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I remember a time when it was regular to see police officers mounting road blocks on Nigerian roads. The police used these road blocks as a means for searching vehicles they suspected of transporting unlawful items or suspicious persons. However, it was largely recorded that officers also used this opportunity to extort motorists, sometimes by accusing such motorists of an illegality or by outright demand for a settlement or cash gift. Incredibly, though, the Police hierarchy outlawed check points and they have gradually become a thing of the past.
Nigerians, however, still deliberate over the right/power of the police to stop and search a vehicle or its passenger without a search warrant. For instance,when a police officer waves you down and demands to search your vehicle without a warrant or a reasonable cause in your opinion, couldn’t it be termed a form of harassment? Truth is, the Nigerian police have a very wide range of powers in line with their mandate to provide adequate peace and security to every Nigerian and in regard to searching persons they are covered by the provisions of the Police Act, which states in Section 29 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.
The above law empowers the police to search any person but the law does not define the elements that must exist before a policeman can be said to reasonably be suspicious of anyone, this part of interpretation is often left to the police officer. Therefore, a person with a beard can be reasonably suspected of being a terrorist or a youth with a tattoo or dreadlocks can be reasonably suspected to be a misfit or hooligan.
This lacuna leaves room for unscrupulous officers to still take advantage of the law and extort motorists, however, the Police must always be commended for their efforts in fighting crime and keeping the streets safe and its such powers as that contained in the above Section 29 that enables them to do so. If you are ever stopped by a police officer, I recommend you pull over and do exactly what he says, he has the authority to do so and remember that not everyone who stood up to Nigerian policeman lived to tell the tale, we still have trigger happy officers in the police force.