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How media trial affects suspects, cases

The legal community has continued to criticize the practice of media pre-trial of suspects by law enforcement agencies without commensurate successful prosecution in court. Daily…

The legal community has continued to criticize the practice of media pre-trial of suspects by law enforcement agencies without commensurate successful prosecution in court. Daily Trust on Sunday takes a look at the negative trend.

Besides the pronouncements of the judiciary, non-governmental organisations and legal experts have described the practice as a violation of the constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental rights of the suspects and abridgment on the principle of fair trial.

The concerns have also been centred on the fact that the parade serve no useful purpose as most of the persons so paraded are eventually freed by the court with lack of adequate evidence by the police to obtain a conviction.

Legal experts contend that by the time many of those paraded and eventually cleared by the court return to society, they find it difficult to fit in due to stigma attached to their perceived guilt owing to the media parade.

Since the media parade of Chidinma Ojukwu, the key suspect in the murder of CEO of Super TV, Usifo Ataga, in June, the actual criminal trial has yet to commence in court. But she has had few more media appearances since then.

The most surprising part of the media appearances is that her subsequent media outings appear to retract her earlier account of what seemed a confessional statement providing the gory details of the attack on the CEO made when the Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Hakeem Odumosu, first paraded her publicly.

According to the 21-year-old 300-level student of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, after she and the 50-year-old CEO went out together, they returned to a hotel apartment with some hard substances and alcohol which they smoked and drank.

According to her, they had an argument after the deceased wanted to have his way with her a second time, and because she was protesting the first one by accusing him of not giving her enough financial support, she resisted, and stabbed him twice in self defence – first when he chased her to the kitchen and second in the neck on the bed.

But in the subsequent interviews, Ojukwu denied the earlier accounts. She said on returning to the apartment from where she went to buy food that evening, she met Ataga in a pool of blood.

“I didn’t injure anybody. I don’t know who must have come into the apartment, and did that. I don’t know who that person is. I don’t know what happened. I did not kill him,” she said.

Police have announced the arrest of more suspects in connection to the murder after establishing a case of conspiracy and murder.

In June 2017, the police in Lagos paraded suspected kidnap kingpin Evans, whom they claimed had been terrorizing many parts of Southern Nigeria with high-profile abductions with his gang.

The gang members, who have been facing trial before a Lagos High Court are: Uche Amadi, Ogechi Uchechukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu and Victor Aduba.

Also, Taraba State kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Bala, also known as Wadume, was paraded following his arrest by the police in August 2019 after various kidnap operations one of which led to the killing of three police officers.

Those charged with Wadume are Inspector Aliyu Dadje, who was a station officer at police headquarters at Ibi Local Government Area of Taraba State; Auwalu Bala (Omo Razor); Uba Bala (Uba Belu); Bashir Waziri (Baba Runs); Zubairu Abdullahi (Basho); Hafizu Bala (Maiwelder); Rayyanu Abdul and seven military officers.

The military officers are Captain Tijjani Balarabe; Staff Sgt David Isaiah; Sgt Ibrahim Mohammed; Corporal Bartholomew Obanye; Private Mohammed Nura; Lance Corporal Okorozie Gideon; Corporal Marcus Michael; Lance Corporal Nvenaweimoeimi Akpagra; Staff Sgt Abdulahi Adamu and Private Ebele Emmanuel.

The suspects are facing trial before a Federal High Court in Abuja since then but the military personnel indicted in the case were separated and have not been arraigned in court.

On July 27, videos of the nine-year-old child, accused of setting fire the multi-billion-naira Ebeano Supermarket in Abuja was seen being questioned by the police,

The video, which went viral, showed the police questioning the minor without concealing her identity, as investigators claimed sighting her via a CCTV camera, lighting up the inflammable section of the mall.

The outcry over pre-trial parade of suspects forced the Lagos State House of Assembly in July to pass a bill prohibiting the parade of suspects in the state.

The bill is expected to stop police parade of suspects in the media before filing formal charges if it is assented to by the governor.

In addition to stopping the parade of suspects before the media, the bill also prohibits arrests in lieu in criminal matters, including inhumane treatment of suspects such as torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

It also stipulates that the only condition where the police can arrest without warrant is if a person is “reasonably suspected to unlawfully be in possession of firearms or other such dangerous instruments.”

The bill adds that arrested persons “shall be given reasonable facilities for obtaining legal advice, bail or making arrangements for defence or release.”

Also, in July, the House of Representatives passed a resolution against the pre-trial parade of suspects. The resolution of the lower legislative chamber followed a motion of urgent public importance moved by Tolu Akande-Sadipe, a lawmaker from Oyo State.

Akande-Sadipe said, “The law of Nigeria does not allow for social media trials and matters that are sub judice are not to be discussed by the media.”

Similarly, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) condemned the media trial and police parade of Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu over the murder of Super TV chief executive officer, Michael Usifo Ataga.

In a statement by Chino Obiagwu (SAN) in July, LEDAP said Chidinma’s parade by the Nigeria Police Force violates her fundamental right to fair hearing and presumption of innocence as provided under the Nigerian Constitution.

“In addition, Section 35 (2) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice.”

LEDAP cited the judgment of the FCT High Court presided by Justice Adebukola Banjoko between Ndukwem Chiziri Nice v AG, Federation & Anor (2007) CHR218 at 232, where she held that “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.”

LEDAP also cited the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice had in Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors. V Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009) CCJLER 245 at 265 condemned what it called ‘media trial’ of the applicants in the following words: “The Courts 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.”

This illegal practice and total disregard for the rule of law and due process violates the foremost human right of any suspect which is guaranteed under Section 35(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and this also violates Article 7 of the African Charter on Human Rights which Nigeria is a signatory to and by virtue of its incorporation in the domestic laws of Nigeria.

LEDAP argues that trial by media and police parade unduly interferes with justice delivery as every suspect enjoys constitutional protection of presumption of innocence until proven guilty and respect of his person or put properly, right to dignity of human person under section 34(1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution.

Also, human rights activist Femi Falana (SAN) filed a suit before a Federal High Court in Abuja against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Attorney-General of Federation over media parade of suspects.

Falana contends that pre-trial media parade of criminal suspects by security and anti-corruption agencies is illegal and unconstitutional.

He said the act is a violation of Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended, Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

He argues that only the poor and the less privileged are paraded before the media, with rich suspects treated with dignity and respect.

For Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq “until adjudged guilty by a competent court of jurisdiction, the media coverage, legally speaking is unconstitutional against the innocence status within the constitutional ambit of Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution.”

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