Promoting Good Governance.

Is it lawful for Nigeria Police to parade suspects? Certainly not, reply lawyers

 

MEDIA parades of criminal suspects by the Nigeria Police has, for a long time, been a subject of heated public debate. It involves not only the dramatic arrest of persons suspected to have committed a crime but also group photographs taking in public and press conferences.

Emmanuel Ojukwu, former Enugu state Commissioner of Police, has justified this practice by saying it helps to create credibility for the police, assure the public that their job has been done, and douse tension in the society.

On Thursday, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, also 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”.

In confirming what the position of law is regarding this issue, the ICIR spoke with prominent lawyers in Nigeria; and almost all of them, except one, emphasised that the tradition is unlawful and unconstitutional.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

In a chat with the ICIR, Charles Odenigbo, president of Law, Media and Social Justice Development Initiative (LMSJI) and former chairman of Lawyers in the Media Forum (LIM), described the practice as “grossly illegal”, adding that it has its roots in the military era, when human rights abuses were rife.

“They did it under the military, which set up tribunals at that time” he said. “And the first thing they do when they are in power is they suspend the constitution, come out with decrees, and bypass all fundamental human rights and laws, so they can apply jungle justice.

“So the Inspector General of Police is borrowing the military coup style by applying this principle. It is a military coup mentality that the IGP and the Nigerian Police Force is using. For me, it is a rape of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which appoints the IGP and created the Nigerian Police Force.”

IT IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL, LAWYERS SAY

Ernest Ojukwu SAN, professor of law and immediate past Deputy Director-General and Head of Campus of the Nigerian Law School, Enugu campus, told the ICIR that parading of suspects as it is often done “is an abuse of fundamental rights in the extreme”.

“It is more worrisome that these parades and media trials by the police take place even before investigations begin or are concluded,” he added.

Peter Obutte, Deputy Director of the Centre for Petroleum, Energy, Economics and Law (CPEEL), University of Ibadan, also observed that the act is not only worrisome, but unlawful.

He said: “It is … curious that such practice has been accepted as normal by the individuals, society and even the courts. The suspect enjoys Constitutional protection of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty under S. 36(5) CFRN 1999 and respect of his person or properly put, right to dignity of human person under S. 34(1)(a) CFRN, 1999.

“The political rationale that such parading may be to prove that the government is succeeding with its crime-fighting is not sufficient to permit such practice because it does not add value or efficiency in the criminal investigation and conviction; if anything, such practice undermines the investigation process and worse still defames someone’s reputation in an irreversible manner assuming he is proven innocent. And even if the suspect is proven guilty by the Courts, then, it would seem the suspect would suffer double punishment and sentence – first as being paraded and second, serving actual sentence.”

Matthew Page, former state department Africa analyst, thought suspects’ parade was an NGO workshop

Misbau Alamu Lateef, legal practitioner and law lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University, cited past cases where the court ruled the parading of the accused persons to be a ” clear breach” of their fundamental human rights, and said it must be condemned by all lovers and advocate of rule of law. He also asserted that such suspects are entitled to sue and recover damages.

“Firstly, there is the provision of section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution on presumption of innocence. That is, no one is entitled to be pronounced guilty or punished or shamed for any allegation of crime until proven guilty before a competent court of law by his accusers. Public parade of criminal suspects before trial and conviction is therefore a breach of that provision since such a public parade is a demonstration of conclusion of guilt by the accusers.

“Secondly, there is also the provision of section 36(4) on fair hearing. This simply means the accusers cannot at once be the judge and that a pronouncement of guilt may only be reached after an accused has been tried by an impartial judge and his right of defence has been fully accorded to him.

“Further, the courts have in several decisions condemned such public parade of criminal suspects as an illegal practice. For example, 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.’

“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 the Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS Court condemned what it called ‘media trial’ of the Applicants in the following words: ‘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’.”

Police parade 56 vicious suspected bandits, militia in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna and Zamfara

According to Chioma Unini, Editor-in-Chief of TheNigeriaLawyer, the Nigerian constitution does not provide that parading suspects is part of police investigation and the act may in fact sabotage such investigations.

“What happens if after exposing him or her to the public and eventually the person is charged and found innocent at the end of the day?” she asked. “How will the wrong done to his or her character be remedied by the Nigeria Police in view of the fact that men of the Nigerian police after trial do not come back to tell members of the public that the person(s) paraded has been tried by the court and discharged or acquitted?”

Adavize Alao, legal practitioner and public affairs commentator, who also spoke to the ICIR, said parading of suspects is an unconstitutional act, which violates the suspect’s right to fair hearing.

“The law is clear on identification of suspects in Nigeria which has a clear description on how such should be done, unfortunately the Nigerian police rather use identification use such parades to show the public they are working whilst trampling on the rights of accused persons but most times they parade innocent persons.

“Parading of accused persons acts as a means of psychological torture for suspects to be forced to accede to various criminal offences before the public. It would therefore be wrong for any person to say public parade of suspects or accused persons is not prohibited by any law when the constitution is clear on this.”

THE SOLUTION

Charles Odenigbo told the ICIR that the best way to put an end to the abuse of human rights with the parading of suspects is through the courts of law. According to him, the IGP does not have the power to parade suspects and should be sued.

“It is better that a case is filed in court to challenge such kinds of action,” he recommended. “The people paraded should sue the IGP. It is for the law court to make a pronouncement saying that there is no power under the Police Act, Constitution or any law that gives the police power to parade suspects of crime even without any trial going on.”

Tochukwu Ohazuruike, legal and documentation director at the Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group (ISDMG), similarly recommended for victims of such parade to approach the high court “to enforce his rights and declare the parade as unlawful, unconstitutional and void”.

Indeed, Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, in a 2017 article, gave an example of one of such court cases: Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors. V. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009). In that case, he noted, “the Court proceeded to award damages of US$42,750.00 to each of the 10 Applicants and the US$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.”

BUT NOT EVERYONE AGREES

While it is true that many, if not most, lawyers believe it is completely wrong to parade suspected criminals before their conviction by court, there are exceptions. One of them is Itse Sagay, Professor of Law and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption. He, however, said persons who are paraded and eventually acquitted by the court are free to institute action for damages.

In a conversation with the ICIR, Sagay said: “The tendency is that you find judges and a lot of lawyers saying that it is wrong to parade anybody after arrest and before the completion of a trial because the person has not been convicted and therefore, by our Constitution, he is innocent until he is convicted.

“I think that’s very good interpretation of law as it should apply in a developed country that appreciates the freedoms and rights provided by the Constitution. In a country like ours where freedoms and rights are grossly abused and people do not have a sense of responsibility or discipline, I think some deviation from the way it is handled in some developed countries is called for. And to that extent, such parading may be a deterrence to such matters. I think it is not unsuitable for the type of climate that exists here.

“So, personally, I don’t quite agree with the elitist lawyers and judiciary who say that we shouldn’t parade anybody. What I will say is this: if a person is wrongly paraded, in other words if he is cleared subsequently of any charge arising from the arrest, the person is free to go and sue the police and government for damages. I prefer that approach in a type of underdeveloped society in which there is so much impunity with regards to crime, conduct and indiscipline like ours.”

Loading...