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Special courts, state police and criminal justice reform in Nigeria

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Chief Arthur Obi-Okafor (SAN)


Nigerian criminal justice system needs reform. This is an obvious statement of fact that only few can contest its veracity.Although the coming of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) was aimed at addressing the challenges in the system, it is clear that much more still need to be done, beside the fact that not much has been done in the area of its implementation.

It is perhaps on account of this, that the current leadership of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) is initiating programmes to spur the desired reforms in the sector.To further drive home the reform process, the NBA Criminal Justice Reform Committee (CJRC) held its 5th annual conference in Asaba, Delta state capital penultimate week with the theme: “Criminal Justice Reforms in Nigeria – The Journey So Far”.

The summit had three break-out sessions on the ACJA 2015, while there were three other plenary sessions on anti-corruption, human trafficking and electoral offences.Setting the tone for the event, the chairman of the NBA-CJRC, Arthur Obi-Okafor (SAN) in his welcome address, said a critical examination through the lenses of the last series of their conferences, showed that all was not well with Nigeria’s criminal justice system.

We had examined in all ramifications, the reasons for the decline and inefficiency in the system, he said. “We recognized that if Nigeria was to make any economic or social progress, its criminal justice system must be such that is primed to guarantee a safe society where citizens and non-citizens alike can exercise their fundamental rights and live in peaceful co-existence; where local and foreign investors can peacefully carry on their legitimate businesses; where law enforcement agencies can carry out their lawful duties within a recognizable set of rules and in accordance with international best practices, and where the courts and post-trial institutions like the prisons can be seen to be operating within the principles of the rule of law.

“We strongly believe that it is about time we started interrogating the legal framework underpinning Nigeria`s criminal justice system. At the moment, the Criminal Justice System is still weak despite the coming into force the ACJA 2015. There is an apparent lack of political will and resources to implement the ACJA.

“Many State governments are reluctant to domesticate and enact the ACJA as State Legislation. Law enforcement agents like the police lack the resources and capacity to prevent and investigate crimes. The courts are still performing below expectations, while the Correctional Agencies are obsolete and need to be upgraded and strengthened,” he stated.Speaking on “Arrest, Remand and Awaiting Trial Syndrome in Criminal Justice: Fixing the Jigsaw to end Prison Congestion”, former deputy governor of Delta state, Professor Amos Utuama (SAN) recommended all the States in the Federation to domesticate the 2015 Act in place of the Criminal Procedure Laws that have become obsolete and lack the innovative mechanisms for arresting the ever-growing population of awaiting trial inmates in our prisons.

His words: “It is in light of the general remarks that we proffer that time has come to decentralize not only the police but also the prisons.”In addition to other recommendations, he wants the Ministry of Justice (at federal and state levels) to create the Administration of Criminal Justice unit within the Department of Public Prosecution to follow up on cases of persons awaiting trial in prisons.

Chief Albert Akpomudje (SAN) in his paper, pointed out that the effectiveness of the provisions of the ACJA is largely dependent on the Police and Magistrates.He said: “We are all aware of the fact that officers of the Nigerian Police Force are not knowledgeable and very unprofessional in carrying out their duties. In view of this, it is essential that Police officers are trained to understand the importance of the ACJA, the prescribed timelines and procedure to the enable the process of justice dispensation be a seamless process.

“In relation to the Magistrates, they in the same vein ought to be well trained on the operation of the provisions of the ACJA. They need to understand and appreciate the need for adhering to the prescribed timelines in the dispensation of justice.

“Furthermore, the provisions encourage upright attitude from the Magistrates whilst carrying out their duties. It is of sacrosanct importance that they are very well abreast of the provisions that will ensure speedy dispensation of justice in the bid to enhance the confidence of individuals in the criminal justice system.”Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who lamented that the electoral body saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting election offences without said the Commission, must truly be independent in both financial and administrative capacities.He insisted that the journey of Criminal Justice Reforms in Nigeria cannot be improved upon without attendant improvement on the legal framework for the prosecution of Electoral Offences.

Consequently, he recommended the creation of the National Electoral Offences Commission conferred with powers to arrest, investigate and prosecute all election offenders.According to him, that would go a long way in reducing the spate of brazen impunity with which electoral offences are committed in the country.He said: “This is surely not applicable to Nigeria where INEC is still much dependent on the executive arm of government for its budgetary allocations. In order to effectively investigate and prosecute electoral offences, there is the need for capacity building, adequate funding and manpower. These are presently challenges being faced by INEC.”

The acting chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), Dr. Musa Usman Abubakar canvassed for special courts for the prosecution corruption and or economic crime cases.

Apart from speeding up trial process, Abubakar posited that it would create specialization too. “Another major benefit of this proposal is that it creates specialization, and this will have positive impact in the quality of judgment they deliver. It would enable a more focused training to the judges and officers of that court.

“In as much as the ICPC subscribes to the establishment of special court, I make bold to say that there would hardly be any difference if the defense lawyers maintain their usual tactics of frustrating the smooth administration of justice.

“I therefore urge that as Ministers in the temple of justice, you champion this fight and be the vanguard of anti-corruption in Nigeria. You must avoid glorifying corruption but insist on ensuring that justice is done. We should strive to leave a good and lasting legacy for the coming generation.

“This will require attitudinal change by strictly adhering to the relevant provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, notably Rules 14, 30 and 37, most especially Rule 30 which provides that a Legal Practitioner shall not conduct himself in any manner that may obstruct, delay or adversely affect the administration of justice. Despite these clear provisions, it is disheartening how some lawyers derive pleasure in frustrating corruption cases by serving as the mouthpiece of their clients. We must therefore put public interest far about our client’s interest,” he counseled.

The Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Dame Julie Okah-Donli said the agency was created by the Federal Government in response to addressing the scourge of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and it attendant human right abuses in it entire ramification.“It is also a fulfillment of its international obligation under the trafficking in persons protocol supplementing the Transnational Organized Crime Convention (TOC),” she said, adding that Nigeria became a signatory to the TOC and its trafficking in persons protocols on the 13th December, 2000.She disclosed that the agency from inception received 5717 cases, investigated 3,572 and rescued 12, 767 victims. According to her, the agency had recorded only 341 convictions.


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Arthur Obi-OkaforNBA
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