A starting point to answer these germane questions as regards bail in Nigeria would be the definition of the term ‘bail’. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, Ninth edition ‘bail is a security such as cash or a bond; especially security required by a court for the release of a prisoner who must appear at a future time<bail is set at $500>’. In Nigeria we have two major kinds of bail, i. Police bail, and ii. Court bail.
In another definition, bail can be defined as the process whereby a person accused or being charged for the commission of an offence is released by the constituted authority who is detaining him, on the condition that he will appear or report to a police station or court or other identified location in future whenever his presence is required or so ordered.
By virtue of Section 30 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015), an Act which promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crimes, and protection of the rights and interest of the suspect, the defendants and victims in Nigeria, provides “the officer in charge of a police station shall release a suspect on bail on his entering a recognizance with or without sureties for a reasonable amount of money to appear before the court, or at the police station at the time and place named in the recognizance”.
Likewise by virtue of Section 158 of the Administration of Criminal Justice (2015) when a person who is suspected to have committed an offence, or is accused of an offence is arrested, or detained, or appears or is brought before a court, he shall subject to the nature of the offence, be entitled to bail.
After the commission of a crime, and upon complaint at the police station, the police have the powers to arrest, and detain any suspect for questioning, bearing in mind that the law presumes every one innocent until proven guilty, such suspect after questioning depending on the nature of the offense is entitled to be set free, with the condition to always show up at the station every time his/her presence is needed.
This is where bail comes in; it is the guarantee deposited to assure the law that a suspect once released, would always be available anytime his/her presence is needed either at the police station or courts of justice. Where the suspect/accused refuses to turn up when his/her presence is required, attention thereby shifts to the surety to either produce the suspect, explain the whereabouts of the suspect, or forfeit the amount of money stated in the bail bond.
In the Nigerian Legal System, the money or landed properties stated in a bail bond is not necessarily deposited at the point a suspect/accused is released on bail, it is where the suspect/accused refuses to turn up when his/her presence is required that the appropriate authority demand for the monies or properties stated in the bond.
What happens in our police stations is somewhat contrary to what the law provides. In our police stations, monies are not deposited as security for the release of a suspect, but rather monies are paid as a condition to release a suspect in detention, it is like a fee paid to secure the release of a suspect, irrespective of whether there is a reliable surety or not and this is wrong.
To my mind, bail at the police station ought ordinarily be free. If the essence of bail is to provide a temporal relief to a suspect pending the determination of investigation of a crime or trial by a court of law, then a reliable surety in like sum ought to be sufficient, and not a mandatory payment of fees before a suspect is released from police custody.
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