By Kayode Ketefe
When a nation is troubled socio-economically, there usually emerge a number of oddities and aberrations of norms that would require considerable efforts cum political will to correct.
One of the oddities in our society recently forced itself once again into my consciousness when an acquaintance was recently arrested by the police.
His offence being that he owed a well-documented, undisputed debt that he had not finished paying. His creditor became impatient and resorted to the now “usual” method. He lodged the report against the debtor at a police station and, apparently after due tipping, got the officers mobilized! The debtor was promptly arrested and detained to pay back the debt or face elongated incarceration.
Debt recovery is a normal part of commercial transactions. It is settled that since modern business cannot thrive without borrowing and lending, the legal system of any nation should make adequate provisions to regulate this aspect of commerce. The phenomenon is regulated in Nigeria, like in other places with common law system, by the law of contract, banking law, and negotiable instruments, credit sale law and so on.
This implies that recourse must be made to the court of law by invoking the civil jurisdiction of the court if the parties cannot resolve their differences amicably.
However, in Nigeria, a culture of debt recovery that is rampant is the employment of the coercive powers of the forces like the police or even the Nigerian Army for the purpose of debt recovery.
Most Nigerians are aware of this entrenched culture of debt recovery practice whereby the creditors, including, unfortunately “enlightened institutions” like banks, enlist the help of the police or the even the military to recover debts extra-judicially from the debtors.
When I was discussing this problem in the midst of some friends, a female banker (name withheld) told me that exigencies had necessitated involving the police in debt recovery and that the practice “is an efficient method”.
She further said “We all know the problem of undue delay one invariably encounters in court; at times it may take years for a simple contractual case to be decided as a result of incessant adjournments.
“But with the police, the case is different as many people are afraid of being arrested or detained; many recalcitrant debtors would therefore pay up.” the banker concluded.
In spite of this, it may be unequivocally stated that the practice is not supported by the Nigerian law. For instance, section 214 of the 1999 Constitution, which created the Nigerian Police states inter-alia ‘there shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the federation or any part thereof.”
In specific terms, Section 4 of the Police Act, which stipulates the functions of the police provides thus: “The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such duties within or without Nigeria as may be required by them by, or under the authority of, this or any other Act.”
It is therefore clear that from both the Police Act and the 1999 Constitution that nothing empowers the Nigerian police to help individual or institution to collect debt despite the rampancy of the practice.
A number of judicial pronouncements over the years have also underscored the fact that the police have no business in debt collection if the transaction does not involve fraud. In a recent case, a Federal High Court Judge, Justice Okon Abang, roundly condemned the Nigerian police for helping a bank (name withheld) to collect debt from a customer (I. Chukwuemeka) extra-judicially.
In the case, the plaintiff, who had taken a N900, 000 loan from the bank defaulted after making some payments. The bank enlisted the help of the police to recover the debt and later arrested and detained him.
The police further collected a cheque of N100, 000 from him under duress and kept harassing him to pay the rest. Chukwuemeka then filed an action in court alleging that his right had been violated and prayed the court for an order of injunction restraining the police from further arresting and detaining him.
In his judgement, Justice Abang berated the police, stressing they had no right to convert themselves into debt collection agency. The judge added that the police had misused the coercive powers of the state and awarded the damages of N500, 0000 in addition to a N50, 000 costs. There are numerous judicial authorities like this but space would not permit reporting them. It is however suffice to say that the illicit practice must stop.
This surely is one of the oddities in socio-economic life that the incoming government must strive to stop, we must learnt to do things in proper way and stop all morbid aberrations haunting our system.
Ketefe may followed on twitter @Ketesco
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