Crime suspects and the police
The conduct of law enforcement agents, particularly members of the Police Force, has, for very good reasons, always been a cause for concern in the Nigerian polity. Over time, policemen have become notorious for being the very perpetrators of the injustices and harassments that they are employed by the people to curb.
The fairly recent #ENDSARS protest, conducted mostly on social media, is only one tragic example of how the conduct of security operatives in the country tends to alienate the masses that they are supposed to protect. Almost on a daily basis, there are reports of physical and psychological assault committed by a police, military, or para-military man on an innocent individual somewhere.
This has led to the bizarre situation where, rather than feel safe, citizens approach these war-clad antiheroes with more than a little trepidation. Complaints come from only those who can safely speak, either hidden behind an impersonal phone screen while tweeting away their bile, or protected by enormous financial, legal and social might.
One of the latest of such complaints came from the activist lawyer, Femi Falana who, speaking at the Civil Society Roundtable on Administration of Criminal Justice Act and the Abolition of Stay of Proceedings in Criminal Trials, accused the Police of parading only less-privileged criminals before the general public and traditional media. At the programme organised by Human and Environmental Development Agenda, Mr Falana observed that the parade of suspects “is a class matter” “You don’t parade the big men,” said the legal luminary, “You don’t parade politically exposed persons. You only parade the poor.”
Although discussion about the unjust parade of suspects should not be reduced to a matter of class, Falana’s words ring true for many Nigerians who have witnessed, on their television screens, the spectacle of bruised, unclad “criminals” being prodded by pressmen and policemen for the details of their “operations.” The question this raises is: why parade men and women in public before they have been pronounced guilty in a court of law? Under normal circumstances, journalists are not even allowed into law courts, because those who are standing trial are innocent until proven guilty and the taking of photos or manner of reporting the case, can adversely affect that presumption of innocence.
One possible answer to the earlier question is that the police, knowing that its competence is very much in doubt in the mind of Nigerians, uses the spectacle of such drama to launder its image. This is however a very wrong way for the police to showcase itself. The way to tell Nigerians that they are safe in the hands of law enforcement is to always follow the due process of charging people to court, and leaving the pronouncement of guilt or innocence to the judges in charge of those cases.
Parading “criminals” does nothing but aggravate the people’s ironic feeling of insecurity at the hands of the police. This is especially so because of the apparent lapses in the process of apprehension of these suspects. Many Nigerians have reported incidents in which they have been “arrested” by the police for “wandering” or “gallivanting,” and kept in custody for days for the same frivolous reasons. There have also been reports of some of these hapless citizens being taken as substitutes for notorious but elusive criminals or gangs, such that it is possible some of the people being paraded in the media as hardened felons do not even have an idea of the crime(s) being spoken about.
Policemen must know that they fool no one with their insensate propaganda, insofar as evidence of due process is not provided in the course of these parades. If anything, the incompetence within the Force’s ranks is what is being showcased. A lot of Nigerians watch these parades as circuses, and the circus creatures are not only the “criminals,” but also the legally clueless or defiant policemen who stand as heroes in wrongfulness, thinking they are doing the right thing.
One obvious solution to this ineptitude and barbarity of policemen across the country is, of course, training and education. Indeed, given the importance of a well-trained and professional police force to the general wellbeing of a nation, there can be no end to this prophylactic measure. Policemen must be informed that their practice of parading suspects is illegal, by virtue of its violating the provisions of Section 36 of the Constitution, which provides for the presumption of innocence of an accused person until he or she is proven guilty. They should also be made to understand that the manner in which these suspects are paraded infringes on their right to the dignity of the human person as guaranteed by Section 34 of the Constitution. The attitude of referring frivolous matters, especially those bothering on civil dispute between parties, puts a strain on the resources of the State, and leads to congestion of the courts dockets as well as the prisons, as the suspects who are often remanded in prison custody are unable to meet their bail conditions due to their impecunious status.There is serious need for professionalism in the country’s law enforcement agencies. Cases reported should be well investigated before suspects are arraigned in court.
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