• Thursday, July 25, 2024
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‘Police have no business investigating civil breach of contract’

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The Appellants entered into an agreement with the 1st Respondent for the Appellants to provide quarrying services for which the 1st Respondent paid an advance of N5,500,000 (Five Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira).

The Appellants commenced work and later requested for a revision of the contract. The 1st Respondent refused the request and asked for a refund of the advance paid. The appellants paid back N2,400,000 (Two Million Four Hundred Thousand Naira) to the 1st Respondent having alas alleged by them, already expended N2,00,000 (Two Million Naira).

Dissatisfied with the perceived part repayment, the 1st Respondent reported the matter to the police. 1st and 2nd appellants were arrested and detained until the following day after they had each made a statement to the police. The police escorted the 2nd Appellant to her bank and compelled her to withdraw the sum of N970,000 (Nine Hundred and Seventy Thousand Naira) from her account to pay to the 1st Respondent.

The Appellants filed an action at the trial court seeking several declaratory reliefs, injunctions and damages.

The trial court dismissed the Appellants’ claims.

Dissatisfied, the Appellants appealed.

One of the issues raised for determination was:

“Whether or not from the available evidence before the trial Judge and his findings in his Judgment, the trial Judge was right in dismissing the claims of the appellants for the violation of their fundamental rights and award of damages to them for the violation.”

Arguing this issue, learned counsel for the Appellants submitted that the matter that formed the basis of the arrest and detention of the Appellants was a matter of simple contract between the Appellants and the 1st Respondent. The position of the law is that the institution of the police is not for the recovery of debts.

For the Respondents, counsels submitted that the Appellants are guilty of criminal misrepresentation as they have no qualification or licence to blast rocks which contradicts their claim that induced the 1st Respondent into entering into the contract with them.

It was further submitted on behalf of the Respondents that the alleged arrest and detention of the Appellants was justified under Section 35(5) of the Constitution. It was submitted that once there is reasonable suspicion of having committed the offence, the police has power to arrest.

Unanimously allowing the appeal, the Court of Appeal held inter alia that:

“From paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the 1st respondent’s affidavit in opposition, he admitted that he executed an agreement with the appellants for blasting of rock and crushing of same. Even in his report to the police Exhibit AA5 which is on page 75 of the record of appeal, he stated thus: “We went into agreement for them to blast, evacuate and manage the rocks and stones on my land ….”

In spite of the fact that Exhibit AA’ was in connection with a contract agreement and contained no allegation of robbery or fraud, the police in paragraph 21 of the counter affidavit told a lie that the 1st respondent reported a case of robbery and fraud. To show that the means by which we tell lies are the same means by which providence uses to expose the sin that lies hidden in our souls, the 2nd – 6th respondents proceeded in the same paragraph 21, that is paragraph 21(e) to show that they visited the site and it was discovered that not much work was done on the site to warrant spending the sum of N3 million. That what the police saw at the site was just mere holes drilled on the rock. No mention is made about visiting the site of the alleged armed robbery. Even in their counter affidavit no mention was made of where the alleged robbery occurred and what was robbed.

Therefore the alleged report of robbery was concocted by the police to enable them severely deal with the appellants. For after all what was involved was merely a civil dispute between the appellants and the 1st respondent.

After making the above findings which clearly show that the transaction was purely civil, the lower Court held that the arrest of the appellants was justified. As I have stated above, no law in this country gives the police the power to dabble into purely civil transactions between parties. See McClareas v. Jennings (supra). That is a power given only to the Courts.

…The police in this case had no power to convert a purely civil transaction between the parties into a case of armed robbery and fraud and proceed to remove bank documents belonging to the 2nd appellant, march her to the bank and compel her to withdraw N970,000 which they gave to the 1st respondent.”

Counsel:

Kehinde Aladedutire for the Appellants.

A. A. Orunkoya for the 1st Respondent.

Aderemi Ajibola for the 2nd – 6th Respondents.

This summary is fully reported at (2015) 1 CLRN

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