By Mustapha Babalola Toheeb
Yesterday, photographs of Seun Kuti who had gone to the police station in order to report himself flooded the internet with the photos showing that he was handcuffed. This was also confirmed by his lawyer, Mr Olumide Fusika SAN who claimed that before his client was moved to the Force Criminal Investigation Unit at Panti, Yaba, Mr. Seun Kuti, was handcuffed and his photograph taken in the open by the Lagos PPRO, Mr. Benjamin Hundeyin who coordinated the parade.
The act of media parade has been a matter of controversy recently as it has always a face-off between the Police and the Lagos State Government coupled the with legal representatives of the affected individuals. Before delving into what is the position of law on media parade of suspects, it is important to state the meaning of media parade.
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.
Every individual 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”.
It is quite unfortunate that 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. This usual practice by the Nigerian Police Force, which portrays a person including Seun Kuti who is the latest victim 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.
While the Police believes it is within its power under the Nigeria Police Act 2020, to parade suspects before the media with a view to protecting lives 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 2015 (ACJA), specifically outlaws parading of suspects before the media. Aside 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 forbids media parade. It provides that: “[a]s from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.”
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…”.
Our security agencies have always anchored on the rationale 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 right.
I humbly call on the Nigeria Police Force to desist from media parade which does not just subject the suspects to media trial but it also infringes on their fundamental human rights which has been adequately protected and guaranteed by the law.