By Jiti Ogunye
Oluwabamise Ayanwole, the murdered 22 year old girl was abducted on a BRT bus on Saturday 26th February, 2022. Her lifeless but “ fresh “ body was found on the road, on Carter Bridge , Lagos on Monday, 7th of March , 2022. Although it is expected that autopsy and other forensic investigations will determine the cause and time of death, it can be surmised that, she wasn’t killed nor did she die immediately after the abduction. She must have been kept alive in the custody of her abductors and killers, before she was dumped and left to die on the Carter Bridge spot or before her corpse was dumped there upon her death .
Many questions are begging for answers. Answers to some of these questions were provided by the deceased who digitally captured and transmitted facts and circumstances of her boarding the BRT bus; the happenings on the bus; her observations and her fears of an impending harm. The digital evidence so painstakingly captured and amassed by her is critical to the investigation, and will be crucial to a successful prosecution.
Even if the prime suspect , the driver of the BRT bus, does not make a confessional statement, Investigators and the Prosecution will gladly have recourse to this digital evidence, which is very material and which evidentially will suffice. Also, if the suspect is charged to court for the offence of kidnapping and murder ( assuming he is to be so charged , Section 36( 5) of the Constitution providing that “ every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty ), he elects to take advantage of the provision of Section 35 (11) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Bamise’s digitally amassed evidence will speak her truth from the grace. Section 35(11) provides that “ no person who is tried for a criminal offence shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial “. Also see Section 180 (a) of the Evidence Act, 2011, which states that although a person charged with a criminal offence is a competent witness in his own defence at his trial , he is not compellable to testify .
The suspect bus driver has, through his media interview, confirmed all Bamise captured and transmitted digitally. After Bamise boarded the bus , which was unlit, three other persons boarded the bus, persons that he claimed he did not know. He did not pick any other persons until the bus got to the Ebute Ero Area , where according to him , Bamise, by the gun wielding persons was dragged out of the bus , while he sped off into safety , without realizing at that time that she had been forced out of the bus.
Now, this is the crux of this public intervention. Why was the suspect paraded before the media by the police and why was a special media interview session organized for him? Who organized that interview session? Suspect’s employers or the Lagos State Government? How did the media interview organizers have access to a murder suspect who was in police custody? Why did the SSS, Ogun State Command, the “ sister security agency “ who actually arrested the suspect in Ogun State, not embark on their own “trophy- hoisting media parade of suspect ceremony” before handing him over to the Lagos State Police Command? Why was the parade and interview necessary? Were they a choreographed public relations and public anger-dousing measure for the benefit of the suspect ? Were they calculated to provide an “ alibi “ for the suspect , exonerate him in the court of public opinion, drill holes in the police investigation and jeopardize his prosecution? What were the calculations? These posers need to be addressed by the authorities.
We are raising these concerns because the law forbids what the Police and the Lagos State Government have done, thus far, especially the parade and the organized interview .
Last year, when Chidinma Ojukwu was arrested by the Police for the alleged murder of a top broadcast media executive Usifo Ataga some bizarre tele-drama ensued. At a police suspect parade ceremony( yes , it has become a huge ceremony) he granted an interview to newsmen, an interview which was aired and which went viral.
But the oddity didn’t end there . While in police custody, she imperiously granted a couple of televised media interviews in which, in a well composed and well turned out pose, she gave her own narrative of the circumstances surrounding the death of Usifo Ataga. The world was outraged. How did a murder suspect in police custody have the detention grace to make a “speech from the throne” , grant an interview to a television crew, an interview that was broadcast by a leading television station in Nigeria . The police provided no answer . Till date .
In the immediate aftermath of that “murder suspect’s executive media briefing “, the Lagos State House of Assembly ( LSHA) amended the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law , 2015, vide the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Amendment Law, No. 14 , 2021. By that amendment, parade of any suspect before the media is prohibited. Section 9A of the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, provides that “ as from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media”
It is our firm position that by the parade of , and the organized media interview granted by the suspect in the Bamise Ayanwole murder investigation, the provision of the law willfully has been violated .
It is important to make the point that investigation of crimes by the police or other law enforcement agencies should be insulated from interference, subversion , shoddiness and illegalities that may occasion prosecution failure or adjudication collapse. Especially in a public interest criminal investigation of a dastardly act like the instant murder case . The Executive Branch of Government, including the Police is charged with the duty of enforcing the law. This Branch should not be the breaker of the law duly enacted by the legislature and the executive, in concert .
The reason why media parade of suspect is outlawed is that it not only implicates the right of the suspect to fair hearing, or prejudices the quest for justice for the deceased or victim of crime, but also may aid the escape of the real criminals or the rest of them yet to be apprehended. It creates a narrative of culpability and guilt in the mind of the public, which may be different from the ultimate finding and determination of a court of law. It is an unacceptable interference in the administration of criminal justice system .
The criminal justice system , including the police , should honour the memory of Bamise Ayanwole by departing from these identified false starts. The Police and the Lagos State Government should inspire trusts. Not public distrust. It should receive praise for properly handling this matter . Not court public condemnation.
Last line, the Lagos State Governor is not the lead investigating police officer in the kidnap and murder case. He has commiserated with the grieving family. This is good. But he should refrain from making further comments on aspects of the investigation, for example lighting status of the bus.
March 9, 2022