There is a face-off between the Lagos State Police Command and the Lagos State Government on the illegal and unconstitutional act of parading of suspects before the media. While the police believe it is within its power under the Nigeria Police Act, 2020, to parade suspects before the media, with a view to protecting life and property, prevent, detect, and prosecute crimes, the newly enacted Lagos State Criminal Justice Law, 2021, which adopted the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, specifically outlaws parading of suspects before the media. Aside from the laudable provisions of this law that bar the police or other security agencies from arresting a person “in lieu of any other person,” and that “a suspect should be accorded humane treatment with the right to dignity of person; not to be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment; be brought before the court as prescribed by this law or any other written law; or be released conditionally or unconditionally”, it is Section 9(a) of the Lagos State Criminal Justice Law, 2021, that stirs up the hornet’s nest and the present ruckus. It provides that “[a]s from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.”
In the case of IGP & ANOR v. UBAH & ORS (2014) LPELR-23968 (CA), Justice Chinwe Eugenia Iyizoba, J.C.A., held at page 26 that:
“… A criminal investigation remains what it is, just an investigation. If a police investigator concludes that a suspect is guilty of the alleged crime even before 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. Our Criminal Procedure Laws have put in place rules and regulations for the protection of the suspect during investigations. There are also relevant provisions under Chapter IV of the Constitution.”
What is parade?
The word ‘parade’ means to display (someone or something) while marching or moving around a place. Synonyms include, procession, march, display, spectacle, escort, etcetera. The word “suspect” in legal parlance means a person thought to be guilty of a crime or offence, but who has not yet been proven to be so.
What is media parade?
Media consists of means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the Internet) regarded collectively. The term “parade” is a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means a public procession. When used as a verb, it means to display. Regardless of the form in which it is used, a parade is an overt act.
Media parade is, therefore, a practice of displaying or communicating to the public about an incident or development. In the case of people arrested for certain crimes, it is a means of informing the public, usually through publishing on the Internet, the identities of these suspects.
The practice has become so notorious in Nigeria that once security agencies arrest anyone suspected to have committed an offence, such suspects are immediately paraded before the public, in the full glare of cameras.
It is more worrisome that these parades and media trials, by the police, of people who are at best suspects usually take place even before investigations begin, or are concluded. This act is patently unconstitutional and unlawful. It is curious that such practice has since been accepted as normal by individuals and the society. For the avoidance of doubt, every suspect enjoys the constitutional protection of “presumption of innocence” until proven guilty under S. 36(5) CFRN 1999. The suspect is also entitled to dignity of his human person by virtue of Section 34(1)(a) of the CFRN, 1999.
The government and its security agencies have always anchored on the political rationale on the proposition that such parading may be to demonstrate that the government is succeeding with its crime-fighting. But, this is not sufficient to permit such ancient practice because it does not add any value or efficiency whatsoever in the criminal investigation and conviction processes. If anything, such crude practice undermines the investigation process. Worse still, it defames the suspect’s reputation in an irreversible manner, where such a suspect is eventually proven innocent.
In any event, even where the suspect is proven guilty by the courts at the end of the trial, then it would seem the suspect would have suffered double punishment and sentence (double jeopardy) – first, for being paraded and, second, now serving the actual sentence. Public parade thus breaches a suspect’s fundamental rights.
The courts have consistently cautioned the law enforcement agencies to desist from parading criminal suspects before the media. The ruling class will not give up. After all, parade of suspects is only designed to humiliate lowly placed citizens, never the top shots of society. While it is fashionable to parade poor lowly criminal suspects who are accused of stealing even petty items of little value, such as goats, fowls and tubers of yam, it is infra dignitatem and unheard of to ever behold the parade of rich and powerful criminal suspects who daily loot our common treasury in primitive acquisition of ungodly wealth.
Right of suspects to presumption of innocence
The presumption of innocence inures in favour of criminal suspects by virtue of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act. Even the ACJA makes ample provisions for dignity of human treatment of suspects, in addition to Section 34 CFRN, 1999, which provides for right to dignity of the human person. The Nigeria Police Force and other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria have, however, continued to expose accused persons to media trial before arraigning them in court. Thus, the practice of subjecting suspects to media trial and parade before arraignment in a criminal court is an infringement of their fundamental rights to fair hearing and dignity. To compound these human rights abuse inclinations, such suspects are subjected to grueling sessions of interviews and what appears to be “cross examination” by law enforcement officials and the media crew at crowded press conferences, without being accorded human dignity and the services of a lawyer as required by law.
In this flawed process, the suspects are forced to make self-incriminating and prejudicial statements (sometimes innocently so). Because ours is a class society of the haves and have-nots, such humiliating treatment of criminal suspects is only usually limited to the hoi polloi, the flotsam and the jetsam of the society alone. You will never see top civil servants, ex-governors, ministers, top politicians, top military officers and other very important personalities (VIPs) who are arrested suffer such degrading media parade or indignities. It is trite that such extracted confessions through ordeal are not admissible during trial in court. But, even at that, such law enforcement agencies insist on unleashing such media lynching mob on suspects. With trial and conviction already firmly secured in the public domain, many judges (not the exceptionally bold, courageous and conscientious ones) are forced (at times, blackmailed), to dance to the public tune, play to the gallery and find reasons to convict such suspects at all cost. They must adorn the toga of political correctness – “fighting corruption”. Such impunity! Such ungodliness!!
Citizens’ fundamental human rights, it must be emphasized, are rights that by their very nature predated human existence. They are not just mere rights. The Nigerian Supreme Court expounded on them in the case of SAUDE V. ABUDULLAH (1989) 4 NWLR Pt. 116 page 387 @419, as:
“Fundamental rights are important and they are not just mere rights. They are fundamental. They belong to the citizen. These rights have always existed even before orderliness prescribed rules for the manner they are to be sought…”
It is a right which stands above the ordinary laws of the land and which in fact is antecedent to the political society itself. As Justice Kayode Eso, JSC (late), once succinctly put it, upholding fundamental human rights is “a primary condition to a civilized existence” (RANSOME KUTI & ORS V. A.G. OF FEDERATION & ORS (1985) 2 NWLR P. 211 @230). He further pronounced that “[I]t is a right which stands above the ordinary laws of the land and which in fact is antecedent to the political society itself.”
Some judicial decisions on media parade of criminal suspects
The judiciary has always risen to the occasion, castigating suspects’ parade. It has, in a plethora of cases, serially condemned the illegal practice of parading mere criminal suspects before the media. The “jungle justice” inherent in it is that it adjudges them already as guilty convicts even without any trial. In NDUKWEM CHIZIRI NICE V. AG, FEDERATION & ANOR. (2007) CHR 218 AT 232, Justice Banjoko (then Federal High Court, Abuja), tongue-lashed the police, holding 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 up 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.”
(To be continued)
Sounds and bites
There are two sides to every coin. Life itself contains not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly. Let us now explore these.
“A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says, that’s the ugliest baby that I’ve ever seen. Ugh! The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her, the driver just insulted me! The man says, you go right up there and tell him off, go ahead, I’ll hold your monkey for you.” – Avre1
“A boy asks his father, Dad, are bugs good to eat? That’s disgusting. Don’t talk about things like that over dinner, the dad replies. After dinner the father asks, Now, son, what did you want to ask me? Oh, nothing, the boy says. There was a bug in your soup, but now it’s gone.” – John Ocall
Thought for the week
“When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe.” (Mary Frances Berry)