On the 5th of October 2021, Lagos state governor Babjide Sanwolu signed an amendment bill that bans the police from parading criminal suspects before the media before they are found guilty.
Provisions in this new law include conducting criminal proceedings through audio and video conferencing platforms, powers of Chief Magistrate to visit police stations, compensation to victims of crimes, and protective measures for victims and witnesses.
The newly signed bill also covers the establishment of a Crime Data Register and the Criminal Justice Sector Reform Committee to monitor the law’s implementation.
The state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), says the law will ensure the fundamental rights of everyone that comes in contact with the justice system are respected.
Why this new law is a big deal
Prior to this bill, the Police often paraded suspected criminals before they had the chance to follow the due process of being tried in court to ascertain if they are guilty or not. In some cases, their identities are published by the press for the public.
This clearly goes against Section 36 (5) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999, which provides that every person charged with a criminal offence should be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.
Once paraded before the public, these suspects are exposed to condemnation and ridicule as they get judged publicly for the crimes levelled against them. The suspects could still face scrutiny even after they’re found innocent.
This public parading of criminal suspects has been criticised over the years by many people including the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Dr Rapuluchukwu Nduka.
“The parading of crime suspects smack of inhuman and degrading treatment of the suspects which the Nigerian Constitution frowns at,” he said. “These suspects are already branded criminals by the security agents that parade them, even when they should know that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. This practice is wrong. I don’t know when our security agencies will start doing the right thing.”
Barr Yemi Omodele has also denounced the action saying it shows a lack of professionalism.
“With due respect to the Nigerian Police, I think parading suspects before or after the investigation is concluded but before arraignment shows lack professionalism. The act amounts to advertisements by the police. They want to tell the whole world that they are working, whereas in most cases, the parade is one of the reasons claims fail in court, he said.
The Police Defense
In the past, the Police has defended their right to parade suspects by citing several reasons why this doesn’t violate suspects’ fundamental human rights.
According to the Lagos State Police spokesman Bala Elkana, the dignity and right of paraded people are protected since they’re still referred to as suspects and not criminals.
“We have guidelines on how to carry out a media parade of suspects,” he said. “The regulation makes it clear for us to create an avenue for citizens to know what the police is doing about their safety.”
He further stated that it is not unlawful to parade citizens who are being prosecuted because of any criminal offences.
”It is not unlawful and debatable because it is not unlawful to practice journalism. The best way to inform citizens is to bring the person who is involved in that criminal act to explain how he did it and there is nothing unlawful about passing information,” Elkana said. “It is not to pronounce him guilty but for citizens to be able to understand how and what crime he/she committed.”