Look around you; look at your screen; then look at yourself right now. You would find a culture of creating good impressions, giving a good account of yourself. Such is the case of criminal suspects and criminal law enforcement agencies alike. The suspect is usually convinced to perpetrate heinous crimes in a bid to make impact to his procurers or his society one way or the other. Although they claim that the publicity is meant to warn the public of the effects of such people, indeed, the Policeman takes delight in showing the world how efficient and brave he is as a law enforcer. This culture of impression and showcasing with respect to the Nigerian Police gives rise to a curious revisit of the law and jurisprudence of parading criminal suspects.
In Nigeria today, it is not uncommon to find in the news or documentaries, the apprehension of criminal suspects. The discovery of these stories by pressmen happens usually when the police parade these suspects. In this discourse, the Police activity of parading criminal suspects is examined. It is submitted that it should be stopped forthwith on the reasoning that it violates the fundamental right to Dignity of the Human Person, and it is of no benefit or serves no overriding public purpose whatsoever in crime-solving.
Before delving into the crux of the matter, it is of utmost pertinence to distinguish ‘Parading’ and ‘Identification Parade’. The latter involves ensuring that the identified and prospective prosecution witnesses can identify the suspect(s) and confirm that it was the suspect(s) that was seen at the crime scene perpetrating the alleged crime. A set of people with similar physical attributes of the suspect is assembled and the prospective witness(es) is told to identify the suspect independently, without any help. This procedure has been held by the Courts to be a compulsory activity or process within criminal investigation especially when the witness(es) does not know the suspect before the crime took place or was not at the crime scene and denies taking part in the crime. This was the position of the Court in the case of ABDULLAHI v. STATE (2018) LPELR-44491 (CA). It is submitted that this procedure is a good one that assists the attainment of justice and should be retained.
However, parading of suspects is a procedure carried out by the police in which criminal suspects are presented to the public. Oftentimes, the pictures of the suspects in question are displayed on television, newspapers and more recently, on social media. The weapons of the crime are also displayed especially when it is an armed robbery. A classic example is the media publicity by the Nigerian Police in the apprehension of suspects carried out with respect to the notorious Offa bank robbery in 2018 (https://www.channelstv.com/2018/06/03/photos-offa-bank-robbery-police-parade-suspects-in-abuja/). The apprehended suspects were made to have a press conference with newsmen who asked them questions that pertained to the robbery. This press conference was widely circulated online and even on a YouTube. Also, on the 4th of November, 2018, Punch Newspapers, a Nigerian tabloid reported the parading of 19 suspects who were alleged to have been criminally involved in the incident leading to a missing Army General (https://punchng.com/breaking-missing-general-police-parade-19-suspects/). Several other similar cases abound in Nigeria.
On the 25th of January, 2015, the Nigerian Police published an interview of one of its officer on its Facebook page (https://m.facebook.com/ngpolice/posts/849141675127893:0). The Police Officer argued that there is no law that prohibits parading of suspects. The Lagos State Commissioner of Police also reasoned in this direction on May 28, 2018 in his statement to pressmen during a media parade (http://saharareporters.com/2018/06/11/fact-check-it-lawful-police-parade-suspects-claimed-lagos-cp). It is respectfully submitted that there is no law that also endorses it and it violates the right to human dignity of the accused.
Section 34(1)(a) of the Constitution provides as follows:
“Nobody shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”
It is submitted that parading of suspects is tantamount to subjecting the suspects to inhuman and degrading treatment. The suspects are displayed to the public in total defiance of their fundamental right to being presumed innocent until proved guilty by a Court of competent jurisdiction. Even if the suspects are eventually discharged and acquitted, the damage that has already been inflicted can hardly get remedied; an impression of criminal tendencies is already created in the mind of whoever comes across such wrongfully paraded suspects. As an ugly consequence, discrimination sets in.
The highpoint of this discourse is a presentation of a clear authority that renders this procedure of parading suspects unconstitutional, illegal and wrongful. In the case of OTTOH OBONO v. INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE, SUIT NO. FHC/CA/CS/91/2009 (Federal High Court), Justice Aneke in his ruling stated that the procedure is contrary to the provisions of sections 34(1), 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), and Articles 5 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. The Court further awarded damages of twenty million Naira (N20,000,000.00) only against the Police for parading the applicant, Ottoh Obono.
It is my humble opinion that this is a step in the right direction and more similar decisions should be rendered by our Courts as persons whose rights are violated continue to show doggedness and boldness in pursuing claims accordingly.
It is submitted that parading of suspects should be expressly prohibited by statute, most likely that of the National Assembly which would be made applicable to all States and the Federal Capital Territory. The Nigerian Police have paraded suspects consistently for the purpose of showing the public that they are ‘’performing their duties.’’ This is most hypocritical as it does not help in getting justice but public discrimination or sympathy for the suspects. From an objective legal perspective, there is nothing just, fair or lawful about parading of suspects.
In the end, the words of Laura Hillenbrand is a perfect encapsulation of idea against dehumanization, “This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind.”
Abolade Akinkunmi Saheed
Associate, Law Axis 360°
Abolade is a law student of the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University. He is a Student Rights Activist with keen interest in Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
Anticipate a rejoinder containing further legal analysis on parading of criminal suspects in Nigeria.