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HURIWA Asks EFCC, NIGERIA POLICE, NDLEA to stop Parade of Accused Persons

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For the umpteenth time, leading civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has asked the law enforcement agencies in the Country to obey the constitution and put a permanent stop to their practice of pre-trial media parade of accused persons.  

In a media statement issued to mark the one year anniversary of the nationwide #ENDSARS PROTESTS, the civil rights advocacy group through the National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko said the continuous parade of suspects increasingly portrays Nigeria as a Banana Republic whereby the Constitution is defecated upon by the same publicly paid employees who should enforce the law just as the Rights group said in developed societies, identity of crime suspects are revealed after they are convicted by competent courts of law. 

HURIWA said it is in discussion with stakeholders on what legal steps to take to compel law enforcement agencies to follow the law and stop media parade of accused persons in Nigeria. 

The following are our determination regarding media persecution of suspects: 

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, etc. 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 over 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 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.A clear case is the case of chidimma ojukwu a 21 years old undergraduate of Lagos state university mass communication who was alleged to have killed the CEO of super TV ,Usifo  Ataga ,in Lagos recently. But in another trending follow – up video,the young lady made a dramatic U- turn , curiously recanting her earlier “confession” before the media during her initial parade in the police premises.she denied ever killing Ataga.

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 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.

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.

The courts have consistently cautioned the law enforcement agencies, to desist from parading criminal suspects before the media.

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 Section 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.

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 CFRN1999, which provides for the 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 courts. 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 inclination, such suspects are subjected to gruelling 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.

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 Kayode Eso, J.S.C of blessed memory succinctly stated, “[i]t is a primary condition to a civilised existence”. (RANSOME KUTI & ORS v A.G. OF FEDERATION & ORS (1985) 2 NWLR P. 211 at 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 AGF & ANOR (2007) CHR 218 at 232, Banjoko J. (as she then was) (then of 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

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, Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human Rights Activist in a 2017 article,gave an example of one of such court cases: 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 innocent.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.”

Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko is the National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and he wrote in from Abuja

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