By Adetayo Omotoyosi
There is a scourge among the various security agencies in Nigeria that is being overlooked. It is called media trial.
It is the parade of suspects by law enforcement agents using the media.
Media trial of suspects happens almost on a daily in Nigeria without factoring in the negative effects these actions might have on the suspects particularly the youths.
It is important to state here that the Nigerian constitution has a section that guarantees the rights of Nigerian citizens, especially when accused of crimes.
Section 36 (5) of the constitution of Nigerian 1999 states that every person who is charged with a criminal offense shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
With reference to the cited section of the Constitution above, it is evident that only a constituted court backed by the law can pronounce a suspect innocent or guilty of the alleged crimes after the evidence(s) tendered have been examined and verified by the court.
That is not all, to further stressed the importance of the right of suspects, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, ACJL 2015 laid down rules and regulations that must be followed by security agencies during the course of an investigation.
It stressed that the statement of suspects must be recorded in the presence of a legal representative. This means that the freedom and privacy of suspects are protected when in the custody of the security agencies.
Despite all these provisions of the law, security agencies in Nigeria have been flouting the law by parading suspects in the media giving room for public judgement and condemnation.
The focus of this write-up is on the youths of Nigeria and the damage the media parade is doing to them.
Nigeria’s antigraft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is guilty of always parading suspects in the media.
No day passes by without the EFCC parading suspects on the pages of newspapers and on social media in the country.
The mugshots of youths who have been alleged to be cyber-criminals are displayed by the EFCC, flouting section 36 (5) that states clearly the innocence or otherwise of a suspect until a pronouncement is given by a competent court of jurisdiction.
A case that comes to mind is that of popular Instagram comedian Pankeeroy who was arrested for alleged computer-related fraud.
The comedian according to the statement released by the EFCC claimed to have gone into a Bitcoin scam after he suffered depression. It was also said that he had been presenting himself as a vendor who redeems bitcoin vouchers using the bitcoincoretrading.com platform to defraud his unsuspecting victims.
That very day, the arrest of the comedian trended on social media making room for public condemnation even though the court is yet to find him guilty.
After a month in detention, the comedian regained his freedom. Pankeerov’s legal representative later dismissed the allegations against the comedian saying that no petition was written against him and he was not found guilty of any crime.
But what many failed to see is the damage media trial has done to the reputation of Pankeerov.
Many brands might want to work with him but due to his arrest which is a form of scandal may decide to stay put.
A similar case is of the alleged killer of Super-TV CEO, Chidinma who has been subjected to questioning from various media organizations even though only the court has the jurisdiction to do so.
Sometimes, I question what the motive of these media trial is, is it to feed the ego of the various security agencies that they are doing a good job?
Why would the Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Hakeem Odumosu, descend to the abyss by subjecting Chidinma to public condemnation and judgments?
His job as a police chief is to investigate the crimes Chidinma have been alleged to have committed but instead subjected the girl to the whims and caprices of journalists whose only mission is to sell the story.
The implication of the media parade of Nigerian youths who have not been found guilty by any competent court is that they may lose opportunities in terms of jobs, scholarships within and beyond the shores of Nigeria.
For instance, it is stated in the employment form of most Nigerian companies asking applicants if they have been arrested by law enforcement agencies before.
If a background check is done by the employer, applicants who have been paraded can miss out on job opportunities even though they have not been pronounced guilty by a competent court of jurisdiction.
Thankfully, Lagos State is leading in this struggle against media parade as the state House of Assembly on the 5th of July, 2021, passed a bill banning media parade of suspects.
Section 9(A) of the newly passed bill states, “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.”
The remaining states that are yet to put an end to this menace should do so quickly.
In moving forward, I suggest security agents should deploy more resources into intelligence gathering that will nail any suspects with evidence instead of rushing to parade them before the media.
Adetayo Omotoysi Adeolu writes from Lagos