In this article, I shall speak of one’s right as an accused person before being charged to court. Rights of people frequently tend to be violated on this aspect, therefore it is proven an area worthy of discussion.
Human Rights are privileges enjoyed by the citizens of a particular nation. Most of the fundamental rights are in a sense natural right vested on every individual and to which he is entitled without any obligation or duty on the part of the government to provide facilities for their enjoyment.1 Those rights may vary depending on the location and depending on the condition or situation. Members or citizens of a nation have those rights protected however, they can also be limited by the government of that nation but under certain conditions in compliance with the law governing that country. No matter the situation, some rights can’t be violated under the rule of law without following due process or procedure, [u]nfortunately however, many people in our society face untold hardship day in day out because they are denied their basic rights, which normally the Constitution of Nigeria would enforce even though they are suspects [or accused] but because they are unaware of these rights they rarely or never claim them.2 A person who is suspected or charged of wrongdoing and whose standing is yet to be finally pronounced in court is an accused person and not a criminal. He/she can only be proven guilty or otherwise by a court of Law, and not the Police or any other Law enforcement agency.
Nigeria has adopted a rigid and written constitution which stands above all the laws of the land. The main aim of a constitution is to act as a guide and a ‘Grundnorm’ upon which a country operates, it stands to ensure justice. For that reason, in the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as amended (which is still active till date), various provisions are ensuring the non-violation of the rights of an accused person and provisions that give him/her special rights to ensure fairness and equity. It is unlawful to treat suspect anyhow simply because they are being regarded as suspects.3 This clearly shows that the judiciary is aware of the right of an accused person and that it is sacrosanct and cannot be taken away unlawfully in this country.4
Section 34 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for the Right to Dignity of Human Persons. And thus, Section 34(a) of the 1999 constitution5 states that;
“Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly
– no person shall be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.”6
This statement in itself says a lot and is self-explanatory. It is one’s right against torture, inhuman or degrading treatment which unfortunately is not something our Law enforcement agencies acknowledge or at the very least, work with. The police do not have the right to torture any person, as the Constitution confers the right of dignity of the human person on every Nigerian.7 As a matter of fact, [a]ny confession got through threat, promise or torture will be disregarded in evidence,8 so extraction of information from a subject through such means is fruitless and not to mention unlawful. So a suspect or an accused person is entitled to respect and can only face consequences which are prescribed by a court of law.
Another section of the constitution which contains the rights of an accused is the Section 35. This section deals with the Right to Personal Liberty which generally entails one’s right to freedom of choice. Section 35(1) of the 1999 constitution9 states that;
“Every person shall be entitled to his liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and accordance with a procedure permitted by law”;10
The exceptions for the entitlement to the right of personal liberty are six, as prescribed under the sub-section (1) of this Section. These exceptions are;
(a) in the execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty;11
(b) because he failed to comply with the order of a court or in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligation imposed upon him by law;12
(c) to bring him before a court in execution of the order of a court or upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed a criminal offence, or to such extent as may be reasonably necessary to prevent his committing a criminal offence;13
(d) in the case of a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years for his education or welfare;14
(e) in the case of persons suffering from infectious or contagious disease, persons of unsound mind, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol or vagrants, for their care or treatment or the protection of the community; or15
(f) to prevent the unlawful entry of any person into Nigeria or of effecting the expulsion, extradition or other lawful removals from Nigeria of any person or the taking of proceedings relating thereto:16
The above are the exceptions and they all don’t happen to be events that happen under normal circumstances, thus a violation of this section happens when personal liberty is deprived without the occurrence of any of the above six exceptions. Sub-section (2) of the same section says;
“Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice.”17
This section shows one’s right to remain silent and not respond to any question except if he/she willingly decides to respond. Since statements made to the police constitute the most important evidence in criminal detection, the statement must be voluntary not induced [either by threats or by physical force].18 Thus, the accused may avoid answering any question or refuse to say anything until after consulting his lawyer or anyone who can advise him on what to say to avoid incriminating statement because of the possibility of future prosecution,19 but unfortunately enough, not every Nigerian is allowed this privilege when arrested by the police who are meant to be an instrument for the protection of that right.
Another provision, Section 35(3) of the constitution 20 says as follows;
“Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed in writing within twenty-four hours (and in a language that he understands) of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention.”21
The provision of the above section explains itself. There are lots of instances and cases in which a person is detained for days without knowing why. Such is what happened in the case of Alade v. the Federal Republic of Nigeria.22 In this case, Sikiru Alade a panel beater was arrested by a police officer in plain clothes on 9th March 2003, who neither disclosed his identity nor told Mr Alade the reason he was being arrested. Mr. Alade was forcefully dragged and detained and his matter was not brought to court till 15th May, 2003. The case was ruled in favour of the accused for non-compliance with Section 35 (3) of the Constitution.23
Section 35 (4)24 of this section talks about one’s right to be brought before a court within a reasonable time and sub-section (5)25 explains more or what the term ‘reasonable time’ refers to in the constitution. Section 35 (4) of the constitution26 states that;
“Any person who is arrested or detained under subsection (1) (c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time, and if he is not tried within a period of-”27
(a) two months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who is in custody or is not entitled to bail; or28
(b) three months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who has been released on bail, he shall (without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against him) be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears for trial at a later date.29
Reasonable time in section 35(5)3o is said to be one day where there is a court of competent jurisdiction [to try the case] within 40km radius, and in any other case, two days or such longer period, in the circumstance which the court may regard as reasonable.31 So, as these statements from the above sub-sections read themselves out to be, they generally speak against the idea of prolonged detention of an accused person without proper consultation and proper compliance with the due procedure laid down by the Law.
In conclusion, the Nigerian constitution has provided all the rights and privileges deserved by a citizen even if he is accused of a criminal act to protect both his dignity of the human person and his liberty. From that, every individual has his right against torture and degrading treatment, no one is entitled to being treated like a criminal just from being a suspect. Likewise, an accused person has the right to remain silent when being questioned and wait till he consults a lawyer or a legal adviser. He should be informed of his reason for being arrested within 24 hours of his arrest and be tried to court within a reasonable time as prescribed by the constitution of the land because undue delay is fraught to the miscarriage of justice.
1 Projectwriters, ’THE RIGHT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON UNDER THE NIGERIAN LEGAL SYSTEM’, <https://www.google.com/amp/s/projects/the-right-of-an-accused-person-under-the-nigerian-legal-system/amp/> accessed 27 September 2020.
2 Code Mint, ’THE RIGHT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON UNDER THE NIGERIAN LEGAL SYSTEM’, <http://codemint.net/law/the-right-of-an-accused-person-under-the-nigerian-legal-system/index.html> accessed 27 September 2020.
5 Section 34(1) (a) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
7 Debbie Obasa, ‘Law &U: Rights Of An Accused Person In Nigeria’, <http://www.osundefender.com/law-u-rights-of-an-accused-person-in-nigeria/> accessed 27 September 2020.
9 Section 35(1) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
10 Section 35(1) (a) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
11 Section 35(1) (b) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
12 Section 35(1) (c) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
13 Section 35(1) (c) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
14 Section 35(1) (d) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
15 Section 35(1) (e) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
16 Section 35(1) (f) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
17 Section 35(2) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
18 Olayinka Oluwamuyiwa Ojo, ‘RIGHT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON UNDER THE NIGERIAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM’, <https://www.academia.edu/12347294/RIGHTS_OF_AN_ACCUSED_PERSON_UNDER_THE_CRIMINAL_JUSTICE_SYSTEM?email_work_card=view-paper> accessed 27 September 2020.
20 Section 35(3) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
22 Open Society Justice Initiative, ‘Alade v. the Federal Republic of Nigeria’, <https://www.justiceinitiative.org/litigation/alade-v-federal-republic-nigeria> accessed 29 September 2020.
23 Ibid, note 20.
24 Section 35(4) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
25 Section 35(5) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
26 Ibid, note 24.
28 Section 35(4) (a) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
29 Section 35(4) (b) C. F. R. N. 1999 amended (2011).
31 Ibid, note 18.