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Magu’s curious war on media trial

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It is quite significant to note that Citizen Ibrahim Magu’s very first assignment when he was released from detention last week was writing to Justice Ayo Salami panel about his ‘trial by the media’. The suspended acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) wrote to the presidential panel investigating allegations against him to debunk allegations published in selected media platforms during his detention. Magu, who was arrested on July 6 was released from detention on Wednesday July 15. Citizen Magu, through his counsel, Wahab Shittu, maintained his innocence, claiming that the allegations raised in the media reports were fabricated and aimed at tarnishing his image and rubbishing the credibility and image of the EFCC.

The man in the eye of the storm denied ownership of any property in Dubai, while refuting report that some dollars and expensive jewelleries and wrist watches were found in his house during a raid by security operatives. He also said it was untrue that he gave N28 million or any amount to Mr Femi Falana (SAN) as maliciously reported. “Our client has never given the sum of N4 billion or any sum at all to Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN. GCON, Vice President of Federal Republic of Nigeria as wrongly reported. This allegation is complete falsehood designed to tarnish the hard-earned reputation of the Vice President and our client,” Magu noted on allegation that he gave money to Osinbajo. President Muhammadu Buhari constituted the Justice Salami-led panel holding its sittings at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to probe various allegations leveled against Magu, following petitions by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and the Department of State Service (DSS). According to a report, Malami’s memo, which accused Magu of diversion of recovered loot, contains 22 allegations against the Commissioner of Police. President Buhari had last week Friday approved the suspension of Magu as Acting Chairman of the EFCC through an announcement by the AGF and appointed the agency’s Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar, to take charge and oversee the activities of the Commission pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation by Justice Salami-led panel.

It should be of interest to all that Citizen Magu is pained about the effect of trials by the media, which is actually one of the AGF’s 22 allegations against the EFCC boss. Complaints about trials by the media are as old as the rule of law itself. It can be very painful when law enforcement authorities and institutions create impressions that suspects have been convicted even before their trials begin. It can be quite embarrassing and demeaning for someone to be seen as a convict even when the law officers have not begun to gather evidence against the person. It can be traumatic when as a suspect you are paraded publicly as a criminal. It can cut life short when you pick up a newspaper and see houses marked as yours in a newspaper as evidence of your corruption even when the case has not been filed in any court of law. Was it not embarrassing for publishers of newspapers at the beginning of this administration when the EFCC boss declared all of them ‘thieves’ for collecting N10 million each as approved by the president Jonathan’s administration, which seized their newspapers for a period? The EFCC did not go to court for this declaration. All the publishers who were paid through the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) were forcibly made to refund the money. What was worse, some media executives who handled advertisements for the Jonathan administration’s 2015 election campaigns were made to refund the money collected to offset the bills. Some had their accounts frozen. All of these legitimate transactions with the previous administration were demonised by the EFCC under Magu. This arm-twisting went on without involving any court processes. Lest we forget, one publisher was manhandled like a common criminal at the back of a pick-up van when he was arrested for a normal business transaction and he was asked to refund some sums of money without any court declarations. With all these stories in the mainstream media, the Buhari administration was then basking in the new-sheriff-in-town euphoria. Perception then was that newspaper people were common criminals. The storyline went with the party officials’ who were equally made to refund some campaign funds they collected for the 2015 elections. One stubborn opposition party chieftain who refused to return his collection was charged to court then.
So thus, this same EFCC under Citizen Magu has tried many prominent Nigerians on the pages of two major newspapers since November 9, 2015 when he began to act as EFCC Chairman.

In the same vein, the same EFCC reportedly collaborated with the Directorate of the State Services (DSS) when the latter swooped on the hallowed homes of some senior judges in the night of October 7, 2016 in Abuja and five states. They brought down some of the doors of the justices in search of evidence. Some of the justices have lost not only their jobs and reputation in controversial circumstances; the judiciary has never remained the same since these epochal media trials of the justices and judges, which many adminitration supporters hailed at the time. Even a former National Security Adviser (NSA) has been facing court trial but his curious trial began in the media since 2015 before evidence was reportedly ‘gathered’ in his residence. We all enjoyed the drama then because the former NSA was being tried in the media for allegedly ‘sharing security votes’ to the then ruling party people. The EFCC was involved with the DSS of the time. Let’s see why media trial to get noticed is evil:
There is ‘constitutional presumption of Innocence’

By the provision of section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.
Article 7(1) (b) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981 also guarantees this presumption when it states as follows:

1. Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard. This comprises:
(a) the right to an appeal to competent national organs against acts of violating his fundamental rights as recognised and guaranteed by conventions, laws, regulations and customs in force;
(b) the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal;
(c) the right to defence, including the right to be defended by counsel of his choice;
(d) the right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle in criminal cases that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. This basically means that until a judicial pronouncement on the guilt or otherwise of the accused person is made, he/she is to be treated as an innocent citizen; anything contrary would amount to a breach of the Fundamental Human Rights of the individual.

It is to be observed from the provision of the said section that it is only when a person is charged to court with a criminal offence that he is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. In the case of: Aig-Imoukhuede vs. Ubah, the court held that the condition precedent for the activation of the right to the presumption of innocence is that the person must have been charged with a criminal offence. Furthermore, the court held that the phrase “charged” in the said section refers to an arraignment of an accused before a court of law or a tribunal having judicial powers to convict and punish the accused, if found guilty. It does not extend to administrative or ministerial investigative bodies.

The other aspect of the presumption of innocence is that the burden of proving the guilt of the accused person is on the prosecution. Section 135 of the Nigerian Evidence Act 2011 casts the burden of proving the guilt of an accused person on the prosecution who alleges that the accused person has committed an offence, and specifies the degree of such proof to be beyond reasonable doubt.

The prosecution is saddled with the responsibility of adducing credible evidence to establish the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. No matter what indictment or formal charges are brought against him, and no matter what the popular the opinion may be, if the prosecution cannot decisively establish his guilt at the trial, he is entitled to be discharged and acquitted.

In the case of: Ahmed v The State2 ,the Supreme Court held that: “It is a cardinal principle in criminal proceedings that the burden of proving a fact which if proved would lead to the conviction of the accused is on the prosecution who should prove such fact beyond reasonable doubt. In criminal cases, any doubt, as to the guilt of the accused, arising from the contradictions in the prosecution’s evidence of vital issues must be resolved in favour of the accused person.”

There have been reported cases of media trials, which have sparked some negative comments from members of the public.

Incidentally, one of the early critics of the practice of media trial was the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri. During the 2009 Annual NBA Conference in Lagos held at the Eko Hotel, Lagos between August 16th – 21 Chief (Mrs.) Farida Waziri in her remarks at the Lawyers In The Media (LIM) of NBA session with the theme: Crusade Against Corruption and The Effect of Trial By Media” noted the effects of media trial on the judicial process thus: “The judiciary is referred to as the last hope of the common man. It is the bastion or citadel of justice; it rests and carries out its functions on the pillars of the rule of law, and public confidence. Anything that undermines public confidence in the judiciary is inimical to the judicial process. The media should be wary of this. Trials by the media of criminal matters, prejudices the minds of the populace and make them hold the court in contempt and dishonored where it ultimately reaches a conflicting or different verdict. More often than not, allegation of compromise and corruption are made against the judge. This is very unhealthy for the development of our legal system, and judicial process. The commission has also recently come under media trial. Its efficiency is now assessed not so much on the actual work done but on work, which the media wants the public to believe that the commission ought to have done. Slow proceedings in the courts are placed at the door of the Commission. The media also wants the commission to investigate and prosecute certain individuals without which the commission would be considered as ineffective. Some of these individuals are already condemned by the media as guilty of corruption even before being charged to court.

This approach negates all civilized principle and particularly the rule of law, which we must all uphold”. Let’s continue next week on this conversation: why Magu should not weep about media trial (of Magu).


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