Criminal actions
Treatment of guilty statements obtained during media parade
Social media trial versus court trial


Judicial freedom is fundamental to democratic liberties. Social media has significantly increased access to information and continues to play a major role in information relay. Information is everywhere and available to almost anyone. This has an undeniable influence on society – including judges. The question is, what role does social media play in the administration of criminal justice? This article examines the interplay between media and criminal justice system in Nigeria.

Criminal actions

A complaint usually precedes a criminal charge. The law describes "a complaint" as ''the allegation that any person has committed an offence made before a court or police officer for the purpose of moving him to issue a process''.(1) Even though the law does not require a complaint to be made in writing,(2) it must be made to a police officer or a court. It must also be heard in private.(3) Thus, it can be inferred that calling on law enforcement agencies to investigate an alleged crime via social media posts is not a traditional "complaint" as envisaged by the law. Nevertheless, the law enforcement agencies are still authorised to investigate allegations or suspicions of crime.(4)

Law enforcement agencies often rely on social media complaints to investigate an alleged crime. In the murder case of Ms Iniubong Umoren, Ms Umo Uduak brought attention to her friend's disappearance by taking to Twitter. Her tweets provided vital information that led to the investigation, arrest and prosecution of the culprits.(5) Also, in 2020, a social media campaign prompted the Lagos state government to set up a judicial panel of inquiry known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) (now disbanded).(6)

Treatment of guilty statements obtained during media parade

The next question is: can extra judicial confessions on media platforms be deemed admissible? For an admission of guilt to be deemed a confessional statement, it must be recorded electronically. Alternatively, it may be recorded in writing in the presence of a legal practitioner or someone acceptable to the accused person.(7)

In the murder case of Mr Usifo Ataga, it was reported that Ms Ojukwu admitted to killing Ataga on social media. In subsequent media interviews she made several contradictory statements implying her innocence, sparking considerable outrage.

Ojukwu's press statement admitting to the killing of Ataga is a confession within the definition of the law.(8) Yet, it is still unclear whether her statement is admissible as a confessional statement. While the statement might have met the recording requirement,(9) there is no evidence that her statement was made in the presence of a legal practitioner or someone acceptable by her. Importantly, the contradictory nature of her subsequent statements further undermines the voluntariness of her initial admission of guilt.(10)

Whether a confessional statement is voluntary is a key consideration. The courts have held that where a statement is the product of a question-and-answer session between a suspect and a police officer, it cannot be regarded as free and voluntary and thus cannot be used to justify their admissibility.(11) However, where a suspect is duly cautioned in line with the Judges Rules(12) as to the legal implications of such statements, and the suspect still proceeds to answer the questions, it will be admissible.(13) Due to these statutory provisions, it does not appear that Ojukwu's admission of guilt will be admissible in evidence.

Social media trial versus court trial

In July 2021, news of the gruesome murder of Iniubong Umoren spread. There was a deafening social media trial that condemned Mr Uduak Akpan for raping and killing Umoren. Are the courts insulated from social medial trials? Can a defendant maintain their innocence despite a guilty verdict by the public? In such sensationalised cases, the courts must strive to maintain their neutrality and must afford the accused person the opportunity to prove their innocence. Even though a defendant might have been condemned by the public, the court must still ensure that the case against the defendant is proved beyond reasonable doubt.(14) In Akpan's case, even though he pleaded guilty to the murder charge contrary to the media's narrative or public expectation, the law deems Mr Akpan's plea as not guilty because of the nature of the offence.

To some extent these rules separate trial by media from trial in court. But they do not prevent the media from exercising its right to freedom of expression in sensational cases.(15) Instead, the courts have prohibited media comments or publications from interfering with the course of justice while cases are pending in court.(16)


Character evidence is generally not allowed in court, except in cases where a defendant's character is in issue, or the defendant has given evidence in their own trial.(17) This means that evidence provided by a victim of a defendant is not necessarily admissible in the defendant's trial.

Thus, social media posts shared by other victims – though often relied upon by the public in media trials – are hardly ever admitted in court against a defendant. They mostly end up excluded by the rules of evidence in court.


Media interference in the administration of justice is a double-edged sword. It has been of immense help to the justice system, as mentioned above in situations such as the investigation of Umoren's death. The institution of the SARS judicial panel of inquiry can be seen as a positive step. Nonetheless, media influence may also prejudice the courts' decisions and impact judiciary independence. What is clear is that the influence and relevance of the media will only continue to increase. It will be interesting to see whether Nigerian law and the entire judicial system will continue to adapt and maintain their neutrality in the face of overwhelming social media trials.

For further information on this topic please contact Muyiwa Ogungbenro, Similoluwa Adeyemi or Stephanie Agbasi at Olajide Oyewole LLP (a member of DLA Piper Africa) by telephone (+234 1 279 3670) or email ([email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]). The Olajide Oyewole LLP website can be accessed at


(1) Section 494 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and section 371 of the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice.

(2) Section 89 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and section 60(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA).

(3) Section 60(3) of the CPA.

(4) Fawehinmi v IGP (2002) 7 NWLR (Pt 767) 606; Enanuga & Ors v Sampson (2012) LPELR-8487(CA).

(5) ''Exclusive: An Emotional Account on How Ini-Ubong Umoren Went Missing, Later Found Dead'' YouTube, uploaded by TVC News Nigeria, 2 May 2021.

(6) Olasunkami, ''#ENDSARS: Sanwo-Olu Inaugurates Judicial Panel on Brutality, Human Rights Violations''. Lagos State Government official web portal, 19 October 2020.

(7) See section 9(3) of the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice (Amendment) Law (ACJL) 2011.

(8) See section 28 of the Evidence Act.

(9) As provided in section 9(3) of the ACJL.

(10) A confessional statement must be voluntarily made before it can be admissible in evidence. See section 9(3) of the ACJL and section 29(2) of the Evidence Act.

(11) Manu v State (2019) LPELR-47744 (CA); Namsoh v State (1993) 5 NWLR (Pt 292) 129.

(12) The Judges Rules are rules of administrative practice governing police interrogation and the questioning of suspects, and the acceptability of the statements and confessions as evidence in court. Thus, these rules must be complied with to render an accused's statement or confession admissible in court.

(13) Egbe v Nigerian Army (2020) LPELR-50370 (CA).

(14) Section 135(2) of the Evidence Act.

(15) This right is guaranteed under section 39 of the Constitution.

(16) Daniel v FRN (2014) 8 NWLR (Pt 1410) 570.

(17) See section 82(1) of the Evidence Act.