Fate of crime suspects in UK and Nigeria

Posted by News Express | 27 May 2017 | 2,113 times

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One question that should agitate the minds of politico-historical researchers on Nigeria vis-a-vis our contemporary times is: why the seeming wide gulf and difference between how the British system and the Nigerian law enforcement agents treats their respective crime suspects.

Alternatively, an inquisitive mind will wonder why Nigerians glamourise lynch-mob attacks of petty criminals, whereas in Britain suspected criminals relish in near-celebrity attention conferred on them by the popular media and the humane treatment, at least, in the open by law enforcement operatives.

This line of inquiry has become necessary because Nigeria boasts of some political nexus and interconnectedness with Great Britain, given that both nations interacted for well over a century, prior to the granting of political independence to Nigeria by Britain. Also, the foundation for the current law enforcement system in Nigeria was laid by the then British colonial administrators, who even left us with the historical links with their legal system of those days of colonialism. Indeed, the Nigeria Police Force owes its evolution to the British. 

Who does not know that our earliest police operatives were called Police Eliza (or Elizabethan Police)? They were named so because of the name of the English Monarch, Queen Elizabeth. A reading of Prof Chinua Achebe’s magnus opus (classic) Things Fall Apart revealed this British historical foundation of the Nigeria Police Force. 

Both nations framed their criminal laws to begin with the assumptions that crime suspects or accused persons remain innocent in the eye of the law, until otherwise proven by a competent court of law. There is legal jurisprudence or jurisdiction that looks at suspected criminals as guilty until proven innocent. 

Although Nigeria operates under a written constitution while Great Britain operates on an unwritten constitution and depends on legally decided cases as authorities and precedents; but Nigeria and the British share almost everything in common legally, even as their laws are commonly identified as common laws. 

English Law, from where most of our operational laws were borrowed, is the Common law legal system, which law experts say, governs England and Wales, comprising criminal and civil laws. English Law has no formal codification because, according to scholars, the essence is that it is made by judges sitting in courts applying statutes, and legal precedents (stare decisis) from previous cases. In Nigeria, although our laws are made by the Legislature, Judges especially of the highest Court in the land apply the same British style of adjudication.  So, more or less, both systems have synergised and operate in harmony, at least on paper. 

Speaking about practical law enforcement in Nigeria essentially, the legal foundation of the contemporary Nigeria Police Force is traceable to the Act that made provisions for the organisation, discipline, powers, and duties of the Police, the Special Constabulary and the Traffic Wardens of April 1, 1948.

 So why do we subject crime suspects under police custody to odium, while they are tortured by the same supposed law enforcement agents paid with tax payer's money to maintain law and order?  

A good observer of the law enforcement mechanisms applied by the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria will suffer culture shock, should the person travel to Britain and have cause to visit the Police in any part of Great Britain and see how humanely crime suspects are treated by the British policing institutions. 

In Nigeria, a child is exposed to the cruelties meted out by police on crime suspects, as if to say that what the wordings of our Constitution said about the innocence of an accused person prior to prosecution and eventual conviction or acquittal does not matter. 

A typical Nigerian child is groomed by the rest of the society to believe that what a crime suspect deserves is instant mob justice of lynching to death, and not the constitutionally obligatory criminal trial in the law courts. 

In Nigeria, because of the need to graphically portray crime as evil, we no longer maintain a borderline between stigmatisation of crime but have rushed to hasty conclusion that whomsoever is suspected of committing a crime – no matter how infinitesimal or no matter whether the petty crime is hunger-induced – deserves the ultimate verdict of disgraceful and public execution by an unruly mob. 

A good example is the case of Aluu town near Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where four innocent students - Llyold Toku-Mike, Tekena Friday Elkanah, Ugonna Kelechi Ogbuzor and Chiadiaka Loroson Biringa -  were gruesomely murdered by the villagers over a mere accusation of attempted theft of laptop. These boys were lynched to death while the police stood by and took no pre-emptive action to forestall the mob attack. In Kano, a lady-evangelist, Mrs Bridget Agbanime (72 years old), was killed by Islamic fanatics who accused her of blasphemy, while the Nigeria Police operatives failed to stop this crudity.  

But the media in Great Britain are currently reporting that one of Britain’s most notorious killers, “Moors Murderer” Ian Brady, who murdered five children with his lover and accomplice, Myra Hindley, during a sadistic two-year reign of terror in the 1960s, died on Monday.

Brady and Hindley were jailed for life in 1966 for abducting, torturing, sexually-abusing and, then, murdering the children before burying their young victims on the bleak Saddleworth Moor, near the northern city of Manchester. Brady, aged 79, died at Ashworth secure hospital in Liverpool, where he has been housed since 1985, after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“We can confirm a 79-year-old patient in long-term care at Ashworth High Secure Hospital has died, after becoming physically unwell,” a spokesman for the hospital said.

For many of his last years, Brady had been on intermittent hunger strike, and staff at Ashworth fed him via a tube through the nose, on the grounds he was insane and incapable of deciding to end his own life.

In 2013, a Mental Health Tribunal rejected his request to return to prison, ruling it was necessary in his interests and for the safety of others that he remains at Ashworth. The sadistic nature of the Moors Murderers’ killings made them among the most despised figures in Britain.

Brady was found guilty of snatching and killing 12-year-old John Kilbride, Edward Evans, 17, Lesley Ann Downey, 10, while Hindley was convicted of murdering Downey and Evans and shielding her lover in the third case.

In the 1980s, the couple admitted abducting and murdering 16-year-old Pauline Reade on her way to a Manchester disco in 1963, and killing Keith Bennett, 12, in 1964. They were finally caught when Hindley’s brother-in-law tipped off police. During their trial, the court heard tape recordings made by the couple of their victims pleading for mercy before they were tortured and killed.

One tape featured the voice of Downey, filled with pain and fear, whimpering: “I want to see my mummy. Please God, help me.”

Although their crimes took place 40 years ago, the revulsion felt by Britons and the hatred directed at them by the tabloid press hardly diminished. Hindley was Britain’s longest serving female prisoner when she died in 2002, after 36 years in jail.

Successive UK governments had refused to release her despite her claims she had reformed and was driven to commit the murders by the psychopathic Brady. He insisted she was as much to blame. Hindley had tried to court favour by helping police to find the missing body of Bennett. But despite exhaustive searches, his body has never been found.

When she was cremated, a banner which read “Burn in hell” was left outside the building. This report by a British press shows how so humanely the most notorious criminal was treated by the British law enforcement system.  

Mr Khalid Masood, a Moslem convert, the lone wolf terrorist who knifed a policeman in Westminster to death on Saturday May 13, 2017, after running over dozens of pedestrians in Central London, was attended to humanely by medical staff, after he was shot by the police just before he gave up the ghost. Watching the medical persons attending to this mass murderer made me wonder what his fate would have been if he was in Nigeria. He would have been shot severally to make sure he stands no fighting chance of making it alive.

Also the situation of custodial maintenance of crime suspects in Nigeria is primitive.  

In Nigeria, prisoners are caged in the most despicable and decrepit contraptions called Nigerian Prisons, whereby they either die of disease, afflictions of bodily harm, physical and psychological torture or, if they form part of the remnants who survive these torture camps, they will emerge back into the society looking like sickly zombies.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source: News Express

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