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PRAWA lauds judgment on vagrancy law, tasks government on implementation 

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Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) has hailed the landmark ruling of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which declared that vagrancy laws are inconsistent and inconsonant with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Children’s Rights Charter and Women Rights Protocol.     
   
According to PRAWA, the judgement is a major boost to the campaign to decriminalize and declassify petty offences in Africa. The group therefore called on the government of Nigeria to take immediate action by repealing laws that are in breach of Articles 2,3,5 and 6 of the African Charter. 
   
“Sadly, Nigeria is one of the countries that still retain some aspects of colonial laws that criminalize poverty, in their lawbooks. 
 
“These disproportionate laws are targeted at the uneducated and disadvantaged poor people (hawkers, street beggars, sex workers etc.) whose means of livelihoods are criminalized without any alternatives. 
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“PRAWA keyed into the decriminalization of petty offences campaign in line with the guiding principles initiated by African Commission with the support of Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA). 
   
“The project used the medium of research, advocacy, education, litigation, media campaign and provision of legal and other support services to address the issue of disproportionate impact of the enforcement of Petty Offences laws on the poor, disadvantaged and marginalized sections of the society,” PRAWA said in a statement signed by Dr Uju Agomoh, its Executive Director & Founder. 
   
The project, she said, has yielded positive fruits across the five pilot states of Abia, Enugu, Kano, Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and in fact the entire country. 
   
She explained that PRAWA has been able to provide legal and other support services to over 250 arrested Petty offenders and facilitated their release. 
   
“The advocacy component of our project has led to reduction in the rate of arrest and especially detention of Petty offenders.”

In the FCT, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board has reduced not only the amount of fine given to petty offenders, but also the rate at which offenders are sent to custodial facilities has substantially reduced. 

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“Our campaign for vulnerable petty offenders during the COVID-19 lockdown was helpful in the diversion of violators of the COVID-19 regulations to Non-Custodial alternatives in terms of sanctions,” and said. 
   
The training of law enforcement agents across the five states on the enforcement of the laws on Petty crimes, she explained, has equally reduced the plight of the vulnerable offenders regarding gross abuse of their human rights.
   
Her words: “However, we consider the ruling of the African Court the icing on the cake as it has provided the much needed platform to further push for the amendment of and removal from our law books, provisions that criminalize the poor and homeless, especially when there is no proof of their criminal conduct.
   
“PRAWA acknowledges the steps already taken by Nigeria to abolish petty offences such as wandering in Section 1 of the Minor Offences (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act Cap M16 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. However, more is expected from the legislature at all levels to ensure that there is a follow up amendment of our laws such as the criminal and Penal codes/ laws of the Southern and Northern parts of Nigeria to capture this abolition.”
   
PRAWA therefore appealed to the government to take the lead in implementing the judgement by repealing laws that are in breach of the African Charter. 
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According to the group, it is in the interest of the nation to decriminalize petty offences, which has led to arbitrary incarceration of minor offenders and overpopulation of custodial centers. 
   
“By declassifying and decriminalizing petty offences, the government would be helping to make society safe by keeping petty offenders away from custody where they may be contaminated by criminals. 
 
“ There will be a reduction in the policing system that clamps down on this group of people, if the government repeals these obnoxious laws. It will also substantially reduce the allegation of human rights violations by the Police, which led to the #EndSARS protest. 
   
“PRAWA celebrates with the human rights community and all the Decriminalization of Petty Offences Campaign Partners across Africa as it welcomes the decision of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.    
   
“We declare our support and readiness to work with the Nigerian government in the provision of technical assistance where necessary towards the implementation of this opinion judgement,” PRAWA pledges.

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In this article:
OSIWAPRAWAUju Agomoh
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