By Daniel O. Adedigba
Today, I saw a new twist to the Administration of Criminal Justice. I was on the queue at a Gtbank ATM just in front of a major road linking Ogbomoso to Oyo when I saw a naked man running and gasping for air. The poor guy (hereinafter addressed as the accused person) had been alleged of stealing two hundred thousand naira (N200,000) in a shop nearby, stripped naked and in the course of being beaten, took to his heels. In the twinkle of an eye, I saw some young men as well as some motorcyclists in pursuit. As though the accused had a special training in ‘escaping’, the long list of chasers could not catch him. At some point, he made a U-Turn, ran into the ATM section of the bank, receiving beatings on the run yet not caught. The occasioned ruggedness of the accused had already awakened more pursuers to the extent that it became obvious the guy would be caught.
Given the nature of the scene, I was sure if the accused was not eventually killed, he would be closed to death when they get him down. In my firm position that Justice is for the tripartite of the Victim, the State and the Accused, I woke the consciousness of some persons close to me to the legal aftermath of what is happening and luckily, one of them linked the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Oyo Command. In what was to me a commendable response by the SARS team, there was blasting of siren in few minutes. The team was however clogged by the heavy traffic on the road which led to a little delay to the scene where the accused was held down.
Before getting to the scene where the accused person was pinned down, the accused had already been brutalised to the expense of losing blood from his palm, head and shoulder. The SARS team condemned the brutality of the accused person and told the league of complainants that they (SARS) cannot go with the accused person; this was of course to avoid fundamental human right issues with public interest lawyers in the event that anything happen to the accused. The SARS team mentioned that in the instance that the accused die before they get to their station, who will be held responsible? No one was ready to answer that question.
In no time, the SARS team drove off and mentioned that if the victim of the theft was ready to pursue the matter, she should treat the accused of the sustained injuries and bring him to their station. The team drove off leaving the accused behind. The matter was then left in the hand of several public commentators, self-acclaimed judges and opinionated rabble rousers throwing different opinions and options. In the long run, they agreed in unison that the accused person be left to go on his own as no one was ready to treat him for the matter to be prosecuted.
What follows quickly is where lies the fate of the barefooted blindfolded woman holding a sword and a scale – Justice. Given this instance, was there Justice for the accused? Who was brutally beaten without been heard, without being tried, without the sledge hammer of the court convicting him of theft contrary to our criminal laws. Was their Justice for the Victim of theft? Who within minutes was stripped of a whopping and hard-earned two hundred thousand naira, who could not get her money back and who could not give information to prosecute the suspect.
Was their Justice for the State? Perhaps NO, NO, NO. The overriding question then is Why? At what point was Justice buried and at what point was Justice made impossible? The quick answer is at the point where the empathetic passersby started the rounds of beating on the accused, subjected him to torture, inhumane treatment and stripped him in entirety of the dignity of his human person as entrenched in Section 34, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999 and immediately condemned him guilty without trial in contravention of Section 36(5) CFRN 1999.
It is a twist to the Administration of Criminal Justice and a deep stab in the back for the message of Justice. The massage remains evergreen. “Every person who has been charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty”. In this instance, the presumption of innocence was raped and Jungle Justice prevailed. It is, I suppose, that the long list of torturers of the accused person should be apprehended for criminal assault.
By the directive of the Legal Maxim; Fiat Justitia, Ruat Coelum, Justice must be done even though heaven falls. In this instant case, the heaven did not even fall yet Justice was not done.
It was indeed a tripartite loss! A tragedy of monumental proportions!
Daniel Adedigba can be reached at email@example.com