Know Your Rights: The Use of Police for Debt Recovery is Unlawful in Nigeria

In this country, the police is used to intimidate the populace. It is common knowledge that when a financial or accounting dispute arises between parties in the normal course of business, the creditor-party would run to the police and lodge a complaint and request that the debtor be arrested.

Know Your Rights: The Use of Police for Debt Recovery is Unlawful in Nigeria

These mostly corrupt police officers happily receive complaints bordering on debts, loans and other cases of financial transactions that arise in the ordinary course of social/business interactions.

Sometimes, these cases are fraudulent contracts, where the creditor knows that no argument will help his case in court and so he decides to take the law into his hands and get his money by hook or by crook.

The police may then go ahead to arrest the debtor after these complaints are lodged and coerce him to pay the sum or even forcefully take his property and sell it without any lawful authority so as to pay the sum of the debt, which of course they are entitled to a certain percentage of.

The police is fully aware about the position of the law on this particular matter and so will never allow these charges to be pressed in court or even see the inside of a court room, but are merely designed to exert coercive pressure on the suspect to pay the debt.

The series of coercive pressure includes arrest, detention, unauthorized seizure of property and sometimes torture. This is a breach of our fundamental human rights and must not be condoned.


Debt collection or settlement (whether on behalf of a private citizen or organisation or a government department or agency)is not the job of the police and has never been the duty of the police.

The only job of the police under the Police Act is crime prevention, detection and control. Owing a debt is not a crime recognised by any law in Nigeria, whether in the criminal code or the Penal code which operates in the Northern part of Nigeria.

Indebtedness, also, is not one of the exceptional grounds recognized by section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic 1999 (as amended) upon which a person may be deprived of personal liberty and detained.

The police authorities cannot amend the constitution to suit their briefing by private individuals or organisations who may be too impatient to go through the discipline and decorum of civil actions for recoveries or accounts stated or may not be aware of the position of the law as regards the matter.

The jurisdiction to hear and determine claims for monetary sums is vested in the courts, not the police.

The police has no right to seize and property of a citizen and sell it to recover a debt, the only time it is permitted is in the execution of a judgment debt by the sheriff by a court order, which the police usually accompanies to ensure that the properties are collected swiftly.

Also note that, the economic and financial crimes commission, EFCC is also included as an authority that cannot detain a debtor nor coerce him to pay a debt . Neither can ICPC or DSS do any such work of detaining and coercing payment if debt. The only body designated with this function is the court room.

The proper thing to do to recover a debt is to institute an action in court, claiming the sum owed or contracting a lawyer to try to negotiate with the debtor and come to an amicable agreement.

I always opt for alternative dispute resolution because it maintains the good relationship of the parties and ensures that they are satisfied without having to wait for a few years while the matter is pending in court.

The courts have made it clear beyond equivocation, as seen in so many cases previously decided in court, that a complaint based on a civil or contractual debt is mala fide  or made in bad faith, and any arrest or detention made on that basis is unlawful.

The person lodging such a mala fide complaint or a complaint in bad faith will face legal consequences for breach of the fundamental human rights of the debtor. The policeman who also carries out such orders from private citizens or organizations alike, will be punished under the law.

In order to respect the law, we must refrain from using the police for our personal errands. Since the police do not go from door to door soliciting debt recovery cases, there is enough blame to go round for everyone who at one point in time or another has gone to the police to get someone arrested and detained unlawfully on the basis of outstanding debts.

This is the reason why all Nigerians should be aware of their rights and avoid our rights being trampled upon, silence is not golden here either.

Citizens must stand up for their rights and resist the growing trend of private individuals and organisations unleashing the police on their debtors.

The doors of the courts are wide open for the vindication of claims for debts and accounts stated. So if a person has nothing to hide, nothing is stopping him from approaching the court to recover his money.

By removing these complaints from the daily matters of the police, they can concentrate their efforts on detection and fighting of crime and will have no excuse whatsoever for being unable to do so.

Also, it will dignify the office of the police as one with high regard in the society and not one that can be bought with pennies to do the bidding of the highest bidder.

What do you do when unlawfully arrested perhaps for indebtedness ?

An action for enforcement of fundamental human rights should be instituted in the federal high court or state high court of that jurisdiction with an injunction that would prevent the police from harassing and unlawfully arresting or detaining the debtor. The immediate release of the debtor may also be requested and the court will grant such an order.

Also, try to pay debts when due and avoid embarrassment.

Read Also: 6 Things You Should Consider Before Going to Court

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Bar. Princess Ogono is a Legal Practitioner and Content Developer at InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Roberts. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Roberts. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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