The public parade of suspects by Nigeria’s security operatives can be traced back to the military days when the repressive military authorities suspended various human rights laws. The military replaced constitutional and legal order with rule of force, trampling on all manner of fundamental human rights.
During the period, crime suspects were paraded without investigations and trial. In addition, many suspects were summarily executed. This, according to the military, was to instill fear in citizens and deter crime.
One of the many cases recorded in the military era was that of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency arrested on January 14, 1997, for being in possession of alleged narcotic substances.
After his arrest, the late Major-General Musa Bamaiyi addressed a press conference wherein he paraded Fela in handcuffs in violation of his fundamental rights to fair hearing, personal liberty, and human dignity.
His lawyer, Femi Falana said Fela’s parade in handcuffs could not be justified, and a federal high court ordered his unconditional release. The defendant also told the court that he signed the charge sheet “in chains.”
To the embarrassment of the military junta, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) discontinued the criminal charge and apologised to Fela after the court condemned his parade.
Despite instances such as this, security operatives continue to engage in parades and media trials of suspects. Now in civil rule, the unholy culture remains the norm in Nigeria even when the law enforcement agencies do not have concrete evidence against suspects.
What is probably the worst of the instances where security operatives carried out embarrassing parade of suspects was after the assassination of Olaitan Oyerinde, former Principal Secretary of ex-Edo Governor, Adams Oshiommole who was killed on May 4, 2012.
An ex-Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Lawal Gunmi described the incident as “a bewildering case of one murder, two government agencies and two different culprits. The police and the State Security Service, the two security agencies investigating the murder, paraded two different sets of suspects, a development that has set off speculation that the investigation into the murder was most likely bungled.”
While the police have repeatedly argued that the parade of suspects helps to create credibility for the force and update the citizens about their fight against insecurity, many lawyers have opposed this, saying it contravenes section 36 of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution, which guarantees the presumption of innocence of suspects until proven guilty by a competent court of law.
This falls in line with the provision of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This international human rights instrument is intended to promote and protect human rights and basic freedom on the African continent.
HumAngle understands that Nigeria was part of the 54 African Union (AU) member states that ratified the treaty in 1983.
Aside from the parade of suspects, they are also subjected to media trials with “cross examination” by law enforcement officials at crowded press conferences. In some cases, journalists interrogate the suspects with a view to confirming their involvement in the criminal offences levelled against them.
Aside from its condemnation during the military days, various courts have in the last few years kicked against the illegal parade of suspects. In the case of Ndukwe Chiziri Nice v. Attorney General of the Federation (2007) the court held that “the act of parading the suspect before the press as evidenced by the Exhibits annexed to the affidavit was uncalled for and a callous disregard for his person.”
In the case of Inspector General of Police v. Ubah (2014), the court held, among other things, that “if a Police investigator concludes that a suspect is guilty of the alleged crime even before the conclusion of his investigation, and takes the case to Court without proof, all the accused needs to do after the prosecution has presented its case is to raise a no case submission, and if upheld by the Court that would be the end of the prosecution.”
The court also affirmed this in the case of Yakubu v. State (2014), where it was stated that “by section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), every person charged with a criminal offense is presumed innocent, until he is proven guilty. This provision simply translated is what is known as the principle of presumption of innocence.”
More so, the Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS Court in Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors. v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009) 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.”
In addition, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 provides for some conditions in handling cases. One of such conditions is that statements of suspects must be recorded in the presence of a legal representative. Though the Lagos State government has a law against this, the trend remains in the state.
In its hunt for internet fraudsters, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has become notorious for clamping down on innocent Nigerian youths, subjecting them to public shame through media parades.
One of the popular cases in recent times was that of 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 compelled to give an account of how she committed the alleged crime.
A few years back, such was conducted for alleged kidnapper, Chukwudimeme Onuamadike, popularly known as Evans. He was paraded and asked to give details of his alleged criminal operations before his arraignment in court. Evans has since denied all his previous confessions and insisted he was forced to admit the crime.
In some cases, suspects are tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment. There were cases where police extrajudicially killed suspects under the pretext that they tried to escape from custody.
In Isaac Edoh v. Edo State Commissioner of Police (No: B/460m/2011), an undergraduate of the Uthman Dan Fodio University was arrested by the police and paraded before the media in Benin, Edo State where he was accused of involvement in kidnapping.
When the suspect’s father visited the police station to secure his son’s release, the police denied ever arresting his son. He later filed a suit challenging this. As the police maintained that the applicant’s son was never arrested, Channels Television produced the video tape of the press conference where the deceased was paraded.
The Police later claimed that the arrested student was killed by armed robbers while on their way to Auchi for further investigation. The court declared the killing illegal and awarded N15 million damages to his father.
The case of Ottoh Obono, accused by the Police in Lagos of being a member of a gang of armed robbers who specialised in car-snatching, came with a huge cost after he was arrested and paraded before the media on Oct. 7, 2009. The Lagos State Department of Public Prosecution, upon a review of the available evidence, completely exonerated Obono of any crime.
He, therefore, sued the police before the Federal High Court, Calabar, in suit FHC/CA/CS/91/2009, and in a judgment on July 18, 2011, the court frowned at the parade of Obono before the media. It awarded N20 million exemplary damages against the Police in favour of Obono.
While this trend continues, findings revealed that most of the suspects paraded by security agencies are often persons of low means. The rich and the powerful, especially those in the political class, rarely get the ugly treatment. Even a former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, who was pronounced guilty of crime by the courts, was not paraded before his trial.
Lawyers who spoke with HumAngle said suspects paraded illegally are advised to seek redress in a court of law for the abuse of their fundamental human rights.
They urged Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to order the arrest and prosecution of security agents who engage in the media parade, trial and extrajudicial killing of criminal suspects in custody. The minister spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, did not respond to enquiries seeking his comment on the subject.
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