By Angela Atabo
CLEEN Foundation, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) on Wednesday cautioned security agencies against labeling people as criminals until they are proven guilty.
The Executive Director of CLEEN, Dr Benson Olugbuo gave the advice at a stakeholders forum on “Speaking for Anti-Graft Agencies’’, organised for personnel of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja.
Olugbuo said the forum with the theme: “Effective Communication and Public Relations with the EFCC’’ was aimed at ensuring cordial security relationship with the public.
He said that the foundation had been training personnel of security agencies on the need for them to know how to balance their public responsibility and how those held for corruption should be treated.
Olugbuo said that the training was important because Nigeria is approaching its election period and as such there will be issues around irregularities and criminalities that should be addressed.
“There is always the problem of stigmatisation when arrests are made because most times, people are paraded as guilty even before proper investigation into their case.
“The truth is that there will be issues of criminality but the question is, if somebody is paraded as an accused person, is it possible to re-parade the person if he was not found guilty just to clear his name?
“So, if it is not possible to re-parade somebody who has been found not guilty, then there is a problem of stigma and perception because people keep seeing the person as a criminal.
“This is not supposed to be so because according to the law, people are innocent until proven guilty but most times they would have been paraded before being cleared as innocent, thus the need for balance.’’
Olugbuo said that there was also the need for effective prosecution and also need to respect the rights of individuals until proven guilty.
He said that though security agencies were doing their job, Nigerians also had their rights that needed to be respected.
Olugbuo said that the Foundation was working closely with EFCC and other anti-graft agencies to consciously promote their image as well as build public confidence and trust for these institutions.
He said that the project was conceived due to the need for optimum capacity for law enforcement and anti-graft agencies in Nigeria to be more effective in their relations with the public.
According to him, this is because there is the need to strengthen relations between criminal justice actors, anti-graft agencies and the citizens through improved and effective communications for transparency and accountability.
Mr Michael Bonner, a representative of the United States Embassy, said that the country chose to support CLEEN Foundation to train security agencies in Nigeria due to its experiences with the FBI.
Bonner said that there was the need for security agencies to be mindful of the information they reel out to the public even though they had the right to know what their public officials were doing.
He said that this was because the importance to have a clear relationship between the security agencies and the public could not be overemphasised.
The Spokesman of EFCC, Mr Wilson Uwujaren said that the training was timely as it would help in building the capacity of personnel of the agency to communicate effectively with Nigerians.
Uwujaren said that the commission’s communication system just like any other system was not perfect, so trainings like this would help in building such capacities which would in turn help in building public confidence.
He said that the fight against corruption was not EFCC’s task alone, and urged all Nigerians to help in supporting the commission to achieve its aim.
The Force Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police, Chief Superintendent of Police, Jimoh Moshood who was represented by CSP El-Mustapha Sani, said the Foundation held a similar training for the police to equip it for effective communication with the public.
He said that the force had been trained on how best to handle information and to be careful in parading suspects.
Moshood also commended the Foundation for the training, adding that it would help to fight against crime and corruption.