Can a Male Officer Search a Female Suspect in Nigeria?

Can a Male Officer Search a Female Suspect in Nigeria?

Published on: May 10, 2024

One important concern for many is the legality and appropriateness of male officers conducting searches on female individuals. This topic raises important questions regarding privacy rights, legal standards, cultural considerations, and respect for individuals. Here, we will explore this concern, focusing on Nigerian laws to understand what regulations exist to guide such circumstances.

Notable Laws in Nigeria Regarding Searches of the Opposite Sex

The right to privacy and dignity are laid down under the Nigerian constitution. Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to the dignity of the human person and prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment. Given these rights, a search by a law enforcement officer must be conducted in a manner that respects these constitutional provisions.

Generally, law enforcement practices around the world suggest that it is appropriate for female officers to carry out physical searches on female suspects in order to uphold the privacy rights and dignity of the individual. Given the potential sensitivity of physical searches, having a female officer perform these can help minimize accusations of inappropriate conduct and maintain a sense of propriety and respect.

Section 51 of the Police Act 2020 provides a general conduct for a search:

Section 51, subsections 1, 2 and 3, respectively provide that:

(1) Reasonable effort shall be taken to minimise the embarrassment that a person or the person whose property is being searched may experience.

(2) The co-operation of the person to be searched shall be sought in every case.

(3) A forcible search may be used as a last resort only if it has been established that the person being searched is unwilling to co-operate or resists.

Section 51(5) provides that: Searches in public shall be restricted to superficial examination of outer clothing.

Section 51(6) provides that: Where it is considered necessary to conduct a more thorough search that requires a person to take off his cloth or headgear, it:

(a) shall be done out of public and by an officer of the same sex with the person being searched; and

(b) may not be made in the presence of anyone of the opposite sex unless the person being searched requests it.

Protecting Rights and Accentuating Privacy

The National Human Rights Commission continues to actively emphasize training for law enforce on the rights of the citizens. Awareness is also raised continuously about judicial consequences of violating privacy and dignity rights in the course of duties.

Cultural Factor

In addition to legal standards, societal and cultural expectations also demand that searches are carried out by officers of the same sex as the one being searched specifically in conservative societies. These norms influence how searches should be administered legally and socially.

Conclusion

While the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement require regulation, it is paramount to monitor these acts closely to protect individual rights. Thus, while in most cases searches should be gender-congruent, circumstances may necessitate an urgent different approach. Under all conditions, the procedures must respect and protect personal dignity and adhere to the legal outline by Nigerian and international law.

Recommendation

It is advisable for citizens to be informed of their rights regarding searches. Those who are unhappy about the method in which their searches were conducted should raise the issue through proper legal channels. Additionally, increasing the recruitment and training of female officers would significantly address these gender-related issues more effectively.

In conclusion, keeping these practical realities in check alongside legal frameworks can ensure that the integrity and dignity of individuals aren't compromised whilst maintaining law and order which is the ultimate goal for any society.

Author:

Michael Akerele, LLB, MICL, BL