By Fowowe Adetomiwa Isaac
The existence of the Nigerian Police Force, amongst other public duties, include the preservation of lives and properties, and the maintenance and enforcement of the existing laws. It would be totally awful, unheard of, and a total shame and embarrassment for the Nigerian Police Force to be seen acting in contrary to the law; let alone violating the rights of Nigerians that they seek to protect by serving the country.
Every human has inherent fundamental rights which have been respected by the Nigerian Constitution in section 33 – 45 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). As a part of these rights, the law recognizes and respects the presumption of innocence of every suspect which is embedded in section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which states thus: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty”. Additionally, Article 7(1)(b) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act, 2004 states that “Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard. This comprises the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal”.
In other words, when a person has been suspected to have committed a criminal offence, the law deems such person innocent until proven and pronounced guilty by a competent court of record. The court has further recognized this principle in the case of Yakubu v. State (2014) LPELR – 24180 (CA) as where it was stated: “By section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), every person charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent, until he is proven guilty. This provision simply translated is what is known as the principle of presumption of innocence”.
Notably, the presumption of innocence, while emanating from section 36(5), is a fundamental human right of every Nigerian which must not be violated by any person, government agency, nor any government. The magnitude of the justification of fundamental human rights was expounded in the case of Saude v. Abudullah (1989) 4 NWLR pt. 116 pg. 387 at 419 where the Court opined that “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”. Further, Kayode Eso J.S.C (as he then was) succinctly posited in the case of Ransome Kuti & ORS v. A.G Federation & ORS (1985) 2 NWLR pg. 211 at 230; “[I]t is a primary condition to a civilized existence. It is a right which stands above the ordinary laws of the land and which in fact, is antecedent to the political society itself”. Accordingly, the presumption of innocence exists as a fundamental human right and must be respected.
Unfortunately and saddening, the Nigerian Police Force has not entirely paid much respect to the presumption of innocence of suspects. This is due to their consistent and demeaning practice of parading suspects through the media. Media parade essentially means the practice of displaying or communicating to the public, via the media, about an incident or development. In the case of the arrest of a suspect, it is a means of informing the public, usually through publishing on the internet, the identities and offence of these suspects. This usual practice by the Nigerian Police Force, which portrays a person as guilty to the public, is an outright disobedience and violation to the provision of section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 7(1)(b) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act, 2004, and consequently, a violation of human rights.
Media parade has been chastised by the court. This evident 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. He was shown 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.”
Similarly, the Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS Court in Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors. v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009) CCJLER 245 at 265, followed the same principle where it 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…”.
It is deeply worrisome that the government agency entrusted to enforce the law exhibit no regard for it (the law) as pertaining to the presumption of innocence of suspects. This is perhaps an act stirred by the desire of the Police to be portrayed as being diligent in their work. In the contrary, this does not only portray them as violators instead of preservers of the law, it is equally a trample upon the fundamental rights of suspects.
However, in a bit to mitigate this unacceptable actions, it is commendable that the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2021 provides that “[t]he police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media”. This vehemently debars the Police from continuing this demeaning action.
Conclusively, the constant practice of the Nigerian Police Force in parading suspects in the media by making them answer questions to the press is an outright violation of the provision of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, a sway away from their public duty, and a violation of human rights. As a recommendation, the Nigerian Police Force must preserve and respect the rights of Nigerians embedded in the Constitution, and obey and enforce the decisions of the court as regards media parade. Further, the amendment of the Lagos state Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2021 should be emulated by other states. The respect for fundamental human rights is imperative in criminal matters, with particularity to the presumption of innocence.
Fowowe Adetomiwa is an undergraduate student at Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko where he studies law. He can be reached via his mail; firstname.lastname@example.org; and his phone number; +2349057501333.