For the sole purpose of canvassing my arguments, I would only register my concern on this issue about what the law of the land says when a person is alleged to have committed a criminal offence at any place in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Undisputably, Boniface Igbeneghu, a pastor at The Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria and a lecturer at the University of Lagos, who was recently accused to have committed and engaged in sexual harrassment with one of his students in the “cold room” is a notorious fact that is within the public knowledge in the society of today.
The question that poses to my mind is: what does the law state about the condition of a person being alleged to have committed a crime especially sexual harrasment as it appears in this instant case?
By and large, presumption of innocence has a place in our Nigerian Constitution which places a very heavy burden on the prosecution not only to prove the guilt of the accused but to prove it beyond reasonable doubt. And also, the burden rests throughout on the Prosecution and does not shift. In discharging the burden on it, the Prosecution cannot rely on hearsay evidence, oral or documentary except as is provided for under the Evidence Act.
Funny enough, a question that begs for swift answers as regards whether strong suspicion can replace legal proof of guilt needs to be dealt with. Suspicion they say, no matter how strong or evident the committal of the offence charged, cannot replace legal proof of guilt.
Thus, notwithstanding what the people of Nigeria have read or heard concerning Mr Boniface’s story on the #SexForGrades saga, which had gone viral on social media or that had appeared on the face of daily newspapers, it would interest me to remind the people of Nigeria that the position of law still remains the law until it is amended.
The accused person (as it appears in the recent saga, Boniface Igbeneghu) still remains innocent of the purported crimes he had been accused of committing in the eyes of our laws. Even though no one is shielded from the accusation of committing an offence or a crime (even categories of persons granted immunity in the Nigerian constitution – a person holding the office of the President, Vice- President, Governor amd Deputy Governor), individuals are shielded from conviction until they are proven guilty beyond doubt.
Conclusively, the opinion of the writer would be that as far the constitution claims that we the people of Nigeria agreed to have fashioned out this constitution, it would be better if we ensure all our actions are within the confines and ambits of the laws of the land. Equally, the accused person should not be brutalised, condemned nor rejected in our society. This is enjoined on all with good pieces of evidence that would aid the prove of the allegations against the accused person and intends to achieve substantive justice in this matter. My sole advice for the individual is to file a charge against the accused and proceed by proving the allegation beyond reasonable doubt as required by our laws. Let it be on record that this writer is tired of seeing different news blackmailing the accused person day in day out without prove and affirmation of guilt in the courts of our land.
I strongly rely on these authorities as the pillars and bedrock of my stand on this issue:
1: Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
2: Section 138(1) of the Evidence Act.
3: ONAH V. STATE (1985) 3 NWLR (PT.12)
4: Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
*Isiaka Azeez Ayinde is a student of law at the University of Ilorin and an advocate of social justice. He can be reached through call or WhatsApp on his mobile: 08141155920.*