By Gabriel Ewepu and Alice Ekpang – Abuja
Following alleged murder of the Super TV Chief Executive Officer, Michael Usifo Ataga, a Civil Society Organisation, CSO, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, yesterday, condemned alleged media trial and violation of Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu, who is the accused in the case.
This was contained in a statement signed by the National Coordinator, LEDAP, Chino Obiagwu SAN, where it pointed that it is unlawful that the Nigeria Police Force (State CID, Panti) has denied Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu access to a legal representative and has compelled her to make statements in the presence of journalists and other media agencies.
According to the statement courts have in several decisions condemned such a public parade of criminal suspects as an illegal practice.
The statement reads in part, “Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) strongly condemn the media trial and police parade of Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu; a 300 level student of the department of mass communication at the University of Lagos on the alleged murder of Super TV chief executive officer – Michael Usifo Ataga.
“LEDAP as a body relentlessly seeks to ensure that the fundamental rights of vulnerable citizens are protected against abuse and violations. In the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria, Section 36 sub-section (1) and (5) the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees the fundamental right to fair hearing and the presumption of innocence respectively.
“The core sense of the fundamental right to fair hearing is to ensure that in determination of civil rights and obligations, the process and administration of criminal justice is conducted in such a way as to guarantee independence and impartiality.
“Hence, the recent police parade of Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu by the Nigeria Police Force clearly violates her fundamental right to fair hearing as provided under the Nigerian Constitution.
“This worrisome act by the Nigeria Police Force has led to the ongoing media trial of Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu which clearly violates her fundamental right principle of presumption of innocence as provided in Section 36(5) which states thus; “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty”.
“In addition, Section 35 (2) of the 1999 Constitution provides that ‘Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice.’
“Furthermore, the Courts have in several decisions condemned such a public parade of criminal suspects as an illegal practice. For example, in Ndukwem Chiziri Nice v AG, Federation & Anor (2007) CHR218 at 232, Justice Banjoko of FCT High Court held that “The act of parading him (the suspect) before the press as evidenced by the Exhibits annexed to the affidavit was uncalled for and a callous disregard for his person.
“This illegal practice and total disregard for the rule of law and due process violates the foremost human right of any suspect which is guaranteed under Section 35(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and this also violates Article 7 of the African Charter on Human Rights which Nigeria is a signatory to and by virtue of its incorporation in the domestic laws of Nigeria.
“Similarly, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice sitting in Abuja in Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors. V Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009) CCJLER 245 at 265 condemned what it called “media trial” of the Applicants in the following words: “The Courts is of the opinion that for the fact that the Defendants presented the Applicants before the press when no judge or Court has found them guilty, certainly constitute a violation of the principle of presumption of innocence.”
The statement also alleged that, “It is unlawful that the Nigeria Police Force (State CID, Panti) has denied Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu access to a legal representative and has compelled her to make statements in the presence of journalists and other media agencies.
“The trial by media and police parade unduly interferes with justice delivery and LEDAP firmly condemns this act as every suspect enjoys constitutional protection of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and respect of his person or put properly, right to the dignity of a human person under section 34(1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution.”