Why is Illegally Obtained Evidence Still Admissible in Nigerian Courts in 2017?

Human Rights

In Nigeria, the Courts owing to legal provisions do not care how the prosecution obtains the evidence they tender at trial. Despite the constitutional safeguards for human rights in Nigeria, Courts are bound to rely on any evidence tendered by the Prosecution, provided they are relevant regardless of how such evidence was obtained.

The idea of admissibility of evidence based on relevancy, regardless of how the pieces of evidence were obtained, has left the Nigerian citizens venerable to obnoxious human rights abuses in the hands of investigators. There are copious reports regarding human rights abuses by the police officers, during investigations for alleged offences. At times, the trial of alleged offenders still ends, in an Order of Discharge, or even an Acquittal, because the Prosecution was unable to prove the allegation of crime. This is despite the fact, that in Nigeria, investigators are allowed by law to go at any length, to harvest evidence, despite constitutional provisions on human rights. The reason is simple and very straightforward. Once a piece of evidence is obtained, it can be relied upon by the trial court to convict an offender, regardless of how it was obtained, and whether there are reported incidents of breach of constitutionally guaranteed human rights and or illegality.

In most advanced countries, an illegally obtained piece of evidence, no matter how relevant, is not admissible and cannot be the basis for a conviction. In other words, relevant pieces of evidence obtained in breach of human rights are not admissible. This simply means that, investigators must in a bid to harvest evidence, respect the human rights of citizens. Therefore, citizens while being exposed to criminal justice system, upon an allegation of crime, still enjoy guaranteed inalienable human rights. Such rights are simply not trampled by investigators in such countries, because of criminal allegations, which is usually the case in Nigeria. It also means that in such countries, the human rights of citizens rank above the criminal justice system. Yet, in most of these countries, the criminal justice system, function considerably better than Nigeria’s, despite the disregard of human rights, in our administration of criminal justice system.

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Presently, Nigeria is still member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (“the UNHRC”), and was in fact, recently elected for another three years tenure. The primary objective of the UNHRC is to promote and protect human rights all over the world. However, one is left wondering, how the Nigerian government, enjoys its pride of place, as a member of the UNHRC, whereas, at home, there are numerous cases of human rights abuses, under the watch of very high officials of government, and in some cases, such human rights abuses, are particularly, sponsored or approved by the Nigerian government, that is rather meant to promote and protect the human rights of citizens. Therefore, the real question is- if the Nigerian government, cannot protect and promote human rights, within its territory, on what basis, can it promote and protect human rights beyond its borders, and all over the world?

The Nigerian system of administration of criminal justice, where relevant pieces of evidence are still admissible in 2017, regardless of how they were obtained, is testament that the Nigerian government, grants a license, to investigators to violate the human rights of citizens, and obtain any material evidence that could be obtained, in order to secure a conviction. Furthermore, Nigerian Courts are equally duty-bound to shut their eyes to reported cases of human rights abuses, in the administration of criminal justice because, the Nigerian government, through the applicable laws have placed such responsibility on the Courts. Such responsibility in fact, speaks volumes, and manifestly contradicts and mocks the rule that Courts cannot be used to enforce or promote illegalities. This is because, while the Courts can be used by the State to trample on the rights of citizens, promote illegalities with respect to the procurement of evidence and subsequent conviction of alleged offenders; conversely the Courts do not howsoever, enforce contracts tainted with illegalities. This is no more than double standards! If the machinery of the Courts cannot be used to enforce illegal contracts or dealings, for obvious reasons, in the same vein, the Courts should not be used, to allow the State to trample on human rights of citizens, in a bid to secure a conviction. It is the State that makes the laws that prohibits certain dealings or contracts; it is equally the State that guarantees human rights. Such rights should therefore, not be trampled to serve the ends of the State. One is even left wondering, does these violations of human rights during investigation of crime, really aid the Nigerian criminal justice system, at all?

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Remarkably, the Nigerian Government to date defers to countries, where human rights are respected in the administration of criminal justice, to try alleged offenders, where criminal jurisdiction can be exercised by the Nigerian government and other advanced countries against alleged offenders. This deference by Nigerian Government, speaks eloquently of the fact, that the abuse of human rights in the investigation of crimes, is not necessarily any guarantee that the prosecution can secure a conviction for an alleged offence. Conversely, it also means that, respecting human rights in the investigation of crimes, does not howsoever, prejudice the investigation of crime.

In effect, the violation of human rights in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria, to date, does not necessarily support our criminal justice system. Consequently, there is need for our laws to be amended to render inadmissible, evidence obtained illegally or in breach of human rights. In addition, investigators should be made to be liable for their actions, particularly, with respect to the violation of human rights, in the investigation of crimes, as a deterrent, against the violation of human rights. Such an approach will certainly keep investigators on their toes, and enable the Nigerian Government to speak eloquently without guilt, at the sessions of the UNHRC. Reforms along these lines are fulcrums, which the Nigerian government can leverage upon, in protecting and promoting human rights within and beyond its borders, in line with the primary objective of the UNHRC.

Human rights are inalienable, and the allegation of crime is not howsoever, sufficient to abrogate them, even if temporarily, on the altar of the administration of criminal justice.

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© Nnamdi Amaefule

Contact: nj.amaefule@gmail.com

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