PARADE OF SUSPECTS MAKES US PRIMITIVE

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Anyone watching the methodology of policing in Nigeria even in this twenty first  century, especially if the observer stays in one of the advanced modern democracies, one thing that will automatically flash through the sub-conscious of such an unbiased observer is the level of primitive policing culture in display even in the popular media of mass Communication.

This is because, substantial percentage of the crime news shown on major televisions and carried by mainstream print and online media, are about certain suspects or suspect caught reportedly in one crime or the other being paraded and interviewed.

I must say that this idea or practice of reporting the parade by especially the Nigeria police of suspects and then expecting Journalists to ask a variety of incriminating question to such a publicly disgraced crime suspect, forced me out of the police or crime beat in my active Journalism days.

As a trained Journalist who is also a Human  Rights practitioner even as an active reporter with a major mainstream national daily, I had to contend with my conscience about the rightness of joining the mob of reporters to harass poorly treated crime suspects by pouring out so many crafty questions, all in an effort to persuade them to agree to the alleged criminal conducts so I can file my hot sellable stories for my media house.

And for commissioners and the Inspector General of Police, parading suspects and scoring media mileage is regarded as some of the finest achievements of their careers. A certain Assistant Commissioner of Police from Borno State has become like a folk hero for deeply practicing media trials of crime suspects to such an absurd level that he is portrayed as a police hero. Short and simple, that style of carrying out extralegal trials of suspects and even celebrating extrajudicial executions of crime suspects associated this serving Assistant commissioner of police is so primitive that I doubt if he can go so far as he has done in our lawless nation if he was to join the Metropolitan police of London un the United Kingdom. In the UK, some crime suspects identities are lawfully shielded from members of the public just so that justice is done and seems to have been done. Not so in Nigeria.

Few weeks back this same Assistant commissioner of police was seen showcasing fresh corpses of accused persons his squad reportedly slaughtered in Owerri. He was hailed by the federal authority as an achiever for committing extralegal killings of crime suspects. Then where is the difference between the crowds of unruly persons who lynch crime suspects to death publicly immediately they are accused of theft? Suspects in Nigeria go through psychological, emotional, physical tortures and trauma in the hands of the police to make them own up to the crimes ascribed to them. The other day it was one Chidinma in Lagos accused of killing her married male lover. She was paraded in the media and she was made to reel out how the man was gruesomely murdered. This is not how normal society works. Besides, section 36(5) of the Nigerian Constitution is on the presumption of innocence of crime suspects. This Norm that ought to be Solemn in our GrundNorm is bastardised by the law enforcement officials who frequently parade persons accused of all manners of crimes even before the police concludes the investigation.

This weltanschauung if you like, is exactly what makes the society we are in to appear like we live in the primitive era or to borrow from one of the fathers of philosophy-Plato, the practice of parading suspects who have yet to be pronounced guilty by the Court of law, before the media, makes Nigeria look like a group of people living right inside a cave.

The elementary excursus or exposition of the Platonic man in the cave, is about someone who is cut off from reality and who lives in an Island thereby rendering the person both primitive and unintelligent because in a cave nothing informative and knowledge takes place because of the fact of the absolute darkness that envelopes it.
Why then is government tolerant of policing methodology that directly offends the principles of Rule of Law? Is government in existence to promote lynch mob justice?
Why are the media houses not setting positive and constructive agenda and refusing to play the dirty game with the police who are abusing constitutional norms?
Can we say that the commercial interests made from putting sensational confessions made out of duress by crime suspects in Nigeria is the underlying reason for the persistent connivance of the media with the police?

Be that as it may, the action of the Lagos State house of Assembly in defending constitutional rights by out lawing media public parade of suspects is a welcomed idea. It is hoped that other houses of assembly will follow the example already set by the Lagos legislature so we restore the dignity of the Nigerian.

Before we delve into the legal citations on the idiocy of the public parade of crime suspects, let us consider the fact that for instance, the global image fiasco that the constant media trials by law enforcement authorities attract to Nigeria.

Take the case of advanced fees fraud and the methodology and crude operational mode of the Economic and financial crime commission in terms of the frequent media parade of hundreds of young Nigerians allegedly caught in conflict with the law. Can we ask the EFCC why it thinks it is good way of showing that it is effective by displaying young Nigerians over allegations of advanced fees frauds whereas the United States of America whereby the highest drugs  associated crimes occur, you don’t get to see their policing institutions shows to the World that American Youths are into drugs induced violent crimes.

In Chicago, the rate of Youths’ involvement in different crimes of violence is about the highest globally. But how many times do we see these crimes shown on Cable News Network or any of their popular medium of mass communications? The United States of America is governed by law and not by brute force and so the rights of their citizens are safeguarded. Similarly,  in much of the developed societies, the law is supreme and nobody is made a criminal even before the competent Courts of law says so. That method is only applicable in societies that recognise adversarial forms of law enforcement whereby suspects are deemed guilty until they are deemed innocent by the Courts of law. Such cave like societies like Iran or Saudi Arabia practice this. But with the Nigerian Constitution specifying the Rights of citizens,  every accused persons are deemed innocent in the eyes of the law until proven guilty by the Court of law and not courts of public opinion. Police ought to be more circumspect and professionally diligent in gathering evidence that will convince the courts to return a determination that is commensurate with such body of evidence.

We will now read what Al Jazeera wrote about rising crimes in U.S.A and then we will wonder how on earth we have a bunch of people we are paying as policeman whose only interest is to defecate on the constitution by embarking on mob justice.
A story anchored by Crede Newton reports that Fears of a bloody summer have become a focal point of New York City’s mayoral race as residents go to the polls in primaries to choose Democratic and Republican candidates amid rising violent crime across the US.

Homicides and other violent crimes that shot up in 2020 are continuing their national rise, and President Joe Biden will speak on Wednesday about what he “is going to do to help address” rising crime, especially gun violence, “as we’ve seen around the country it is a concern of many Americans”, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.

Gun crime has seen a sharp rise in major metropolitan areas, and especially in the nation’s largest city, New York. Shooting incidents rose 73 percent in May 2021 over the previous year, as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes and New York begins to reopen, according to New York Police Department numbers cited by CNN.

This is weighing on voters minds, according to an NY1/Ipsos poll released June 7 (PDF). The poll found that 46 percent of voters view crime as their primary concern, outpacing affordable housing at 45 percent and COVID-19 at 32 percent.

Democrat Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department captain and president of the Brooklyn borough, has argued he is best-suited to address rising crime rates, and voters appear to be listening.

An Ipsos poll released June 21 found surveyed likely voters viewed Adams as the best candidate to handle the crime increases.

The poll also suggested Adams was leading the pack of 11 Democratic candidates with 28 percent support.

Though far short of the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright, Adams is still well-positioned under New York City’s new ranked voting system, which allows New Yorkers to choose candidates based on preferences, then knocks out the lowest-ranking candidates in several rounds until a winner is selected.

Adams has argued against calls to “defund the police” that gained traction after former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, saying it was a slogan adopted by affluent white people.

Those who support defunding have called for those funds to be diverted to other social service programmes that focus on crime prevention through bettering people’s living conditions.

Black communities do not agree with the approach. Adams, who is Black, has claimed, saying more police are needed.

When popular progressive New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Maya Wiley, who has called to slash the NYPD’s budget by $1bn, Adams released a statement criticising the two for their calls to defund police.

“They are putting slogans and politics in front of public safety and would endanger the lives of New Yorkers”, he said.

But Ernesto Lopez, a research specialist for the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), told Al Jazeera that while “decreased budgets could diminish police capacity to proactively reduce crime” and “some research suggests that the ‘defunding’ aspect can reduce police officer motivation, thereby limiting more proactive policing”, he is “less confident in that this is driving the increase [in violence]”.
The National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has agreed with Adams’ sentiment and said cities “turned the keys over to the ‘Defund the Police‘ mob”, in an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that arose across the US after Floyd’s death.

FOP tweeted an image on May 25 showing “skyrocketing murder rates” in many major cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon which saw a staggering 800 percent increase in murder rates as of May 2021, FOP claimed.

Minneapolis and Portland were at the forefront of police defunding, but their police budgets were cut by 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Portland’s homicide rate increase is staggering, but the total number of homicides was 10 in May 2021, increasing from two in May 2020, according to city data.

This is about a 500 percent jump, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Los Angeles and Chicago cut their budgets to a similar degree, by about 5 percent in LA and 3 percent in Chicago. These numbers came far short of what activists wanted.

Chicago has seen increases in violent crime. Its deadliest day of 2021 was June 15, with eight killed in shootings, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. But crime rates are rising across the US, regardless of whether police budgets decreased, remain steady or increased. There is little evidence to suggest that defunding police departments has increased crime.

Houston and Nashville, two cities run by Democratic mayors, increased their funding for police during the past year. Houston has seen homicides rise by 35 percent and Nashville’s homicides in January and February double over the same period in 2020, according to local media.

Criminologists and other experts warned that increases in crime are caused by myriad factors. Some are structural and have been a part of society for generations. The effects of COVID-19 cannot be ignored, either.

CJC research specialist Lopez said it “is also worth noting that homicides were approximately 20 percent higher the first quarter of 2020, before the death of George Floyd.”

While some have criticised the “defund the police” model of investing in community-based violence prevention programmes, the Safe Streets programme in Baltimore shows promise.

The Safe Streets programme describes itself as an “evidence-based, public health program to reduce gun violence among youth”. The programme in McElderry Park and Belair-Edison, two historically dangerous neighbourhoods of East Baltimore, is overseen by Living Classrooms.

“Safe Streets employs Outreach Workers to go into the community and mediate disputes before they escalate to violence while simultaneously recruiting troubled or adjudicated youth to be a part of the program,” their website stated.

The programme conducted 661 mediations in 2020 and only four of the 335 homicides in Baltimore that year occurred in the two neighbourhoods, according to its website.
Calls for community responses to crime came as public trust in law enforcement plummeted. Last June, 45 percent of people wanted to “preserve law and order” versus 44 percent who favoured the “right to protest”, an Ipsos poll found.

However, this sentiment has shifted, according to an Ipsos poll from March, where 31 percent of respondents favoured the right to protest and 45 percent wanted to preserve law and order.

Police have long faced criticism in the US. Tensions between police and activists have been consistently tense since 2014, when Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

The public outcry and protests help launch the BLM movement. Killings have continued, and so have the protests. Trust in law enforcement plummeted in the middle of last year, when the US saw consistent protests against racism and police brutality.

Rather than viewing BLM as a factor in crime increases, it should perhaps be seen as “a reflection of current social conditions”, Lopez said.

“There is a solid body of research that supports as police legitimacy, and even general government legitimacy, goes down, crime can go up”, he continued.

“As legitimacy decreases people simply just comply less with the law”, and “there tends to be less cooperation with police. This impedes the ability of police to investigate crime and apprehend suspects.”
Aside the aforementioned detailed reports of high crime rates in USA, a number of international body if human rights laws speak to the issue of the presumption of innocence of crime suspects.

In a number of international and regional human rights treaties, it is expressed in Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 11 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Equality before the law relates to the equal treatment of persons in the application and enforcement of the law. It applies
to all public officials, including judges, prosecutors, and policing officials, and requires that they treat all persons equally. Equality of treatment, however, does not mean identical treatment for all persons. Instead, it means that persons in a like position should be treated in the same way. The right to equality before the law is also related to the right to freedom from discrimination under Article 55.

The document on some of these Human rights also told us that a related but different concept to equality before the law is the right to equal protection of the law, a right which is also contained in Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Equal protection of the law relates to lawmaking and requires that all persons be treated equally in domestic laws.

These law scholars say the presumption of innocence is contained in international and regional instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 11), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 14[2]), the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XXVI), the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 8[2]), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Article 7[b]), and the Arab Charter on Human Rights (Article 16). It is also found in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Rule 84[2]) says that guilt cannot be presumed before the prosecution proves a charge beyond reasonable doubt, and this principle applies until the judgment is made final as defined in Article 266 of the MCCP.

They wrote also that there are a number of ways in which the presumption of innocence can be protected. First, according to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the presumption is breached where public officials prejudge the outcome of a trial Public officials include judges, prosecutors, the police, and government officials, all of whom must avoid making public statements of the guilt of an individual prior to a conviction or after an acquittal. It is permissible, however, for the authorities to inform the public of the name of a suspect and that the person has been arrested or has made a confession, as long as the person is not publicly declared guilty (see the European Court of Human Rights case of Worm v. Austria, application no. 83/1996/702/894 [August 29, 1997], paragraph 52). Reading through the above researched material prepared by international law scholars,  you then wonder why in Nigeria that even the Federal Attorney General and minister of Justice Abubakar Malami is seen on television passing guilty verdict on Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra even before the Court has finished the hearing instituted by his office? Thankfully,  some civilised people are still in government somewhere in Lagos State.

The Lagos State House of Assembly, recently passed an amended version of the Criminal Justice Law of the state barring the police from parading crime suspects before the media.

According to a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, Eromosele Ebhomele, the bill was passed at a sitting presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Wasiu Eshilokun-Sanni, on behalf of the Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa.

Section 9(A) of the newly passed bill states, “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.” The bill further stated that the conditions under which a policeman could arrest without a warrant was when a person was reasonably and unlawfully in possession of firearms or other weapons. A subsection of the bill also barred the police or any other agency from arresting a person “in lieu of any other person in a criminal matter.”

According to the bill, a person who is arrested “shall be given reasonable facilities for obtaining legal advice, bail or making arrangements for defence or release.”
The bill stipulates that a suspect should be “accorded humane treatment, with the right to dignity of person; not 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.”

After a voice vote, Eshilokun-Sanni directed the acting Clerk of the House, Mr Olalekan Onafeko, to transmit the bill to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for assent.

Already, Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) has commended the members of the Lagos State House of Assembly for making a law that prevents the police from parading criminal suspects before journalists.
This commendation followed the amendment of the Criminal Justice Law of Lagos which also states that policemen are only allowed to arrest a suspect without warrant when such has been said to be unlawfully in possession of dangerous weapons.

Falana praised the Lagos lawmakers in a statement he signed as the Interim Chair of Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), dated 6th July, 2021. In the statement titled, ‘Kudos to Lagos State House of Assembly for outlawing Parade of Criminal Suspects’, the senior lawyer said, “The practice of parading suspects is illegal as it constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental right of criminal suspects to presumption of innocence guaranteed by section 36 of the Constitution and article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”

The statement from the erudite Lawyer reads: “The members of the Lagos State House of Assembly have unanimously passed an amended version of the Criminal Justice Law of the state barring the police from henceforth parading suspects before the media.

“Section 9(A) of the newly passed bill states: ‘As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media. “The bill also stipulates conditions under which a policeman can arrest without warrant, one of which is that a person must be reasonably suspected to unlawfully be in possession of firearms or other such dangerous instruments. Can the Nigerian media please stop aiding and abetting injustice and mob justice of the Police, the EFCC,  ICPC, NDLEA, NAPTIP, and can the Bar disciplinary Committee sanction Abubakar Malami and other high profile lawyers that indulge in media persecution of political prisoners and opponents of their boss?

BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.