On April 11, 2017, two notorious robbers were released by a Jos High Court in Plateau to continue their evil deeds because the Nigeria Police, with their actions and inactions, demanded that these "Barabbas" be freed.
Justice Daniel Longji, overwhelmed by the inefficiency of the Police, was constrained by law to discharge Mustapha Muhammed and Amos Emmanuel, two armed robbers whose notoriety had earned one of their accomplices, Kenneth Okafor, jail terms in Bauchi State.
The visibly irritated judge while addressing the soon to be freed thieves said; “I am discharging you and it is with a heavy heart. I am releasing you not based on merit, but because my hands are tied because of the position of the law on lack of diligent prosecution.
“I have no reason to hold you because the prosecutor has not diligently prosecuted the matter and seems uninterested in it.
“But, if it is in your character to be a thief, you will come back here again, you will be re-arrested one day and brought back to court to face your charges. There is no peace for the wicked; you are hereby discharged, but not acquitted.”
This is not a rare situation for many of the judges in both state and federal high courts across Nigeria.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, who is currently hearing the criminal trial of a popular Nollywood producer, Mr. Olajide Kareem also known as ‘Seun Egbegbe’, in a fit of anger, lambasted a police lawyer in an open court for sloppiness in prosecuting the case.
In March of 2017, SaharaReporters reported how Justice Oguntoyinbo scolded the prosecutor. "I don't deal with civil servants; I deal with professionals. You have a choice of either being a civil servant or a professional. This is how cases get adjourned unnecessarily. You can't be pretending to be prosecuting a case, and nothing is happening. You don't amend charges and serve it the other day or morning of the hearing day; it doesn't happen here.
"You have to be up and doing because we don't want criminal matters to stay long in court. I have people I report to, and they are mostly interested in criminal matters. Please take this advice or else I will send this case back to the IGP”.
Mr. Kareem was accused of defrauding more than fifty Bureau De Change operators and was first arraigned on a 36-count charge bordering on financial fraud totaling N40.647 million, $29,800, and £4,815.
Since Egbegbe and five others were first arraigned on February 12, 2017, the charges have been amended three times while a number of adjournments had been obtained at the instance of the prosecution.
For months, the police could not produce the officer who purportedly investigated the fraud. Even after a bench warrant was issued by the judge, the police lawyer returned with the excuse that his colleague was out of jurisdiction.
A year has gone from the time when the case was filed at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, but the knot remains untied. Is Egbegbe guilty as claimed by the police and the Bureau De Change operators who accused him of fraud or is he innocent of the offense as he pleaded before the court? We might never know. Will Justice Oguntoyinbo gets tired of the dilly-dallying attitude of the police and throws out the case as done by her learned brother, Justice Longji? The possibility is jarring.
Shoddy Police Investigations Earned Prosper Death Sentence
When Monday Ilada Prosper decided to abandon his boss, with the car on the road of Edo in protest for three months unpaid salary, never did it occur to him that the simple act of rebellion could earn him a death sentence.
Prosper was subsequently arrested and charged to court on a two-count charge of robbery with violence and attempted armed robbery, punishable under section 1(2) (b) and section 2(2) (a) of the robbery and firearms (special provision) Act.
In the course of the trial, the prosecution withdrew the second count of attempted robbery. However, a single offense of robbery with violence still earned Prosper a sentence of death by hanging.
The police who investigated the matter before it was handed over to the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) failed to line up witnesses with consistent narratives. While the boss who was abandoned by the roadside said, a bag of sand was taken from the boot of his car and emptied into his eyes, the police officer who supposedly investigated the case told the court while giving evidence, that the driver took the sand by the roadside.
In addition to the incompetent investigation done by the police, it was claimed by the police, that the abandoned boss reported the incident at Etete Police station but there was no evidence before the court to show that such report was made. Similarly, the police could not evidentially show that a bag of sand was emptied into the boss’ eyes neither was there any proof that the victim was assaulted.
Regardless of the contradictions between the prosecution witnesses’ statements and many objections to the involuntariness of Prosper’s confessional statement, Edo State High Court declared him guilty and sentenced him to death by hanging.
However, eight years after Prosper had been convicted, the court of appeal, in Benin city, overturned the judgment of the High court, discharging and acquitting Prosper.
In the opinion of the appeal court judges- Helen Morenikeji Ogunwumiju, Hamma Akawu Barka and Ugochukwu Anthony Ogakwu, who reviewed the case, the substance of the offense levied against Prosper was not proven. “It is my view well founded that this ingredient of the offense was not substantiated or proven.
“Having found that the first and vital ingredient of the offense, has not been proven as required, the second and third elements of the offense likewise collapse. This issue is similarly determined in favor of the appellant” the trio of Justices of the court of appeal held in their judgment delivered on July 9, 2014.
Prosper could have spent the rest of his life in prison because the police failed to investigate properly before filing a criminal case before the court. But, for the intervention of the Legal Defence Assistance Project (LEDAP), a non-governmental organization engaged in the protection of human rights, and related issues, that identified these inconsistencies and filed an appeal on his behalf.
From Football Field To Hangman’s Noose, No Thanks To Police
Williams Owobo was a happy teenager who loved football. His daily routine as a young football enthusiast never ends without a visit to the community football field in Ajegunle, where he lived, in Lagos. On one of such days, in February 1995, Williams was arrested on his way back from the local football pitch in his neighborhood. A fight had broken out on the field, and someone was killed. The Police swooped in and arrested Williams on his way home. That was the first day of the sixteen years Williams later spent in prison.
The police in its usual wishy-washy investigation never bothered to establish any connection between Williams and the person reportedly murdered. There was no finger print to prove he as much as touched the victim. No eyewitness came forward to testify against Williams. The only connection Williams had with the incident was that he played football on the field just as many teenagers of his age did on a fateful day.
Williams, while recounting his ordeals, said he was made to sign a confessional statement which he never wrote but was tortured to assent.
“When I was arrested on my way home, the police asked me to write a statement on getting to the station. I wrote the statement, but it was torn into pieces. I was then made to sign an entirely different statement that nailed me as an accomplice. I did not write the statement. I was tortured into obedience. This was what the police gave to the judge who sentenced me to death by hanging.
“I don’t know the person who was killed. I was not at the scene of the crime. The police could not even link me with the crime. They did not do any investigation. It was like they just wanted someone to take the fall and they thought I was a perfect fit for that since my family does not have money…” Williams said.
Similarly, Tope Oluwasile, a Lagos bus driver, was sentenced to death by hanging by a Lagos State High Court, after unproven allegations that he stole a policeman’s wristwatch, a Sergem 920 phone with the sim card, a necklace and a sum of N18,200.
A police officer, Sergeant Ishola Isiaka, who claimed to have been waylaid by a thief along Ikeja secretariat road, accused Tope of being his assailant. Tope alongside ten others were arrested during a raid at Shogunle a week after Sergeant Ishola was reportedly robbed. He and the others were taken to “Area F” police station where they were tortured and then granted bail.
Unfortunately, Tope had neither money nor family members to pay for his bail. He was subsequently identified by Sergeant Ishola as the culprit who collected his properties at knife-point. The police officer never made a prior description of his attacker but retrospectively identified Tope when he was brought to the station, a week after the incident.
“Before my arrest, I lived at No. 8, Shogunle Street, Oshodi. I am a Driver. On 30/6/2002 I went to work as a commercial driver and closed by 6 pm. I went to fuel at Madock Filling Station at Alausa. Immediately I got to Shogunle Bus Stop; I dropped, I saw plenty people on my street and don’t know what really happened.
“That was how two policemen got me arrested on the street. They took me on their bus, 11 people, three girls and eight boys in the vehicle. They dropped us down to Area F Police Station. They dropped us down and started to beat us. They later took us to the cell after much punishment. That was how they charged us for robbery.
“Our people started to come to the station, and they started bailing everybody who has money. I did not know the 2nd and 3rd accused persons until we got to Ikeja.
“I do not know anybody amongst all of them. I am a Danfo Driver; I am not a robber. I have never stolen in my life. Nobody came to identify me as the one who stole the Sergem telephone. The IPO wanted to sleep with my sister who came to bail me” this was Tope’s account as recorded by the trial judge.
The police on its part did not ascertain for a fact that it was Tope who indeed committed the said offense. Apart from the confessional statement that was dubiously obtained from him after much torture and a subjective account of how sergeant Ishola was robbed, the police failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt before the Lagos state High court as later agreed by the court of appeal.
Tope’s innocence came to bare one decade after his incarceration. The Lagos State Court of Appeal in December of 2013 held that; “the failure of the PW2 (Sergeant Ishola) to give a description or feature of the appellant to the police shortly after the alleged commission of the offense rendered unreliable and suspect his subsequent identification of the appellant at the police station.
“Finally, in the absence of corroborative evidence to strengthen the questionable evidence of identification of the appellant by PW2, it was unsafe for the court below to act on PW2’s evidence to convict the appellant of armed robbery.
“Accordingly, the respondent (Police) did not establish beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was one of the robbers that robbed him … on that fateful day.
“The identity of the appellant as one of the armed robbers was therefore in doubt, and the doubt should have been resolved in favor of the appellant. With the failure of the respondent to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was among the armed robbers, the offenses of conspiracy and armed robbery upon which the appellant was convicted were equally not proven beyond reasonable doubt, and the court below was wrong to convict the appellant of the said offenses”.
Life After 11 Years Of Unlawful Incarceration
“I have lost out on many things. I am just learning how to use the computer and writing a CV. It seems so much has changed since I have been away. I left the prison in 2016, and since then I have not got a steady job. In all the places I have been to, my age has been a major challenge to getting a job” Ganiu Wahab said with a heavy voice as he narrates his experiences outside the prison walls.
Ganiu Wahab was arrested, shoddily prosecuted and convicted at the prime of his life. He was 40 years old at the time he was charged with the murder of a man killed in front of his beer parlor.
Ganiu, now 54, used to own a beer parlor and as typical with many in such businesses, particularly those who enjoy relative patronage, parties are organized during festive periods like Christmas and New Year’s. On the day Ganiu lost his parlor and after that, his freedom, it was during one of such parties that a fight broke out amongst his customers. Heavily drunk at the party, it was not long before someone got stabbed, seeing what had happened, the crowd vanished, leaving Ganiu with a severely injured man lying in front of his shop.
“I came outside to find a wounded man in front of my shop. The people that were drinking and dancing had run away. I could not leave him on the ground there. I have never seen the man before in my entire life but he needed help, so I helped him.
“I rushed him to the hospital, but he died the next day at the hospital. The hospital then handed me to the police that I was the one who brought the man in for treatment.
“The case was charged to court, and I was granted bail, but because I could not meet my bail conditions, I was taken to the prison. I was tortured to make incriminating statements that was given to the court, and I was sentenced to death by hanging” Ganiu recounted.
On the day the court handed out his judgment, Ganiu said he “ran mad,” and for months he could not comprehend how he got into a mess.
Almost two years since Ganiu got released from prison, he still seems dazed by how much things has changed.
Police and Disregard For The Law
According to the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL), confessional statements must be obtained with the consent of the accused persons and in the presence of their lawyer.
However, many of the dubious convictions that the police had secured were got from victims whose confessional statements were forcefully extracted through torture. It was the same with Prosper, Williams, Tope, and Ganiu. They were all tortured to sign statements that incriminated them in court. Their lawyers were not present when the statements were made, neither did they voluntarily give the statements.
Section 9 (3) of the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice law provides that; “where any person who is arrested with or without a warrant volunteers to make a confessional statement, the police shall ensure that the making and taking of such statement is recorded on video and the said recording and copies thereof may be produced at the trial provided that in the absence of video facility, the said statement shall be in writing in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice”.
The ACJA similarly provides in Section 15 (4) that; “where a suspect who is arrested with or without warrant volunteers to make a confessional statement, the police officer shall ensure that the making and taking of the statement shall be in writing and may be recorded electronically on a retrieval video compact disc or such other audiovisual means”.
Regardless of these extant provisions, the Nigeria Police neither records nor ensures that the accused persons have their lawyers when being made to volunteer a statement. Instead, they either torture them to write or sign already prepared statements.
Unfortunately, many of the people who get hoodwinked into making such statements do not have access to competent lawyers. As a result, convictions are got with fraudulently obtained confessional statements.
The Supreme Court also recognizes this when it holds in Owhoruke v. COP 15 NWLR that; “most crimes are committed by people with little or no education. Consequently, they are easily led along by the investigating Police Officer to write incriminating statements which legal minds find almost impossible to unravel and resolve. Confessional statements are most times beaten out of suspects, and the courts usually admit such statements, as counsel and the accused are unable to prove that the statement was not made voluntarily.
“A fair trial presupposes that police investigation of the crime for which the accused person stands trial was transparent. In that regard, it is time for safeguards to be put in place to guarantee transparency. It is seriously recommended that confessional statements should only be taken from the suspect if, and only if his counsel is present, or in the presence of a legal practitioner. Where this is not done such a confessional statement should be rejected by the court”.
Again, ACJA further provides in Section 8 (1) that; “a suspect shall be accorded humane treatment, having regard to his right to the dignity of his person and not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The big question is; does the Nigeria Police Force live by these tenets?