By Yusufu Shehu Usman
The presumption of innocence as a jurisprudential concept presumes that every person accused of a crime no matter how henious, is presumed by law backed by the Constitution, to be innocent and he remains so until he is proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
The law and the Constitution further place the burden of proof squarely and permanently ( except in few cases) on the prosecution.
This means in simple terms that nobody is a criminal in the eyes of the law until he is found guilty by the court.
The case of Hamisu Bala a.k.a Wadume the alleged or suspected kidnap King pin from Taraba state on account of whose arrest, three precious lives of the crop of elite and highly sophisticated and trained police officers were recently lost, readily comes into perspective.
It started with an allegation that Wadume is at the centre of high profile kidnapping in Taraba State. He was linked with a recent exploit in which a ransom of about one hundred million Naira was extorted from the family of a kidnap victim (first stage of the allegation)
The police acting on a tip off, set out to arrest Wadume and gather all necessary evidence to enable them prosecute Wadume before a Court of competent jurisdiction. (the attempt to dislodge the presumption of innocence)
The police succeeded in effecting the arrest of Wadume. Then there was a purported allegation that the police men who arrested Wadume, were suspected kidnappers
Some soldiers apparently on the orders of a renegade commander pursued the police and their suspect (Wadume) and fired and killed three police officers and freed Wadume
The Police, the Army and the Defence headquarters on the charge of the President, set up investigation committees to probe the matter.
Now Wadume has been rearrested by the Police.
With the strength and enormous powers of the investigation committe, the general public may believe that the findings of the committee (s) would be enough to sentence Wadume and his cohorts to the gallows
How ever, that is not the legal position of the case
Under the law and the Constitution, Wadume still enjoys the presumption of innocence regardless of the outcome of investigation.
He can not be legally punished for any of the offences that may be ” established” by the facts revealed from the investigation, except on the orders of the court
Our criminal law system still regards any fact found by the Committee as prima facie and not conclusive evidence of guilt against Wadume
For Wadume to be pronounced guilty and sentenced to any punishment at all, he must be prosecuted in a Court of law and be found guilty
It is the prosecution that the law casts the burden on, to convince the court through credible evidence that Wadume committed any offence at all.
In this case, therefore, the report of the Committee now investigating the “murder” of the three police officers and the allegation whether Wadume is guilty of kidnapping or not, will still be subject to test in the court of law
By the protection given him by the Constitution, Wadume though already roundly condemned and convicted in the court of public opinion, is still regarded as an innocent man in the eyes of law, until the court pronounces him guilty after a charge and a trial
That is how complex the law can be even on matters in which every body believes to be settled beyond doubts or disputation.
What the law requires notwithstanding, I believe that Wadume would be successfully prosecuted and appropriately punished for the offences he would be charged with
The only frustrating aspect of the case, is that it may take time for the trial to be completed and Justice served.
Wadume and his co-conspirators will still enjoy some time as the trial progresses and this is to the annoyance of those ( including me) who would have expected Wadume and the renegade officer who rescued him to be serving their eternal punishment by now
But, that is the law and the law, is the law and it is binding on all of us