The Lagos State House of Assembly recently passed an amended version of the Criminal Justice Law of the state, barring the police and other security agencies from parading suspects before the media.
The bill, passed through voice votes conducted by the Deputy Speaker, Wasiu Eshilokun-Sanni, who presided over the plenary session, in Section 9(A) states that, “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.”
The bill, which is yet to be signed into law by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, among others, bars the police or any other agency from arresting a person in lieu of another person in a criminal matter.
The bill adds that a person who is arrested shall be given reasonable facilities for obtaining legal advice, bail or making arrangements for defence or release.
The bill also stipulates that a suspect should be accorded humane treatment, with the right to dignity of person, and should not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
While the bill has been hailed in some quarters, it has received knocks from others. But what is interesting is that nobody has come out in support of the parading of suspects. The knocks the bill is getting are in its implementation. This is because it could be difficult for a law passed by a state to be binding on a federal government institutions, this time, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security agencies.
Pundits note that the police are outside the legislative competence of the House of Assembly under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), especially as regards items 45 and 68 of the Exclusive Legislative List.
Still, the proponents of the new bill say it is consistent with Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended); which provides that a suspect is presumed innocent of an alleged offence until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Now, both parties could be right in their assessment of the issue, but so much energy should not be dissipated on that. The bigger issue is the archaic and degrading practice of the parading of suspects before any court pronounces them guilty of the offences for which they are held. It is in that regard that we commend the Lagos asssembly for initiating the idea and amending the bill. But at this juncture, we call on the federal government to take this issue up and own it. In fact, it should push for such a law so that security personnel across the country will be bound by it. This is a serious human rights issue that should not be left to individual states to act on. Even the constitution of the country recognises the fact that an individual is innocent until proven otherwise. Parading a suspect before the media casts that person as guilty of the crime even before they get the opportunity to defend themselves. It stigmatises the suspect just as it has the capability of affecting the way a judge handles the issue and its eventual outcome.
It affects the person’s social standing and psychology, and in some instances after such a show, the person would be found innocent. The damage done to that suspect’s reputation cannot be reversed; at least not in totality. It is even worse when relatives of suspects on the run are paraded. This is totally uncalled for.
To make matters worse, such parades do not necessarily translate into judicious prosecution of the case/cases in question. In many instances, after the initial parade, nothing is heard of that suspect or case again. Now, of what use is that if the criminal is not punished.
Sometimes, it is outright charade, whereby due to the attention given to a case, a group of persons are paraded to quell tension, and that is all. And in extreme cases, after parading suspects, some persons who are complicit in the crime ensure that such suspect is eliminated thereby defeating the purpose.
What Nigerians are desirous of is the real thing; which is that criminals are caught and made to face the law. Arrest and diligent prosecution are required; not media trial.
It is hoped that the federal government will work on this law which will ensure standard operating procedures in the way law enforcement agents treat and handle suspects.