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‘Prisons should be reformatory, rather than make enemies of state’

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Osuman

Chief Mamman Mike Osuman, former attorney general of Benue State and former Dean of Law, says skill acquisition programmes should be encouraged in our prisons and remand homes and when proper legal procedures are strictly adhered to, the prospect of creating or making criminals out of young persons and also over-populating our prisons and over-populating our prisons with awaiting trials will be drastically reduced or completely avoided.

Legality of parading suspects
It is inversely contradictory to call “suspects” “criminals,” let alone parade them before the public, sometimes under the glare of the television.

In the Supreme Court case of IDOWU vs. THE STATE (1998) 11 NWLR (Pt. 574) Page 354, S.U. Onu JSC (as he then was) said: “It is settled law that suspicion, no matter how grave it may be, cannot found a conviction.”

Adopting the vile and unconstitutional practice of publicly parading suspects is an anathema to Nigeria’s criminal justice system and offends the suspect’s human rights.

On the other hand, our criminal justice system admits of an “identification parade” when a witness claims to have seen an unfamiliar person who escaped from a crime scene in circumstances, which requires putting to test the witness’s power of recognition, based upon the physical features and/or other peculiarities of the person he/she claims to have seen.

There must be real doubt as to who was seen in connection with the offence to require an identification parade.

The purpose of an identification parade is also stated in the case of IKPO vs. THE STATE (2016) 3 SCNJ as being a means through which the real identity of the culprit can be determined.

Unlike the current illegal practice of parading suspects, a few of whom may be juveniles and young person, an identification parade is only permissible where a prosecution witness would have had no knowledge of the suspect before the crime was committed (See ARCHIBONG vs. STATE (2004) 1 NWLR (Pt. 855) Page 488).

To parade a suspect is synonymous to branding him or her as a criminal. A criminal is one who has committed crime. Such a person is liable to a punishment. And when subjected to an incarceration, all as a consequence of his crime, he/she loses certain fundamental rights.

That is, however, not the same with a suspect whose presumption of innocence is incontestable.

In our jurisprudence, a person is presumed innocent until he/she is proved guilty. To that extent, to expose or parade a suspect to the public does/would not only impute guilt on him/her, but subject him/her to ridicule, scorn, considerable prejudices and dangers within his society (See ABOKOKUYANRO vs. THE STATE (2016) 3 SCNJ Page 787).

Only a well-conducted criminal trial that is backed by a good prosecution can ground the conviction of a guilty accused person.

Defence Counsel must not hesitate to point anomalies, such as occasions when and where their clients were illegally paraded before the public glare, with imputations of commissions of specific crimes.

Pressure on suspect to prove his/her innocence
It certainly does, in that a person who has already been paraded as a criminal would be perceived by other members of the community as bad and his family would be an object of scorn and could be avoided or ostracised.

Under those circumstances, the suspect may either persist in maintaining his innocence or be compelled to admit, so that the detaining authority, who would have been applying various shades of torture and inconvenience, can be lenient.

Sadly enough, investigating agencies undermine or reject the expressed provision of Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that upholds a person’s presumption of innocence.

Having a Counsel of one’s choice, as guaranteed by the constitution or seeking free legal aid service or pro bono legal representation can go a long way in rescuing a suspect from undue pressure.

How It Can Be Stopped
Seminars and workshops should be organised for the Police and employees of investigating agencies.

In these fora, lawyers, Judges, human rights organisation and all categories of investigating officers can interact and learn from one another certain acceptable legal procedures before, during and after investigation.

This will help the administration of our criminal justice system. When proper legal procedures are strictly adhered to, the prospect of creating or making criminals out of young persons and also over-populating our prisons and over-populating our prisons with awaiting trials will be drastically reduced or completely avoided.

How awaiting trial inmates contribute to overcrowding of prisons
I was a State Counsel in the early 70s and the attorney general of my state 30 years ago. I was also a member of my state’s Criminal Justice Committee and a District Governor of Rotary International.

Each of the offices or positions mentioned above granted me the privilege of visiting prisons, dealing with prison cases/issues and also provided me with a unique privilege and opportunities of relating to prisoners and prison inmates.

Academically, my times in universities as a senior lecturer and dean also provided me the opportunities of teaching Criminal Law and Criminology.

The sum total of these experiences including occasions when I was given FIATS by both federal and state governments to prosecute criminal offences did not only increase my occasional rapport with Prisoners and Prison inmates, I have also shared the pains and injustices imparted on them, psychologically, particularly for those that have been my clients.

To clothe suspects with the shameful aura of the word “culprit” is irresponsible and a great injustice.

How it affect the youth, who are mostly in this category
During sentencing, our courts should opt for sentences that are prone to reformation and rehabilitation. Most offences provide Judges with options during sentencing.

Unemployment and absence of values in homes and schools convert good children to vagabonds, who engage in drugs, robberies, prostitutions, petty thefts and being campaign thugs for politicians.

Some parents are unable to send their children to schools. Some expose them to menial jobs and street life. Consequently, we now have unprecedented prison over-population of convicted youths and awaiting trials.

While delays in prosecutions and overburdened courts, with poor and insufficient working tools constitute part of the problem, faulty/wrong appointments, based on party or political expediencies and affiliations put inexperienced, tribalised and naïve persons in offices that eventually dictate the fate of our agencies responsible for criminal justice administration in our country.

Skill acquisition programmes should be encouraged in our prisons and remand homes. Prisons should be reformatory, rather than make enemies of state.

Consequently, a discharged inmate that has served his/her term should easily be integrated into the fabric of society.

In the contrary, several youths who were wrongly convicted and unjustly treated come out as enemies of their immediate neighbourhood and of the state.

The social media must also assume a responsible role in creating awareness and exposing the ills in establishments.



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