The lawmakers at the House of Representatives have condemned what they described as an unfair media trial of a 21-year-old undergraduate of University of Lagos (UNILAG), Chidinma Ojukwu, who was arrested, detained and paraded by the Nigerian Police over murder of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Super Television (TV), Micheal Ataga.
They argued that the violation of human rights and media access to arrested suspects were against the criminal justice system and that such was capable to compromise police investigation and the outcome of the case in the court of law.
The lawmakers also warned the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) to ensure maximum protection of the embattled undergraduate and do all within its power to facilitate her fair trial and prevent her from untimely death while in detention.
They also urged the security agency to refrain from parading Chidinma around to grant interviews on the matter under investigation and rather conduct a proper investigation into the matter as it should be in such a sensitive case. According to the lawmakers, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, must ensure that the suspect in the murder case does not die in custody or commit suicide while awaiting trial as in some past cases.
The parliamentarians’ position followed the adoption of a motion of urgent public importance moved by Tolu Akande-Sadipe and titled ‘Call for the Compliance of the Police Force with the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Proper Investigation into the Death of Late Mr. Usifo Ataga’, during plenary on Tuesday.
Moving the motion, Akande-Sadipe, said that suspect “has been paraded around, granting interviews to various news platforms, including the Nigerian Television Authority, on the matter, causing the internet and news media to be agog with the discussion and dissecting the matter. This is despite the fact that the police have already launched an investigation into the matter.
“The House is further aware that the law of Nigeria does not allow for social media trials and matters that are sub judice – meaning before the court or not yet judicially decided – are not to be discussed by the media. The House is cognisant that Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty.
“Thus, so long as Ms. Ojukwu has not been proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, she is not to be labelled a criminal or paraded about to conduct a series of interviews on a case currently under investigation. Rather, the police are to conduct a proper investigation and allow the court to consider the matter and make an informed judgment.
“The House is concerned that if Ms. Ojukwu continues to be paraded about for a social media trial, it could affect the determination and outcome of the case as well as amount to a breach of her fundamental right to fair hearing, especially where she is labelled or treated as one guilty of a crime.”
The Guild had reported that the suspect denied stabbing the businessman to death, adding that she earlier took the blame after it appeared all odd was against her.
She clarified that contrary to her earlier claims, she had to take the blame following pressure from her arrest and that since she never reported the incident to police and failed to confide in anyone who could stand as a witness and corroborate her story.
Ojukwu, a 300-level student of Mass Communication, noted that she had gone out to get supplies (food, drugs, and other household items) needed in the short-let apartment when those who allegedly killed her lover broke in and cut short his life.
“The pressure, people around, and confession from the security guy that nobody entered the apartment except me made me accept my fate. So, knowing fully well of what I did like taking his things and withdrawing money from his account, I just took the blame on myself that since no one believed me, let me just take the blame. No one is influencing my statement,” she said in a video circulating online yesterday.