The CLEEN Foundation has cautioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other security agencies against victimising and labeling people as criminals before they are proven guilty and convicted.
The Executive Director of the foundation, Dr Benson Olugbuo, gave the advice in Abuja at a Stakeholders Forum on “Speaking for Anti-Graft Agencies with the EFCC”.
According to him, the foundation had been training security agencies on the need for them to know how to balance their public responsibility and how those held for corruption are treated as provided for in the nation’s laws.
He said a two-day pilot scheme specialized training in conjunction with the United States Embassy, would be held in Abuja, first for the EFCC officials, and would be extended to other anti-corruption and security agencies.
Olugbuo said the forum with the theme “Effective Communication and Public Relations with the EFCC” was aimed at ensuring effective security agencies relationship with the public and that the training was important because Nigeria was approaching the 2019 election period, thus there would be issues around irregularities and criminalities that should be addressed.
“There is always the problem of stigmatization 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, 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.
The US ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, represented by Michael Bonner, said that the country chose to support CLEEN Foundation to train security agencies in Nigeria due to its experiences with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Bonner said that there was 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.
“This was because of the importance to have a clear relationship between the security agencies and the public. The public has the right to know and there is also the need to be mindful of what is released to avoid jeopardizing investigation. The public has the rights to know what their public officials are doing,” he said.
The Spokesman of EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said that the training was timely as it would help in building the capacity of the agency to communicate effectively with Nigerians.
He said the commission’s communication system just like any other system was not perfect and that trainings like this would help in building such capacities which will in turn help in building public confidence and success of the commission’s mandate.