Know Your Rights: Can you Be Detained For Over 48 Hours Without Court Order?

 In 2020, Amnesty International (AI) documented how one Sunday Bang, an amateur boxer, was arrested in his home in Abuja in October 2018 by officers of the disbanded special anti-robbery squad (SARS) over his alleged involvement in a robbery.

Bang was said to have been detained for five weeks without being charged to court while he was also denied access to family, lawyers, or medical care.

According to the same report by AI, a 23-year-old boy identified as Miracle was detained in police custody for 40 days before being charged to court. He was arrested by SARS officers in Neni, Anambra state in March 2017.

Bang and Miracle’s harrowing experiences represent a microcosm of illegal detention without court orders by law enforcement agencies.

Despite the constitutional provision that limits the duration of detention of suspects without court orders, violation of suspects’ rights in this regard still litter pages of the media.


The 1999 Nigerian constitution clearly states that persons arrested or detained shall be brought before a court within a “reasonable time”.

According to the constitution, the reasonable time means a period of 24 hours when a court of competent jurisdiction is within a radius of 40 kilometres to the police station or a period of two days in any other case.

Section 35(4) of the 1999 constitution states that: “Any person who is arrested or detained in accordance with subsection (1) (c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time, and if he is not tried within a period of – (a) two months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who is in custody or is not entitled to bail; or (b) three months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who has been released on bail, he shall (without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against him) be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears for trial at a later date.”

Subsection 5 states that: “In subsection (4) of this section, the expression “a reasonable time” means – (a) in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty kilometres, a period of one day; and (b) in any other case, a period of two days or such longer period as in the circumstances may be considered by the court to be reasonable.”

This implies that the detention of arrested suspects for more than 48 hours without being charged to court is against the provisions of the constitution.

Section 61 (1) of the Nigeria Police Act 2020 agrees with the provisions of the constitution while stating that a suspect arrested without a court warrant, other than a capital offence, should be granted bail, where it is impracticable to charge to court within 24 hours.

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