By Henry Ojelu
In this edition, Law and Human Rights reports that despite court judgments against the parade of crime suspects, the Nigeria Police continue to indulge in the act. Section 36 (5) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.
The intention of the law is to the effect that only a law court can pronounce a crime suspect innocent or guilty based on evidence before it. The Africa Charter on Human and Peoples Right also guarantees the right of a suspect to fair trial.
To further protect the rights of crime suspects, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, ACJL, 2015 provided certain conditions that must be adhered to by investigating security agencies in handling cases. One of such conditions is that statements of suspects must be recorded in the presence of a legal representative. By virtue of this provision, the liberty and privacy of criminal suspects under the law of the land are protected beyond any orchestrated intent of the law enforcement agency.
Despite these laudable provisions of the law, law enforcement agencies especially the Nigerian Police have often taken actions that portray suspects as convicted criminals even when an investigation is yet to be concluded. Perhaps to prove to the public that its officers are working, the Nigerian Police every week across its various commands, parade crime suspects before journalists and compel them to confess to their crimes.
The Pre-trial Parade is also regularly done by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Last week, the media was washed with revelations made by Chidinma Ojukwu, the prime suspect in the death of SuperTV Chief Executive Officer, Osifo Ataga. The 21-year-old undergraduate was paraded by the Lagos State Police command before journalists and compel to give an account of how she committed the alleged crime. Some journalists also invaded her detention cell for exclusive details after the parade.
Some years back, a similar pre-trial parade was also conducted for alleged kidnapper Chukwudimeme Onuamadike, popularly known as Evans. After his arrest, Evans was paraded and asked to give details of his alleged criminal operations. His Pre-trial parade confessions made headlines for months before he was eventually arraigned before a court. However, on his second day in court, Evans denied all his previous confessions and insisted he was forced to admit to the crime.
Class disparity in Police parades
Findings indicate that majority of crime suspects paraded by the police are often persons of low means. While it is not unusual to parade poor criminal suspects who are accused of stealing handsets whose value is less than N10, 000, it is rare for the Police and other security agencies to parade rich and powerful criminal suspects who loot the treasury to the tune of several billions of Naira. Many notable politicians among them Farouk Lawan-a former ranking legislator, two former governors, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, and even a former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun have been pronounced guilty of corruption by the courts but none of them were paraded before their trial
Court decisions on Police parade
Despite the public appeal of Police pre-trial parades, many court decisions have declared the action illegal. In Ndukwem Chiziri Nice v. AG, Federation & Anor. (2007) CHR 218 at 232, Justice Banjoko 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. He was shown to the public the next day of his arrest even without any investigation conducted in the matter.
“He was already prejudged by the police who are incompetent, so to have such function, it is the duty of the court to pass a verdict of guilt and this constitutes a clear breach of section 36(4) and (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 on the doctrine of fair hearing.”
Similarly, in Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors. V. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009) CCJLER 245 at 265, the Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS Court condemned the media trial of the applicants when it held that: “The court 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 such as provided in Article 7(b) of the same African Charter and not a violation in the sense of Article 5 of the said Charter.
The court proceeded to award damages of $42,750.00 to each of the 10 applicants and $10,000.00 as costs payable by the Federal Government for the illegal actions of the naval personnel who carried out the illegal parade of the applicants. In 2011, a Federal High Court awarded the sum of N20 million against the Lagos State Commissioner of Police for parading one Ottoh Obono before the media as an armed robber, even before his arraignment in court. Upon the issuance of the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution, Ottoh was later found to be innocent of the crime
Police defence of PTP
Notwithstanding the clear position of the law and the plethora of court judgments against the pre-trial parade of crime suspects, successive police authorities have openly sanctioned the action. Before his retirement, former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, openly gave the practice a stamp of approval. In his response to a question asked during the #AskThePolice session on Twitter, he said the parade of suspects “is simply the Force letting the public know the efforts and achievements of the Police in curbing and reducing crime to the barest minimum.”
Immediate past IGP, Mohammed Adamu did not also take steps to stop the parade.
Lawyers who spoke to Law and Human Rights condemned the Police action insisting that several provisions of the law and court judgments have declared it unconstitutional and illegal.
It’s unknown to our laws — Babatunde, SAN
Mr Layi Babatunde, SAN, in his reaction pointed out that the courts have spoken loud and clear on the illegality of this specie of parade. Aside from the illegality of the action, Mr. Babtunde also pointed out that one of the unintended consequences is that the parade becomes a source of terror to families of the victim.
He said: “It’s a type of parade unknown to our laws. As much as the police appear anxious to allay the cynicism by the public in so-called celebrated cases, it appears to me, better, that such energies are directed towards thorough investigation and successful prosecution. The rate of success, in ensuring that suspects are brought to justice according to the law, will help erase all doubts in the mind of the public about the good intentions of the police and its ability to enforce the law fairly and firmly, then an illegal parade that may not only prejudice investigation but engender media trial which in itself is also wrong. The parades are producing unintended consequences, including becoming a source of terror to families of victims of heinous crimes. The police may end up being distracted by the ensuing circus show, which turns heinous crimes into objects of unfounded salacious gist and even jokes.
Pre-trial parade is inhumane, degrading treatment —Rapuluchukwu, NBA Spokesman
National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, DrRapuluchukwu Nduka in his reaction, described pre-trial parades by the police as an inhumane and degrading treatment on suspects who are presumed innocent until proven contrary by the court.
He said: ‘That practice is despicable. Our security agencies have not yet come to terms that modern investigative practice is – investigation before arrests. Our security agencies like to outdo each other in this media trial practice. Unfortunately, cases are not won or lost because of public opinion. Courts deal with evidence, but our security agencies are ready to bungle evidence just to give the average Nigerian the impression that they are working.
“The parading of crime suspects smack of inhuman and degrading treatment of the suspects which the Nigerian Constitution frowns at. These suspects are already branded criminals by the security agents that parade them, even when they should know that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. This practice is wrong. I don’t know when our security agencies will start doing the right thing.”
It’s lack of professionalism by Police —Omodele
Yemi Omodele believes that the parade of suspects by the police is a reflection of a lack of professionalism. Pointing out that often time, cases are bungled by the police during the parade. He said: “With due respect to the Nigerian Police, I think parading suspects before or after the investigation is concluded but before arraignment shows lack professionalism. The act simply amounts to advertisements by the police. They just want to tell the whole world that they are working whereas in most cases, the parade is one of the reasons cases fail in court.
‘It also distorts investigation as some of the suspects who may be at large will run away from the country. Police should stop getting cheap popularity. The innocence of a suspect is presumed under the law. The media trial has no recognition in law. Police should stop using their advertised inconclusive investigation to get undeserved applause from the populace. Can you imagine a police team sending pictures online of how they arrested suspects thereby giving themselves away? Were the suspect’s fools waiting to be arrested? I think there is a need to educate the police on this aspect of the law. I don’t think that the police is aware that 85 percent of the cases they investigated are being thrown out of court due to poor and inexperienced investigation tactics.”
Police parade is state-sponsored mob action —Ufeli
Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Evans Ufeli noted that the action is not different from jungle justice perpetrated against criminal suspects by the public. Condemning the open parade of suspects, Ufeli said: “Suspects who by law are presumed innocent until the contrary is proved are paraded in Nigeria by the police, using the media to expose them for public condemnation and ridicule.
“This act isn’t different from jungle justice, but the very sad part is that this is state-sponsored mob action, orchestrated by a primitive criminal administrative system. Even when a new Police Act 2021 is in force and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has come to stay, Nigerian Police Force is still trapped in the past with gross misconduct and reckless professional negligence.
“A suspect must not be treated like a convict. Even convicts have rights under our laws and the respect of the dignity of their human person is guaranteed by the constitution. Let’s treat people right. This is a country, not a jungle.”
Media parade confession has no prosecution value —Lawal
Immediate past National Assistant Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Akorede Lawal noted that despite the popularity of media parades, courts give no consequence to confessions made by suspects in such parades.
He pointed out that it was high time police moved away from such practice and conduct serious investigations that would lead to conviction in court. According to Lawal, one ill of the media parade and the confession is that it is often elicited from the suspect and places undue pressure on the prosecution and affects the independence of decision of the court and the reasons for its judgment.
He said: “By the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (as well as the extant criminal procedure laws of various states, including the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, 2011) and the Evidence Act, the ‘media confession’ – the type elicited from Chidinma – is hardly admissible in law due to the torture, threat, inducement and promise by the police, that often precedes such media session.
“Also, the law demands that a confession should be in writing and should be made in the presence of the suspect’s counsel, an officer of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or an official of a civil society organization or a justice of the peace or any other person of the suspect’s choice – a condition that is hardly fulfilled during the media parade. However, where such confession is admitted because of its relevance, it would arguably be of lightweight in the absence of other proven evidence of her guilt.