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‘Awaiting trial and pretrial detainees have reduced in Lagos’

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Mosediq Adeniji Kazeem graduated from the University of Lagos with a second-class upper law degree in 1990 with a special prize in international law and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1991.

Prior to that time, he had obtained a second-class upper degree in political science in 1986 with a special prize in comparative political systems. He did his one-year statutory Nigerian Youth Service at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs as a research assistant before returning to the University of Lagos to study law.

Mr. Kazeem also holds an LLM in information technology and telecommunications law from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

In 1996 he set up the law firm of Adeniji Kazeem & Co, a full service law firm with offices in Lagos and Abuja with specializations in litigation, ADR, ICT law, Intellectual property, commercial law and company secretarial services to both the public and private sectors.

Mr. Kazeem who is presently serving as the attorney general and commissioner for justice in Lagos is the author of the Electronic Contract Formation and the Nigerian Initiatives and several other publications.

He is a notary public of the federation, member of the International Trade Mark Association, member International Bar Association and member, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators among others

The Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) 2015 was first passed in 2007 and re-enacted in 2011 and 2015. One of the reasons for enactment of the Lagos ACJL was the overcrowded condition of Lagos prisons amongst other challenges. The expectation was that with the Lagos ACJL, the number of persons on awaiting trial and in prisons in Lagos will significantly reduce. Sadly, that has not been the case. The Lagos ACJL has been implemented for more than 10 years and there is no significant reduction in prison population in Lagos. A report released in 2017 by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics indicates that Lagos state has the largest concentration of persons in prison in Nigeria. According to a Lagos-based non-governmental organisation and legal watchdog, Human Rights Law Services (HURILAW), anecdotal evidence suggests it may be as a result of a weak non-custodial legal framework. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, the attorney general and commissioner for justice in Lagos, Mr. Kazeem Adeniji (SAN), disagrees. He is rather of the view that the number of awaiting trial inmates have reduced and that the use of non-custodial sentencing made it happen. He also shared his opinion on other interesting legal issues.

Some in the legal community are of the view that the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015 has not in effect reduced the population of pretrial detainees in prison despite its provision for non-custodian sentences. What is your view on this?
This is not true. Awaiting trial inmates have reduced today and the use of non-custodial sentencing has assisted a lot in achieving this. There are many reasons for pretrial detainees and Administration of Criminal Justice Law dealt with its reduction by allowing courts to strike out charges under relevant sections of the law. For instance, under section 264, where the prosecutor cannot give reasons to justify the continued detention of a suspect after a period of 30 days in the first instance at the expiration of which the magistrate can release the suspect unless good cause is shown. In recent times, magistrates have been exercising this power and in addition, no longer detain suspects without probable cause. The provisions that allow the use of plea bargain in sections 75 and 76 are also laudable and have reduced pretrial detainees where pleas are considered and approved in my office. It is therefore inaccurate to say that awaiting trial and pretrial detainees have not reduced. There has also been an increased use of community sentences.

The Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003, which prohibits street trading and illegal markets, prescribes the following fines: N90, 000 or six months imprisonment for a first offender; N135, 000 and nine months imprisonment for a second offender and N180, 000 and one year imprisonment for a third offender.

Don’t you think the fines are excessive considering the total value of the wares a hawker may have?
These fines are not excessive at all. They are to deter offenders from committing the offence, so that their lives are saved and we have a more orderly society. The State Government however provides places for these petty traders to trade. In any case, penalties are meant to deter hence the value of the wares not relevant consideration.

What do you think about extending probation and community service in the ACJL 2015 to adult offenders?
I believe probation and community service already apply to adult offenders under the ACJL and cover all adults. They are part of non-custodial sentence provided under Section 20 of the Criminal Law, 2015.

Will you support the idea of moving prisons out of the exclusive list so that states can build prison facilities?
Yes, I support the idea. This will give the state better control and administration over prisons including funding. Federal approval should not be withheld for a state to build prison and the Federal Government should grant waivers as part of its responsibility.

Lagos is usually the pacesetter among other states in the country. The issue of court automation has been on the front burner. Is the state doing anything to fully automate proceedings in the courts, including e-filing and others?
The issue of court automation is at an advanced stage including e-filing. Today, e-filing is fully operational. Also, court automation will enhance efficiency albeit it is capital intensive. We are intensifying efforts to further automate. We have stenographers in some of the high courts and we need in all magistrate courts and other technology devices video linked system to prison to take miscellaneous applications etc.

With the level of insecurity across the country, especially in the North, will you support calls for state police?
I support the idea for the establishment of state police. A number of cases are delayed and sometimes lost due to little or no control we have over the police being a federal agency. State police is long overdue. The nature of crimes now require intelligence and community police is the heart of intelligence which state police can provide an enabling environment for. The state police will provide logistics and effective monitoring and evaluation of resources and a more efficient police service.

A lot of people believe the country needs to be restructured politically and fiscally. Where do you stand on this?
I do not think restructuring is what we need. I believe we need more of value re-orientation than anything else.

There seems to be no effort to enforce compliance to the Lagos Special People’s Law especially in public institutions. Why is this so?
The Special People’s Law is being enforced. I agree that the awareness is low but I am optimistic that it will be better.

What will you say is the major feat of the Ambode’s administration in the area of justice sector?
The major feat by Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration in the area of justice administration, amongst others is the Reestablishment of Mobile court, creation of the Special Task Force on land grabbers (Omo-Onile), and construction of more courts.

Given another opportunity of four years, what would be your major focus?
It would be to consolidate on current gains, and to also further improve the administration of Justice in Lagos State, further efforts to increase access to justice and construction of more courts and prison facilities. We will also address human capital development and ensure training.

What were the major challenges you encountered in office?
It will be paucity of funds to complete all projects and aspects of justice, because administration of justice is a costly endeavour, in view of limits to state revenue, which has to take care of all aspects in the state. Given adequate funding, a lot more will be achieved including intervention with the police. For instance under the ACJL, the law provides for video recording of confessional statement. This provision can be well implemented with the provision of video camera in police station and construction of a modern state of the art statement taking rooms.

Any regrets and is there anything you would have done differently, going by what you have known now?
I have no regrets whatsoever. I am highly fulfilled particularly that access to justice has become widely broadened under my administration.


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