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Mixed reactions trail Lagos Bill barring parade of suspects

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Mixed reactions have continued to trail the recent passage of an amended version of the Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State by the House of Assembly barring parade of suspected criminals before the media by the police.

Section 9 (A) of the bill passed on Monday at a sitting presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Wasiu Eshilokun-Sanni states: “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.”

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The proposed law further states: “A person who is arrested shall be given reasonable facilities for obtaining legal advice, bail or making arrangements for defense or release.

“A suspect should also be accorded humane treatment, with the right to dignity of the person; not 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.”

The bill also stipulates the conditions under which a policeman can arrest a person without a warrant, one of which is that the person must be reasonably suspected to unlawfully be in possession of firearms or other such dangerous instruments.

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While the proposed law has been hailed, it has also received knocks, though it is yet to be signed into law by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Reacting to the passage of the bill, the Programme Officer of Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), Collins Okeke Esq, described it as a good development, adding that when officially signed into law, it would help discard the practice that “has been prohibited long ago.”

“The Nigerian Constitution provides that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. A good example is the case of the young lady, Chidinma, who was recently paraded before the media and was presumed guilty even before being arraigned before a court and a judge.

“It is quite unfortunate that we don’t practice the jurist system or jury trial, which, in itself, is a lawful proceeding in which a jury makes a decision or findings of fact. It is distinguished from a bench trial in which a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions,” Okeke said.

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To the HURILAWS official, what the media trial does is to bias the mind of the trial judge or the public against the suspect.

“I understand the police want to show that they are working, but there are other ways to do it. Once a suspect is paraded, he or she should not be made to appear before a court or a judge/magistrate.”

On whether a law made by a State House of Assembly is binding on a federal institution such as the Nigeria Police Force, the human rights lawyer said: “It will bind on them. The day-to-day criminal procedure in Nigeria is guided by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), which was signed into law in 2015. It repealed the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), which were handed down to us by the British Colonial Administration.

“The constitution says that every person arrested or detained on suspicion of commission of a criminal offence shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment. However, these provisions of the law are not respected in practice. So, I think the Lagos State House of Assembly has taken into consideration the yearnings of the people.”

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However, differing from the above view, Abubakar Sani Esq, described the bill as dead on arrival, arguing that the police are outside the legislative competence of the state House of Assembly under the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Referencing items 45 and 68 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution, he stated that a federal law established the Nigerian Police Force and other government security services.

“If you read item 45 along with item 68 of the Exclusive Legislative List in Part I, as well as Paragraph 2 (a) of Part III, both in the Second Schedule of the Constitution, it clearly and expressly states therein the above claim. In other words, the exclusive power of the National Assembly over the police extends to offences (being incidental and supplementary to the specific powers under item 45),” he said.

Sani further argued: “Assuming the subject matter is in the Concurrent Legislative List of the Constitution, to the extent that the National Assembly has already legislated on it vide the Police Act, it is deemed to have covered the field; accordingly, the Lagos state law is less concerned.

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“It is a sanction-less law that is akin to being clobbered by dead sheep. The law is at best a mere moral adjuration. See IFEZUE vs. MBADUGHA (1984), S.C., on the implications of any legislative prohibition, which lacks concomitant sanctions. Only the National Assembly can regulate the official behaviour of policemen.”

Corroborating Okeke’s position, the Deputy Director, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Mrs. Ogechi Ogu Esq, said: “The implication of the amended law is simple and clear; it barred the Nigeria Police Force from parading suspects before the media in the state and it is criminal for any police officer to parade any suspect in the state.”

According to her, with the newly passed bill, having been codified in the criminal law of the state, parading suspects is now a prohibited act, and by extension an offence that comes with sanctions.

She said: “It is important to highlight that this prohibition is a commendable step taken by the Assembly to protect the constitutional rights of persons in the state.

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“Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that a suspect is presumed innocent of an alleged offence until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

“Parading of a suspect is an infringement on his/her right to be presumed innocent and any such suspect can seek redress in any high court within his jurisdiction by application for enforcement of fundamental human rights as provided in section 45 of the constitution.

“An applicant for enforcement of fundamental human rights remedy can claim damages for the infringement of his/ her rights. In this case, it can be general damages for the shaming and maybe mental or psychological trauma and torture that comes as a result of that wrongful parading

“The remedy can also be in form of special damages by way of claims of loss of business, loss of job, in fact, for any quantifiable loss the person suffered as a result of such parading especially in a case where it is found that the offence was not committed and it is obvious that the whole process of arrest and parading is malicious and wrongful.”

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Ogu further explained that with the new amended criminal law, Lagos State has taken the protection of suspects higher by criminalising the act of parade.

“What this means is that the law enforcement agents are expectedly going to be more circumspect in the handling of suspects.

“Expectations now are that arrest of suspects and their processing within the criminal justice system will be handled with a level of carefulness and respect for the human rights of such suspects.
It is really a right step in the right direction,” she stated.

On whether a law made by a state Assembly can be binding on federal institutions such as the police, Ogu said: “My understanding is that where a power to make law exists, there should also be powers to enforce those laws. We must know that this is about making criminal law and the security of the state.

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“It is important to note that the state has concurrent legislative powers with the Federal Government to make laws around the issues of security. And it is pertinent to point out that the same Nigeria Police Force will implement other provisions of the same amended law and expectedly the police should not disobey the same law it is meant to enforce for the reason only of being a federal agency.”

She further states that the NPF is a product of the law with a mandate to enforce laws, hence should not be seen operating outside the rule of law.

“What is an offence in a particular state may not be in another. Offences are tried in places they are committed. It is, therefore, not logical for a person to evoke arguments of being a federal agent to offend the law of a particular state.

“This is the same reason the National Assembly leaves the making of both substantive and procedural criminal laws in the hands of the state assembly and why we have the Criminal and Penal Code Acts of the National Assembly and Criminal and Penal Code laws enacted by the state Assemblies of the South and North, and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act enacted by the National Assembly and Administration of Criminal Justice laws of the different states enacted by the state assemblies.

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“I am not aware of any provision in the 1999 Constitution or of the Police Act that states that the police should parade suspects before the media to justify the argument that the recently passed Lagos law is inconsistent with the constitution or in conflict with the Police Act and as a result null and void or not to is obeyed by the Nigeria Police.

“Rather, I am of the view that this new provision of the Lagos law reinforces the constitutional provision on the presumption of innocence of a suspect. Lagos is a federating unit and its state assembly has powers to make laws for the good people of the state.

“The NPF being an agency of the federal government does not translate to individual police officers disobeying laws duly made by the House Assembly of a state he/she is posted to. If so, we can then also argue that a police officer who commits murder or armed robbery in Lagos State should not be tried under the criminal law of the state because he is an officer of the Nigerian Police Force.

“The question is which law will be imported to try law enforcement agents in the state because they are agents of federal institutions?”

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On the practicability of the bill, if eventually signed into law by the governor, the human rights lawyer said it is practicable as long as the institution of the Nigeria Police Force submits to the rule of law in terms of recognising the powers of Lagos State to make laws for the security of the state.

“It is practicable also when the NPF positions itself to take responsibility for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the rights of the citizens. The new provision, which prohibits the parading of suspects, is all about protecting the human rights of suspects and the police should be leading on this.

“What should be the focus of the NPF now is strengthening of existing mechanisms of the force to ensure compliance by all the officers in the state. The NPF has the responsibility to ensure that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is respected and part of this responsibility is ensuring respect for the concurrent powers of state and federal governments to make laws as provided.

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“Once the processes of documentation of the amended law are completed and it is signed by the governor of Lagos State, it is my humble opinion that the needful is done by the Attorney General of Lagos State to put mechanisms in place for enforcement. I believe that the provision is for the good of everyone and for justice as such implementation should not be a challenge,” she stated.

On his part, the Managing Partner, The LegalHub Partnership, Ayodeji Olabiwoninu, said the amended law is a good development and it’s been long overdue.

He stated that before now, there had been hues and cry on the practice by the Nigeria Police and other security agencies of parading suspects before the media, even before investigations are concluded and much more before their eventual arraignment in court.

“A lot of advocates for human rights have made the call to state actors to prevail on the police, even though there is nothing in the law that specifically gives the police or other security agencies the power to conduct such parade. As a matter of fact, it is an act that is a direct affront on the constitution.”

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