Saturday, 8 March 2014

Resolving Extra-judicial Killings, Assasinations, Crimes & Spurious Acquittals in Nigeria



The is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria is awash with unresolved criminal infractions and frivolous acquittal of high profile suspects. This tendency casts aspersions on Nigeria's Security agencies and the Judiciary whether or not they are directly complicit. According to Lord Hewart (1870-1943), 'justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done'. In the words of Martin Luther King, 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  It is a crime to allow an innocent person to rot in jail while the guilty waltz free.
It beggars belief that judges in Nigeria still take notes in long hand while their counterparts in other climes use state-of-the-art gadgets to record court proceedings.
The Nigerian judiciary alone cannot be blamed for spurious acquittals or miscarriage of justice. The security agencies, particularly the Nigeria Police encumbered with the responsibility of investigating infringements shares part of the blame. In the light of this, it is exigent that Nigeria's Security agencies be equipped with inter alia, a comprehensive national crime (DNA) database, sex offenders database, avant-garde police forensic laboratory and other state-of-the-art gadgets. The dearth of a computerized nation-wide crime database accessible in real time across the nook and cranny of Nigeria will be of immense help to the Security agencies. For instance, there are reported cases of ex-convicts, notorious cultists serving in Nigeria's Security agencies or dismissed Personnel's re-enlisting into the same agency or a different one with altered credentials because of the lack of an efficient nationwide mechanism to weed them out at the point of entry. Such a database will also aid criminal record checks of prospective employees-Private Security Operatives, Teachers, Carers, Bank staff amongst others. The surge in rape cases and paedophilia in Nigeria calls for the establishment of a child/sex offenders database as is the case in developed countries.
If statements, case files, records of evidence are digitalized, backed-up and safeguarded, it will resolve the proclivity of such evidence mysteriously growing wings or getting compromised prior to or in the middle of a trial. A compromised evidence or evidence obtained outside the ambits of best practices cannot withstand vigorous legal scrutiny.
Granted that Nigerian law enforcement officers have their own shortcomings but training, re-training and equipping them with the wherewithal will enhance their efficiency with a resultant spin-off vis-à-vis ensuring that innocent suspects are quickly let off the hook while guaranteeing that culpable suspects are not left out there to roam the street with impunity.
It is a well established fact that in a criminal trial, it is incumbent on the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. It follows that a culprit can waltz free if the case against him cannot be substantiated beyond reasonable doubt. An iota of inconsistency, shoddy investigation, compromised evidence, wishy-washy prosecution and a mix of shrewd defence amongst others, has the potency to exonerate a suspect even when there are tell-tale signs the suspect is complicit. A prospensity for potentially culpable suspects to be exonerated through legal loopholes, extenuating circumstances though more pronounced in Nigeria, is not just a Nigerian thing. A typical example in the United States is the acquittal of 29-year old George Zimmerman for the second-degree murder and manslaughter of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. Insinuations are rife that the subsequent acquittal of Al Mustpha, Shofolahan and Bola Ige were products of shrewd political permutations. Whether or not one concurs, it is a truism that the judgment of an appellate court invalidates that of the lower court. Is it not a travesty of justice for an accused to spend 14 years of his life behind bars awaiting trial or been prosecuted for attempted murder only to be declared innocent thereafter? Something is definitely wrong with such a judicial system! If it were to be in Nigeria, Oscar Pistorious of South Africa would have spent decades in jail awaiting trial for the cold-blooded murder of his girlfriend.
In Al-Mustapha's case, the appelate court cited ‘shoddy investigation and prosecution’. The appellate court in its judgement strongly berated the Nigeria Police for a tacky investigation. In the words of the Judges, ‘’for an offence like murder, I wonder why the Nigeria Police did not do a proper investigation’’. The judgement went further to say, ‘’the prosecution’s case has gapy loopholes; there are more questions than answers’’. This is not an isolated case of the Nigeria Police been chided.
A while ago, the whistle blowing website Wikileaks disclosed how the Nigeria Police struggled to cope with the challenges of investigating and prosecuting suspected masterminds of the gruesome murder of the late attorney general of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige. According to a U.S Cable made public by Wikileaks, ‘’the investigators were described as being ill-equipped and under-trained… especially in the handling of evidence’’.
In 1995, Chief Alfred Rewane was brutally hacked to death in his bed in Lagos. The Nigeria Police arrested seven suspects five of whom died in detention because of the protracted prosecution. Sixteen years after their arrest, the two surviving suspects were discharged by a court for want of evidence against them. In another similar case, it was reported that exhibits (blood samples, virtuous humour of the eye amongst others) for the trial of the suspected killers of Funsho Williams, a Lagos State gubernatorial candidate in 2007 were damaged sequel to epileptic electricity supply at the Nigeria Police Forensic Laboratory.
Another typical sloppy investigation and embarrassing scenario is the assassination saga of Olaitan Oyerinde, the late Principal Secretary to Governor Adams Oshiomhole. Olaitan’s murder investigation pitched the Nigeria Police against the State Security Service with a lot of finger pointing culminating in the Police and their sister agency parading different sets of suspects for the same offence. With this development, the investigation and successful trial of the potential suspects appears to have been bungled ab initio. Please let our Security agencies take steps to whittle inter-agency rivalry because this proclivity is a clog on the wheel of crime fighting and justice.
Just to refresh your mind, recall that notable assassinations like that of Dele Giwa, Chief Harry Marshal, Dr. Ayo Daramola, Theodore Agwatu, Sunday Ugwu, Mr. and Mrs. Barnabas and Amaka Igwe, Momoh Lawal, Rasak Ibrahim, Anthony Nwudu, Hajiya Sa’adatu Rimi amongst others remain unresolved. Nigerians will like to know precisely how and what led to the deaths of the former Head of State- General Sani Abacha and M.K.O Abiola. Was it the so-called "apple" and "tea" that snuffed out life from the aforementioned geezers? Are these classified? If yes, posterity will like to see them declassified.
Sometimes ago, about 60 bodies were reportedly sighted floating on Ezu River in Amensea Anambra State. Till date, there is no definite information as to what transpired. We don’t need the expertise of rocket scientists to unravel the circumstances surrounding these heinous killings. A global best practice would have been to conduct an autopsy before burial. Yes, advances in DNA technology can still piece together some forensic evidence after burial but many of the evidence may have disappeared or unwittingly compromised especially when a chain of custody is not properly maintained. If an autopsy establishes bullet wounds on those bodies, are those bullet wounds compatible with Nigeria Police Bullets or ammunitions? DNA evidence will also establish inter-alia the nature/cause of death (strangulation, bullet injury etc) and the approximate time of death. In advanced climes, this whole exercise will not take more than 96 hours! Despite the brouhaha this incident generated, it is yet to be resolved.
The Ombatse Cult group purportedly killed about 90 or so Police and State Security Service (SSS) officers and several months thereafter, Nigerians are not aware any arrests were made let alone prosecution. Instead of working round the clock to fish out masterminds of this heinous crime, the Director General of the SSS was qouted to have said the Service has forgiven Ombatse for killing its officers and men.
A penchant for unsuccessful prosecutions, non-conviction of culprits especially when they are indeed complicit, profoundly emboldens the perpetrators to continue dishing out their trade with more alacrity and impunity.
In view of the plethora of unresolved crimes in Nigeria, it is pressing that the Nigeria Police authorities put together a ‘Cold Cases Department’. A lot of times, investigations are not carried to a logical conclusion. Cases are swept under the carpet immediately there is a change of leadership, transfer or death of the Police Officer handling the case. The proposed Department will deal/brainstorm on unsolved Cases. In Europe and America 100 year old incidents/cases are still been dusted up and investigated because their government and the populace want to know the truth and what transpired. A lot of times this have resulted in convicted criminals been set free and the real culprits put behind bars because of new evidence and advances in Science-DNA technology. With the help of DNA evidence and Carbon dating, a piece of bone was lately used to identify King Richard III of England 500 years after his death! Just recently, a report from the United State's National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University Law School indicate that the number of US convicts cleared of their alleged crimes reached a record high in 2013.

In the light of this, we need to take a cue from a few countries that are light years ahead of us in crime fighting. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is said to keep a National Crime Information Centre (NCIC). The NCIC maintains a computerized index of Criminal justice information encompassing criminal record history information, fugitives, stolen properties, missing persons amongst others. The NCIC database is available in REAL TIME (computer systems that update information at the same rate they receive information) to federal, state and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies. It is also operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All information in the database is protected from unauthorized access through appropriate administrative, physical and technical safeguards such as alarm devices, passwords and encrypting data. Similarly the United States department of justice coordinates a searchable National Sex Offenders Public Website (NSOPW).
On their own, the United Kingdom maintains a National DNA Database (NDNAD) and also a Violent and Sex Offenders Register (ViSOR). The UK’s sex offender disclosure scheme allows parents, Carers and guardians to formally ask the police to tell them if someone has a record for child sexual offences.
A while ago, police in Birmingham, West midlands, United Kingdom did a trial run of a high-tech mobile fingerprint scanner named ‘’MobileID’’ which allows law enforcement agents to obtain the fingerprint of a suspect on the street in seconds. The pocket-sized gadget is linked via satellite to UK’s National Fingerprint Database and instantly alerts officers if a scanned fingerprint belongs to a convicted criminal. The concerns of Right groups and individuals are assuaged because this device is only used to scrutinize prints against the National Database and does not permanently store scanned images.
Advances in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) have revolutionized the concept of law enforcement. In most advanced countries, rather than brandishing archaic Ak47 rifles, it is common to see Police officers armed with Palmtops, Tablet PC’s, and latest telecommunication gadgets on their beats with which they relay information to their respective offices in real time.

With advances in military technology-Kevlar, airborne lasers, antimatter weapons, case-less ammunitions, electromagnetic weapons, and particle beam weapons, I cringe each time I see our Police officers struggling to move swiftly with their ‘’heavyweight’’ bullet proof vests.
The illustrations from the aforementioned countries are highlighted to buttress what the construct of crime fighting should be in the 21st century. The aforementioned countries should be our benchmark. This is not to say they don't have their challenges. Thanks to Edward Snowden, the world now appreciates the sophistication of the American intelligence and Law enforcement establishments.

Nigerian law enforcement officers reportedly do well when they go for foreign operations but are incessantly found wanting when they operate within the shores of Nigeria. It goes within saying that environment plays a role. The Police are a microcosm of the larger society, no wonder they are not divorced from the unprecedented corruption, culture of impunity, inefficiency inherent in the larger Nigerian system.

Rather than chasing shadows, buck-passing, and a gung-ho kneejerk approach to crime fighting, Nigeria’s law enforcement authorities must be more proactive and less reactionary. Our Law enforcement agencies must raise their game; adequate funding, provision of state-of-the-art gadgets, ongoing training and re-training will help them discharge their constitutional duties. Nigeria's legal system must be revamped to make room for speedy trials. Until this is done, innocent people will continue to wallow behind bars while the guilty will be out there dishing their trade with impunity.

 Written by:
Don Okereke