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Why Nigeria police force must have criminal records registry?

By Okechukwu Onuegbu

Have you heard of Criminal Records Registry or Central Criminal Records Registry?

Criminal Records Registry is a registry provided by the laws of the land for the police to keep, store and retrieve accounts of criminal cases such as arrests, trials, convictions, judgments, etc. within their area of jurisdiction (state operational).

Although the law does not specify how the Registry should like, experts believe it should be a place such as database, department, stores, office, server or website capable of collecting, storing, retrieving, authenticating and providing these data to the public.

Do you know where it ought to be situated?

It ought to be established in each state police command including Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command. That should be 37 Criminal Records Registry in the whole federation.

Every Police Command having these Criminal Records Registry out to transmit same records to Central Criminal Records Registry which the law provides that it should be sited at Abuja probably Force Police Headquarters. This Central Criminal Records Registry will house information gathered from these 37 centres.

According to a legal practitioner, George Enekwechi of G.C Enekwechi and Co., Awka, Anambra state, Criminal Records Registry is a Record supposed to be kept by the Nigerian Police at the Headquarters at Abuja. 

"It equally ought to be at every state police command and Abuja FCT. The purpose is to keep records of all arrest, all trials, convictions, discharge, dismissal, and indeed all matters connected to such trials and judgments, all criminal judgments of courts at states and federal capital territory to show whether the person is charged, whether convicted, acquitted, discharged," he stated. 

The Law

These establishment is backed by Section 16 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA 2015). Section 16 (1) provided that “There shall be established at the Nigeria Police force a Central Criminal records registry.

“(2) For the purposes of subsection 1 of this section, there shall be established at every state police command a Criminal Records registry which shall keep and transmit all such records to the central Criminal records registry. 

(3) The state or Federal capital territory police command shall ensure that the decision of the court in all Criminal trials are transmitted to the Central Criminal Records Registry within 30 days of the judgement.”

Reasons why States, FCT and Force Headquarters SHOULD have Criminal Records Registry/Central Criminal Records Registry:

Importance of having Criminal Records Registry or Central Criminal Records Registry are numerous. But few of them I can remember are;

1.    Research: It serves as resource materials to students, researchers and historians: Students, researchers and historians can easily apply for and get access to this information using Freedom of Information (FOI 2011) Act.

2.    Public document: It’s useful to the general public. With this information, criminal records of every Nigerian are known to the public. As a result, individuals can contest, vote, win or lose an election. Nigerian constitution ruled out people with criminal records in leadership positions. But absent of it make it for them to run, win or get appointed to political offices because there are no data to be use in challenging them.

3.    Travelling: It will also make it easier and cheaper for any Nigerian travelling abroad to access his/her character report. And those working at Airports, customs, employers, countries and so on will also find it useful in dealing with individuals.

4.    Court/Police/Prosecutors: Information in this registry can help lawyers/prosecutors argue their cases especially when a criminal defendants/suspects are arguing they have no previous criminal records. This will also make the works of judges/magistrates easier while adjudicating on such cases. 
Generally, the provisions for establishment of Criminal Records Registry is in line with Nigeria Evidence Act (2011). Part IV (81) of Evidence Act (2011) provides that in Criminal cases, evidence of good character is admissible. “In criminal proceedings, evidence of the fact that a defendant is of good character admissible.”
Okechukwu Onuegbu writes from Awka, Anambra state.

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