On regular basis, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) parades criminal suspects, people presumed to be innocent until found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, before the media.
Many criminal suspects such as Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike also known as Evans gained media notoriety long before their cases ever got filed in any court of law because the police lined them up before pressmen who interrogated and introduced them to the world with screaming headlines.
Sometimes, the police post group pictures of these suspects with items and ammunition allegedly seized from them on social media.
On May 18, the Force public relations officer, Moshood Jimoh, tweeted with the official Twitter handle of the Nigeria Police Force, @PoliceNG, a picture of suspected pipeline vandals.
The tweet: “I just paraded thirteen principal suspects arrested for criminal conspiracy, crude oil pipeline vandalism and theft of product in Kaduna, Niger and Delta states.”
While addressing pressmen on May 28, during a media parade session at the Lagos State Police Command in Ikeja, the Lagos state commissioner of police, Imohimi Edgal, allegedly claimed that the police are not restricted by any law from parading suspects.
“There is no law that stops me from parading suspects when they are arrested,” he was quoted to have said.
But is this really true?
According to a fact-check by Sahara Reporters, the long-practised, controversial act of parading suspects before criminals has no constitutional backing.
Citing some precedents, the fact-check proves that the commissioner’s claim is false.
According to Black's Law Dictionary, precedent is a "rule of law established for the first time by a court for a particular type of case and thereafter referred to in deciding similar cases”.
In common law, as practised in Nigeria, precedents have equal potency as the statutory law, that is, statutes created by legislative bodies.
In the case of Ottoh Obono v. Inspector General of Police (IGP), Justice Aneke delivered a landmark judgment that declared the parade of suspects before the media illegal and unconstitutional.
The judge, in Suit No. FHC/CA/CS/91/2009, reportedly condemned the then Lagos state commissioner of police for parading one Ottoh Obono before the media.
Justice Aneke in July 18, 2011, at the Federal High Court in Calabar held thus: “The parading of the applicant (Ottoh Obono) on the 7th of October, 2009 by 2nd respondent (commissioner of police, Lagos state) before a horde of journalists from both the print and electronic media prior to the applicant’s arraignment before a court of competent jurisdiction as a member of a gang of armed robbers who specializes in car snatching and the subsequent publishing of the applicant’s photographs in the Punch Newspaper of Thursday, the 8th of October, 2009 and the airing of same news item on the 9’o’clock Network News Programme of the NTA on the same date, only for the said applicant to be exonerated of having committed any crime by the Legal Adviser of the Learned Director of Public Prosecutions of Lagos State after having spent a period of over 10 months in Kirikiri Maximum Prisons, Lagos state on remand, makes nonsense of the Applicant’s right to presumption of innocence as enshrined in section 36 (5) of the constitution off the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and leaves much to be desired in the administration of justice system in the country.
“The respondents’ conducts against the applicant are totally reprehensible and condemnable and I hereby condemn same without equivocation."
The court then reportedly awarded exemplary damages of N20 million in addition to N50,000 as the cost to be paid by the Nigeria Police Force to the victims.
This judgement notwithstanding, the police have continued to parade suspects whom they are yet to finalise the investigation into their cases or charge to court.
No constitutional provision to back the parade of suspects before journalists
According to the fact check, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Police Act have no law permitting the Nigeria Police Force to parade suspects before the press, neither is there precedent, that is ruling of the Supreme Court or unchallenged ruling of lower courts, that permits the parading of suspects.
Legal practitioners allegedly consulted for expert knowledge on any law that allows the police to showcase criminal suspects before the media for crimes they are yet to be convicted also reportedly said that no such law exists.
Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, reportedly said that there is no law that empowers the police to parade suspects.
“I am 100% sure Nigeria has no provision that gives the Police the right to parade suspect to the media,” he was quoted to have said.
Similarly, a senior lawyer with vast experience in criminal law, Olalekan Ojo, allegedly said the practice has no legal basis.
Identification Parade: The only instance police is reportedly authorised to parade suspects
The law allows the police to parade a suspect, but not before the media, only when the identity of the suspect is in question.
In identification parade, the suspect is lined with eight other innocent people who have the same height, body build and complexion; the victim would then identify the accused among the nine men. This is done in the police station in the presence of the suspect’s lawyer, who merely stand as an observer, the investigative officer and the victim, Sahara Reporters states.
According to the Court of Appeal in Orok vs The State (2009) 13 Nigeria Weekly Law Report (NWLR), an identification parade can only be done “if the accused was not arrested at the scene and he denied taking part in the crime, the victim did not know the accused before the offence, the victim was confronted by the accused for a very short time or the victim due to time and circumstances did not have full opportunity of observing the feature of the accused”.
A retired justice of the Supreme Court, Sulaiman Galadima, reportedly explained further, while presiding over the appeal of Freeborn Okiemute Vs. The State, that “identification parade is not a sine qua non (necessary condition) to a conviction. It has to be established or proved that the accused is guilty of the offense he is being charged with, beyond reasonable doubt”.
Publicity at detriment of citizens’ right
The force itself acknowledged that the reason suspects are paraded is to show that the police are ‘working’ and to publicise their 'achievements'.
During the #AskThePolice session on @PoliceNG Twitter handle, the police, in response to a question by one Olusesan Ayodele, a Twitter user, 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”.
The Lagos state commissioner of police also allegedly restated that suspects’ parade is meant for the police to “always inform members of the public of what they are doing so as to win the trust and confidence of the people”.
This, many legal practitioners, including Femi Falana (SAN), have reportedly described as a breach of the suspects' rights as provided for in Section 36 (4) and (5) of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act.
According to Section 36 (4) and (5) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a suspect is assumed innocent until pronounced guilty by a court.
Section 36 (4) says: “Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal:
"(5) Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty."
Relying on this provision, Justice Adebukola Banjoko, in the case of Ndukwem Chiziri Nice Vs. Attorney General of the Federation held that media parade of a suspect “before the press… [is] uncalled for and a callous disregard for his person.”
The way out
According to Charles Odenigbo, the president of Law, Media and Social Justice Development Initiative (LMSJI) and former chairman of Lawyers in the Media Forum (LIM), the best way to put an end to the abuse of human rights with the parading of suspects is through the courts of law.
In a chat with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Odenigbo said the IGP does not have the power to parade suspects and should be sued accordingly.
“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.”
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Meanwhile, frontline Nigerian journalist and Editor-in-Chief of NAIJ.com, Bayo Olupohunda, had accused crime reporters of aiding brutality of crime suspects by the Nigerian police.
Olupohunda stated this in a tweet via his Twitter handle, @BayoOlupohunda, on Friday, May 18.
The prominent journalist stated that crime reporters aid brutality of suspects with the kind of implicating and prejudicial questions they ask crime suspects.
He also condemned the practice of parading suspects at police command and pronouncing them guilty before trial as unconstitutional.
Lagos Police Commissioner parades suspected criminals (Nigeria News) | NAIJ.com TV