Between Nigeria Police and Citizen Abiodun Salami

THE Lagos State Police Command should do the right thing and release citizen Abiodun Salami from custody immediately. By holding on to him in spite of an Ikeja Court 3 decision ordering his release, the command  is  acting in direct violation of the law. By allegedly demanding money from Mr. Salami’s mother in order to effect his ‘bail’, the command is erecting a structure of absurdity on a foundation of illegality. A man who has been properly freed by a court of law can no longer be released on bail since, by definition, bail is temporary. Furthermore, by continuing to hold on to Mr. Salami, the Lagos State Police Command is acting in contempt of court and violating the right to free movement of a private citizen.

It is possible that the Lagos State Police Command is convinced of  the  guilt of  Mr. Salami, accused of involvement in a robbery incident along Iyana-Oworo. During the said incident, three men reportedly attacked passengers and vehicle owners caught in a traffic logjam and made away with cash, smart phones, and other personal items. Mr. Salami, 21, was arrested after he showed up at the Computer Village in Ikeja, hoping to unlock the  IPhone that the owner had reported stolen during the Iyana-Oworo robbery incident. Things got distinctly worse for Mr. Salami after the robbery victim identified him, not only as one of the three perpetrators, but indeed the one who had pointed a gun at him.

According to the police, “He was arrested with the assistance of the engineer who was supposed to unlock the IPhone for him. The wife of the victim called, the engineer picked the call and had a conversation with the victim’s wife. It was after the discussion that the engineer alerted the police. Salami was taken to the police station where the victim identified him as one of those that attacked and robbed him.” So far, so apparently straightforward.

Nevertheless, the court trial turned out differently. Mr. Salami, a bus conductor, admitted to the judge that the phone in question was not his, but claimed to have found it in the bus he had serviced on the day in question. This might have sounded like a tall tale to the Lagos State Police Command, but the fact is that the presiding judge founded Mr. Salami’s alibi credible, dismissed the case against him, and ordered his release.

Since the judge gave his order, the state command has refused to let Mr. Salami go. In effect, the command is flouting the judgement of a properly constituted court and acting in a manner contrary to its own raison detre as a bastion of the rule of law. A police force that breaks the law is a contradiction in terms, but this is the very situation we are facing here. Yet, no matter how genuine or how passionately felt their convictions about a particular case are, or about the guilt of an accused, the truth of the matter is that the police cannot be both accuser and judge.

The principle at stake here is a clear one, and its defense is central to what it means to have a free and democratic society. Constitutionally and morally, the Lagos State Police Command is in an untenable situation. It should do the right thing and release Mr. Salami posthaste.