President Buhari, Stop The Public Parade Of Suspects By The Police

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President Buhari, as one who in the last few days has declared the Nigerian government’s commitment to respect everyone’s human rights, the continued open and public abuse of criminal suspects by the Nigeria police must stop now.

Time and time again, reasonable Nigerians have called on the police and other law enforcers to desist from the illegal parade suspects awaiting trial. In a society like Nigeria where the rule of law is supposed to be in place, the police should be reminded that our Constitution invokes the presumption of innocence for all suspects.

To his credit, a former Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, once ordered police postings across the nation to stop the act of parading suspects while investigations are still in process. Nevertheless, this call for the police to respect the human rights of all suspects under arrest and prosecution has been undermined continuously during the police leadership of Suleiman Abba and now under the present police leadership.

A case in point is the Rivers State Police Command which just paraded multiple suspects with the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Chris Ezike in supervision.

Mr. President, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act, and our Constitution clearly state that the unlawful parading of suspects awaiting arraignment in court, before the media in particular, takes away the suspect’s right to a fair hearing and undercuts the person’s basic human rights and safety.

These suspects have not yet had their day in court, and as such, cannot conceivably have been convicted by a court of law. The only conviction is by the media with the blessing of the police and other law enforcement agencies.

Mr. President, it appears that this backward practice is nothing more than a sensationalized circus side show by state command heads in their drive for personal popularity.

On a psychological level, there are times when the identification of suspects is warranted, which is known as a police lineup or identity parade, but it is supposed to be a highly supervised, private and confidential process by which a crime victim or witness is asked to identify a suspect. Even this type of lineup, known generally as eyewitness identification, is marked with a long controversial history to this very day.

This type of public shame and media trial of suspects could affect judicial authorities consciously and/or unconsciously, as they might have seen the paraded suspect on TV or in the newspapers with a face marked with “guilt and embarrassment” as a result of the undue pressure and guard of the police.

Ordinarily, our system calls for a suspect upon arrest to appear in court and enter a plea as in guilty and not guilty. He or she could be subjected to a period of temporary custody prior to trial or bail. And should the suspect go through trial and be adjudicated as guilty by a magistrate, a judge or a Grand Qadi, a criminal conviction would then follow. This could then be the right time to parade the offender, as the person is no longer a suspect but a defined criminal!

But, if at the beginning of the case, the charges are dropped; or, at the end of the trial, the accused is entitled to acquittal and freed, and is, therefore, not sentenced to prison, what then becomes of the stigma of the initial public disgrace or parade by law enforcement officials?

As psychology tells us, feelings of shame could be far worse than emotions of guilt. Shame, in itself, is a potent, painful and, generally, a dangerous emotion—especially for those who have been paraded knowing they are completely innocent of the accusation(s), or acquitted of the charge(s).

This barbaric practice is not only a cruel and unusual form of castigation, but on an emotional level, brings pain not just to the suspect, but to his or her family and children, who could equally feel the public shame.

Mr. President, only a believer in barbaric psychology and cruel police methods would think that this sensational and media hyped act could help prosecute suspects better, add value to police investigations or serve as a form of deterrent to would be criminals.

President Buhari, should these sort of cruel and oppressive acts continue, your recent pledge to the international community to see that our security and law enforcement agencies respect the fundamental rights of the people becomes meaningless, if not laughable.

The current police administration under Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase should be ordered by the President to stop the unlawful and unconstitutional parading of suspects.

Mr. President, it is also time for the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to immediately issue some form of stop order or official ban which all public security agencies across the nation must comply with or face huge fines or prosecution themselves.

Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi is a Forensic/Clinical Psychologist, a Consultant in National Psychology, and a former Secretary-General of the Nigeria Psychological Association.

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Articles by John Egbeazien Oshodi, Ph.D.