On Monday, 14th of October, 2019, about ninety-four suspected internet fraudsters, popularly called ‘Yahoo Boys’ were arrested at a night club in Osogbo, Osun State. To the bewilderment of all, pictures of the suspects were taken at the point of arrest. Many of them were asked to stand in front of their cars just for the shots to be taken, even when they had not admitted being guilty of the fraud allegations by the EFCC.
For years, this has been the practice of the anti-graft agency, as many others have also been paraded bearing placards depicting their names and alleged offences.
In December 2018, EFCC ‘intercepted’ the sum of $2.8 million at the Enugu Airport. The Commission wasted no time in releasing the pictures of the two suspects carrying the money but it later turned out that they were employees of Bankers Warehouse Limited and the cash they were moving was for a legitimate transaction.
Like the EFCC, the Police also hold the record of parading suspects, who would later deny allegations leveled against them.
In 2011, a man, Ottoh Obono was paraded by the Police as a member of a robbery gang. However, Obono was later declared innocent with no charge filed against him. Worried by the damage his parade before newsmen has done to his reputation, Obono approached the court to challenge the breach of his right and awarded the sum of N20 million as damages by the Federal High Court, Calabar.
In May 2019, an Abuja-based music producer and photographer, Nasiru Ali, popularly known as “Kozzographa” was arraigned alongside nine others by the EFCC for internet fraud. Ali would later file a petition against EFCC, demanding a compensation of N100 million and an unreserved apology for arresting him wrongly and giving a libelous information to the public about him.
Ali had said in the petition that his parade by the EFCC cost him a N5 million contract with United Global Resolve for Peace (UNGREP), noting that the contractors became disturbed and concerned by the publication thus doubtful of his reputation.
He also claimed in the petition that his health and psychology were affected following his arrest and alleged assault by the commission’s operatives.
Foremost Human Rights Lawyer, Femi Falana had also in May this year, approached the court asking for the declaration of pre-trial media parade of criminal suspects by EFCC and the Police as illegal and unconstitutional.
Falana had stated that, “various security and anti-graft agencies are in the habit of exposing persons accused of committing criminal offences to media trial, media parade even before criminal charges are filed against them in Courts of law thereby prejudging them and breaching their fundamental rights to presumption of innocence and against torture as enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 and the Anti- Torture Act, 2017 respectively.”
Despite several calls and court rulings that ordered for the stop of the parade, EFCC has continued unabated and this brings us to what the law says about parading a suspect who had not admitted guilt of the offences being paraded for.
Citing Section 7 (1) (b) of EFCC Establishment Act, 2004, EFCC, had while defending its action on the parade of the ninety-four suspected internet fraudsters stated that it is within its right to investigate “properties of any person if it appears to the Commission that the person’s lifestyle and extent of the properties are not justified by his source of income”. But it is evidently clear, that the section the Commission held on to for its defense did contravene the succinct interpretation of the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty as enshrined in Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, (As amended). Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation, 2004 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.”Also, Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights stated that parading a man who had not pleaded guilty is same as conviction no matter how glaring or overwhelming the evidence against him or her might seem. Also, no matter the outcome of the investigation, it may be impossible to completely remove from the internet or circulation the pictures, hence they’ll have to live with the signal forever.
EFCC may see the parade as a way to show the public that it is on top of the fight against corruption but a wrong does not have another name, it is wrong. Fighting corruption is not only about chasing/arresting people with flamboyant lifestyles in other to hurt them, what they require is to understand different kinds of corruption and develop smart responses.
They must develop pathways that give citizens relevant tools to engage and participate in the anti-corruption fight and not the other way round.