Human rights and parade of suspects

Under the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence, there is no law, whether written or conventional, that legalises the public parade of persons alleged to have committed a crime.

The absence of such law is understandable and statutorily glaring. Section 1 (3) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) provides that if any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution (CFRN), this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of its inconsistency, be void.

Section 36 (5) further provides that ‘Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty…’ The marriage of both Sections 1 (3) and 36 (5) makes it abundantly clear that indeed, any law that seeks to justify the public parade of suspected criminals will be dead on arrival and to no weight whatsoever.

Many have argued that Section 36 (5) provides for persons that have been “charged” and have relied on the position that suspects have not been charged as at the point of being paraded.

It follows, however, that it is abundantly glaring that the intention of the makers of Section 36 (5) revolves round the need for every alleged person to be condemned only by the court before he can be termed a criminal. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act which brought about the change in the appellation of persons standing trial for criminal offences from ‘accused persons’ to ‘defendants’ further brings to a clear sight the interest of the law in protecting the image and reputation of persons who are alleged to have committed a crime.

The practice of parading suspects is an appalling practice which according to history dates back to the military era where the police exercised speed in showing their competence against the then prevalent criminal act of armed robbery. They paraded the suspects in a show of efficiency to prove the point of being proactive without recourse to the fundamental human rights of the suspects. This practice has since gained momentum and has been an adopted custom in our criminal justice system without any submission to the fact that it is a constitutional illegality and it is unknown in its entirety to our constitutional jurisprudence.

The fundamental human rights of every citizens are well pronounced in the constitution. Section 34 CFRN provides to the effect that to parade suspects is to subject them to inhuman and degrading treatment which robs them of the notion of presumption of innocence provided for in Section 36 (5).

Paraded suspects are clearly stripped off of their rights, largely condemned in the court of public opinion and majorly ridiculed to being subjects of shame before the court decides on the propriety of their innocence.

Such conduct is not only wrong by the judgement of morality, it is also illegal and worthy of blatant condemnation by the dictates of the law, and as a nation, we cannot continue in this constitutional ignorance and expect the rule of law to prevail. It is inherently conflicting.

Daniel O. Adedigba,