue.

The judge noted that section 1 (1) (f) of the NSCDC (Amendment) Act which gave the NSCDC power to arrest with or without warrant, detain, investigate and institute legal proceedings by or in the name of the AGF against any person reasonably suspected to have committed any offence particularly involving power transmission lines, or oil pipelines, NIPOST cables, equipment and water board pipes has taken away the authority of the police to prosecute those who commit offence under the heads listed above.The judge said: "What is in contention here is not whether the Nigeria Police has authority to institute criminal proceedings in the name of the AGF as the learned prosecuting counsel has argued. I hold the opinion that the issue of the power of the Nigeria Police to institute criminal proceedings in courts has been settled.

"Police authority can by virtue of section 23 of the Police Act, Cap. 359 LFN; Section 56 of the Federal High Court Act, and section 174 of the Constitution institute and continue proceedings.

"What confronts the court in this matter is whether the Nigeria Police in view of section 3 (1) (f) (iv) of the NSCDC Act (as amended) which expressly gives authority to prosecute cases of oil pipeline vandalization to the NSCDC can exercise the power to institute criminal proceedings on the same subject matter."

The judge held that the provisions of the NSCDC Act were lucid and unambiguous.

He further held that the legislature had taken the authority to prosecute pipeline vandals from the police and conferred same on the NSCDC.

He consequently held that the proceeding instituted by the police was ultra vires the authority of the police and was therefore incompetent.

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