The Nation (Nigeria)
Police parade irresistible
DESPITE the passage of a bill prohibiting the parade of suspects, by the Lagos State House of Assembly, the front page of The P nch Ne paper last Thursday, featured a glimpse of the 1,320 suspects, arrested across the metropolis and paraded by the police. Agreed that the governor was yet to assent to the bill, the point is that the police seems to be so enamoured with the parade of suspects, and see it as a low hanging fruit.
No doubt when suspects are paraded, the impression is created that crime is being vigorously fought by the police. And both political and police leaders give themselves some pat on the back that they are working hard, and the people should be happy. Those directly in charge, such as the state commissioners of police, also use police parade of suspects to give the impression they are working hard to reduce crime within their jurisdiction.
So, there is the need for federal and other states governments to join Lagos State to pass similar laws to make the parade of suspects unlawful nationwide. In the bill passed the Lagos State assembly, section 9(a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice (amendment law) provides: “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.”
While the Lagos State assembly deserves commendation for passing the bill, it should be noted that the practice is repugnant to the 1999 constitution (as amended).
Regrettably, it is usually mere suspects, not even those who have been charged to court, after police investigations that are paraded by the police. And most times, after the parade, some of those paraded are never charged to court because there is no evidence to prosecute them. Indeed, sometimes, the only reason for such arrest is that the suspects are apprehended at odd hours or are persons who have no homes and live in unauthorised places.
But when they are paraded, the impression is given that they are criminals. And of course, the integrity of the suspects is shredded, especially in this era of internet, when pictorial news easily travels far and wide. This practice is against the 1999 constitution (as amended) and other extant human rights laws, which provides that every person must be treated with dignity, and even when someone is charged with a criminal offence, he is deemed innocent until the contrary is proved.
Section 34(1)(a) of the constitution provides that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.” Without doubt, to parade a person as a criminal, for that is what the society believes of the paraded suspects, amount to severe mental torture, an inhuman and degrading treatment, especially when the accused is not liable for the alleged crime, as in most cases.
Again, section 36(5) of the constitution provides that “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.” In stating what many may consider the obvious, the constitution is circumspect about the grave consequences of presumption of guilt, knowing that it could destroy the reputation and the integrity of the suspect, who may after a trial be declared not guilty of the charges.
So, how did the culture of parading suspects by the police, arise and perpetuate, even when the constitution prohibits such act? Such that to stop the unconstitutional conduct, a legislation has to be passed as done by the Lagos State assembly. This column believes, it will be to the credit of the attorney general of the federation and that of other states in the federation, if they can engineer their respect legislative assemblies to emulate the Lagos State assembly, and expressly prohibit that unconstitutional conduct.
To show that the police knows that those parades are unconstitutional, and could be a subject of tortious claim, the police wisely avoid parading the rich and mighty, for they can sue them and claim humongous damages. Perhaps, it is the courts that would eventually stave-off that abuse of power by the police when they impose damages for the unlawful practice. Again, civil liberty organisations and public-spirited lawyers should take on the challenge of using class actions and individual cases to force a
‘In our country, the police joyously invite the press, to share in their morbid joy of publicly parading arrested persons, even before they decipher the offence allegedly committed by the arrested persons’
change of style by the police.
On their own part, the police need to reorientate themselves from the top to the bottom, to encourage themselves to frown at the culture of parading suspects. Luckily, the Lagos State legislature has set the pace by reinforcing what the constitution envisages by a clear and unequivocal ban on the parade of suspects. When the governor signs the bill into law, it is envisaged that the state will not run into a brick wall, set up by a recalcitrant police, being a federal agency.
As we have seen in the matter of crime prevention, many state governors are hamstrung in using the federal police optimally to fight certain types of criminals, who seems to have some form of immunity in the eyes of the presidency. So, this writer hopes that the police being under the directive of the federal executive machinery, would not frustrate the effort of the Lagos State government, to rein in the debilitating police culture of humiliating fellow Nigerians in the name of fighting crime.
In other climes, where the rule of law is paramount, the identity of a suspect is never disclosed until the person is charged to court, and the charge to court by itself becomes a public information, which the press can use in the course of the dissemination of news. But in our country, the police joyously invite the press, to share in their morbid joy of publicly parading arrested persons, even before they decipher the offence allegedly committed by the arrested persons.
And by such unfair practice, the nation breeds a gang of unhappy people, who feel angry against the system, and are willing to attack it at the slightest opportunity. As unfortunately exhibited during the tragic
ENDSARS campaign, many Nigerian youths, who may have been victims or witnesses to such unlawful police parade, vented their anger on the public infrastructure. Again, a culture of impunity is nurtured by such unlawful acts, and the vent may be the ruthless criminality that has become the order of the day in our country.
While it is not possible to establish a perfect nation, we should not encourage a nation of callous indignity, in the way we treat the less privileged in our society. To do otherwise, is to create an angry majority, since the poor are usually more in number.