By Abdulwahab Abdulah and Godwin Oritse
The Police recently arraigned Senator Dino Melaye before an Abuja Magistrate Court and Kogi State High Court sitting in Lokoja, respectively on a stretcher. The incident reminded Nigerians of some others who were brought to court on stretchers such as Olisa Metuh, to answer the criminal charges against them.
The development has raised concern, as many have argued that though the police have a statutory right to charge an accused person to court for whatever offence he or she may have committed, but the accused must be in the right frame of mind, mentally and physical to face trial.
In the same vein, proponents of the police action equally maintained that there was nothing wrong in bringing an accused person to court on a wheelchair or stretcher to make him answerable to his offences, only if that will aid the course of justice.
While it is admitted that the essence of arraignment is for the court to determine the guilt or otherwise of a person so charged, after the prosecution and defence must have made their respective cases, such an accused must however, be alive and in good frame of mind for such a trial to be successfully carried out.
In this edition of Law and Human Rights, we sought the opinions of lawyers on the arraignment of accused persons on stretchers. Some of the lawyers who responded include Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, Mr Norris Quakers, SAN and Wahab Shittu, a law teacher and they all faulted the arraignment of an accused on stretcher, saying it amounts to savagery and tortuous.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN
It’s wrong, inhuman and degrading. It contravenes sections 32, 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution and section 8 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
It must be deprecated. We are not in a zoo or animal kingdom. On no account should any Nigerian, no matter his station in life, whether Aristocrat or plebeian, poor or rich, Senator or labourer, be tried in a court of law while on a stretcher.
Femi Falana, SAN
The arraignment of Senator Dino Melaye on a stretcher in Abuja and Lokoja is unacceptable in a civilised society.
It is particularly degrading and humiliating as it violates the fundamental rights to the dignity of his person guaranteed by Section 34 of the Constitution and Section 7 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
Even though the senator has my sympathy, it is indistinguishable that he has only been given a little dose of the humiliating treatment that is daily meted out to the flotsam and jetsam of our unjust society by the Nigeria Police Force and other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria. Therefore, the senator’s case should not be treated in isolation by the Senate and the bourgeois media. While the solidarity of the federal legislators with Senator Melaye is understandable, the tragic turn of events calls for sober reflection.
Apart from joining the call for the immediate release of Sheik El Zakzaky and Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) in line with the valid and subsisting orders of competent courts, the National Assembly is called upon to take advantage of Senator Melaye’s case to adopt and domesticate the United Nations Minimum Standard for the Treatment of Criminal Suspects in Nigeria without any delay.
Norris Quakers, SAN
To “stand trial” means exactly what it says. The law is that one has to be healthy and strong enough to “stand” for trial, not to sit ‘sit down”, or lie down ” (on a stretcher ) for trial. A trial is not punishment or torture or an instrument of oppression and repression.
It is simply an honest attempt to seek the truth based on facts and then apply the law to meet the ends of justice.
Chaining a defendant to bed, or forcing him to court on a stretcher is bestial, animalistic, savagery, anachronistic and tortuous.
“Arraignment of a suspect on a stretcher may have impacted on fundamental rights to the dignity of human person guaranteed under the Constitution particularly when the element of consent by the suspect is lacking.
“There are constitutional provisions protecting the dignity of the Human person also preserved by international instruments including the African Charter. This is in the realm of rights protection independent of the criminal proceedings. A suspect under trial remains innocent until proven guilty with all his rights under the law protected and guaranteed.
“The arraignment is not thereby vitiated, but the suspect is entitled to sustain an independent civil action against the state for violation of his right to dignity of human person claiming exemplary damages. The success of such an action is a function of element of proof of degraded treatment and lack of consent including the quantum of damages suffered as a result.
The suspect needs to prove essentials of the damages actually suffered in terms of particulars of injuries suffered.”