How Lagos can use constant review of criminal laws to check crimes, by Kazeem
The last time Lagos State reviewed its criminal law was in 2011. Five years down the line the enactment of the Federal Government latest Act, the Administration of Criminal Procedure Act 2015 signed by former President, Goodluck Jonathan, the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice,
still believes that the state’s criminal law of 2011 is still potent to curb crimes in Lagos State. In this exclusive interview with IBE UWALEKE, he explains why violent crimes like the ones perpetrated by Boko-Haram have not taken place in Lagos State despite its population.
Does Lagos State have the plan to review its Criminal Laws of 2011 in view of the Federal Government’s new Administration of Criminal Justice Act which was signed by the last administration in 2015?
The Administration of Criminal Justice Law was enacted in 2011 before the one enacted by the FG. I can tell you that most of the sections of the law enacted by the FG were copied from Lagos State criminal law. So there is no basis for us to review ours because what they have is what we started.
That also tells that Lagos has always been a pace-setter. But then, law is dynamic and subject to reviews.
During your ministerial briefing you made mention of some of the helps Lagos State offers to the Nigerian prisons, particularly those located in Lagos. Can you itemize some of these contributions you make to the prisons?
Well, as you know, the prisons are an exclusive responsibility of the Federal Government. However, because the prisons are located in Lagos State and just like the Police which is just an establishment of the FG, the state has been assisting the Police in terms of logistics, training and equipment. So in the same vein, the state government has been assisting the Nigerian Prisons in similar areas. Because you realize that most of the convicts housed in those prisons must have committed state’s offences, and technically, those prisons could be regarded as housing prisoners for the state.
So it is only natural for the state to assist the prisons with equipment and all that they can offer and we have been doing this and we intend to do more.
If you compare the prisons, particularly with the ones we have in other countries, you realize that prisoners there are at liberty to some extent and comfortable in terms of welfare, provision of some basic needs, some even enjoy the privilege of education right from the prisons than those in Nigeria, why are such privileges not obtainable in Nigeria prisons?
You have a good point. I don’t know if it will be absolutely correct to say that prisons in other parts of the world are okay compare to Nigeria, but the point is that prisons are supposed to be corrective centres.
You send a man to prison as a corrective centre so that he can later be released to the society in other to contribute his quota to the society. It is only those that are incurably bad that are kept in the prisons permanently. And while they are still in prison it does not mean they should not be given some level of freedom and have access to basic needs as human beings.
But then because of scarcity of funds and population of inmates, say for instance in Lagos there are about 6,000 inmates and I think a lot really need to be done to improve the lots of the prisons and inmates so that they can have minimum level of decent existence while they serve their terms so that they will not be dehumanized before being released into the society again.
How often does your Ministry assist the Lagos State Judiciary to visit the prisons either to assist or give guidelines on how the prison officials should treat the inmates?
The Chief Judge of Lagos always visits the prisons to review cases of inmates and releases those that are not necessary to be kept there again. She has that power. But in the case of our Ministry, we visit there more regularly and we involve the department of Citizens Rights such that we will be able to get information and advise the judiciary to fast-track cases of some inmates that are there.
Again, we have a role to play in fast-tracking prosecution of the inmates and another issue is ‘community sentence’, whereby we don’t keep the inmates incarcerated but engage them in community service whereby they clear the gutter, drains, cut grasses without allowing them go into the prisons because of decongesting the prisons.
It has been reported that the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), delays files of suspects and sometimes the files get missing. Have you received such reports in your office?
As regards missing files, I have not received such reports. But about the delays, it could be attributed to the fact that before the files come to us from the police after a crime has been committed the police will conduct investigation, gather the necessary evidences and prepare what we call a case file.
And a duplicate of the report is transferred to the office of DPP for legal advice and sometimes the case file do not contain all the evidence for prosecution or legal advice. In such situation that file is sent back for more investigation before proper prosecution. That is where we have some of the problems and that is where we want to address in my own administration so that the process of investigation, gathering of information is more incisive, is not through analogue but technologically advanced techniques.
If a crime is committed and there is a database where people’s data are always there, all that needs to be done is collect evidence from a crime scene an run it against the database you will realize that there will be no waste of time. By so doing there will be no waste of time on the part of the Police and the DPP in handling cases. And similarly the court will not waste time in adjudicating and given sentence.
Mention some of the prosecutions the state has handled and concluded.
With regards to criminal prosecutions, our Directorate of Public Prosecutions is committed to ensuring that all offenders are brought to book, thereby discouraging impunity in our society. The Directorate is also committed to speedy trials, especially so that suspects are not detained for too long awaiting trial. The truism ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is one of our guiding principles, especially in criminal justice administration. Both the victims of a crime and the alleged offender deserve to have their case resolved at the earliest possible time.
The Legal Advisory Unit which focuses exclusively on the review of criminal case files, containing reports of investigation submitted by the Police, and the issuance of legal advice, has been able to hasten considerably the speed of criminal prosecutions by reducing the time spent on issuing legal advice. In the period under review, out of the 1,209 police investigation files sent to the DPP’s office for legal advice, the Unit has already completed work on 940 while the rest are still being processed, many requiring additional information or further investigation by the Police or other relevant agency.
During the same period, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions is engaged in the prosecution of 1,536 criminal cases in all courts. This figure includes the 1,375 cases which are currently being prosecuted at the Federal and the State High Courts as well as 122 and 38 respectively at the Court of Appeal and the SVupreme Court.
In addition to the 1,536 active criminal prosecution files, DPP’s office is also handling 137 applications for enforcement of Fundamental Rights.
The State of Lagos V Registered Trustee of Synagogue Church & 3 Ors
The Parties have been duly served with processes as ordered by the Court. The parties have brought several applications, ranging from quashing of the Information, Application for adjournment pending hearing of Stay of Execution at the Court of Appeal, Appeal at the Court of Appeal against the order of the Court on substituted service.
The Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) and the two engineers that supervised the construction of the collapsed building and their respective company’s were finally arraigned before a Lagos State High Court over the collapsed building belonging to the church on September 12, 2014, which led to the death of 116 persons. The court dismissed all the applications filed by the defendants seeking to quash the charge. The Defendants were arraigned for charges bordering on failure to Obtain Building Approval contrary to Section 75 of the Urban and Regional Planning Law of Lagos State 2010, Involuntary Manslaughter causing death contrary to Section 222 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
The State of Lagos V Adedeji Idowu & 3 Ors
This is a case of Conspiracy, Armed Robbery and Murder, where a son connived with his wife and two armed robbers to rob his mother which led to the death of his mother.
The Prosecution has called 3 witnesses; Matter was adjourned for continuation of Trial within Trial.
In the past one year, judgments were delivered in 74 cases in various matters the Ministry was prosecuting. These include:
The People of Lagos State V Chukwuemeka Ezeugo (Reverend King)
(You all know the case of Reverend King) Reverend King’s Appeal against His Conviction was dismissed at The Court Of Appeal and he further appealed to the Supreme Court. His appeal at the Supreme Court was also dismissed on the 26th of February, 2016.
The State of Lagos V Segun Fabunmi
This is a case of indiscriminate shooting by a senior police officer where a young man was shot dead and many others got injured. He was charged for murder and causing grievous bodily harm. Judgment has been delivered, the Defendant was Convicted for Manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years Imprisonment to run concurrently.
The State of Lagos V Taoreed Oseni
The Defendant was charged with the offence of Rape. He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
The State of Lagos V Chidi Ibiam
The Defendant was charged with the offence of Defilement. He was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.
The Witness Support in the DPP’s Office
We are also trying hard to improve the success rate of our prosecutors by using trained Witness Support Personnel who engage with, monitor and assist our potential or actual witnesses with a view to allaying their fears and ensuring that they appear in court when needed.
Office of Public Defender (OPD);
OPD is one of the Agencies of the Ministry charged with responsibility for providing legal aid services to indigent citizens. The policy thrust of the OPD at inception was not only the enforcement of legal rights of citizens, it is also attentive to the socio-economic rights of the poor and vulnerable groups in our society, including women and children.
In the last one year, OPD handled over 5,322 matters on behalf of indigent Lagosians at no cost. The office is also representing Lagosians in 2,467 cases in various courts. These matters cut across labour cases, civil matters, criminal cases, coroner’s inquests and fundamental rights cases.
OPD also facilitated the collection of over N98, 000,000 (Ninety Eight Million Naira) as compensation on behalf of complainants in the last one year.
During the period under review, OPD secured 69 judgments in favour of its clients. These judgments include those who were discharged and acquitted by the Court after spending several years in prison, following applications by OPD.
In an effort to ensure that children in conflict with the law gets proper legal representation and are released from prison/correctional homes, United Nations Children Emergency Fund (“UNICEF”) embarked on a collaboration with OPD in November 2015. 20 counsel and 10 social workers have been trained and given the primary assignment of providing services for 200 children in conflict with the law. The said project is ongoing, these counsel and social workers are expected to carry out continuous visits to prisons and correctional homes throughout Lagos State to ensure that children are not unnecessarily incarcerated.
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