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Stakeholders fault criminalization of petty offences


[file] Man in prison cell

Experts from civil societies, prisons, police, State CID, Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Legal Aid Council and other stakeholders gathered in Lagos last weekend and unanimously condemn criminalization and classification of petty offences.

Executive Director, PRAWA Dr. Uju Agomoh while presenting a baseline report on ‘Decriminalization and Declassification of Petty Offences’ stated, “we are uncomfortable with the fact that a very high proportion of the people that are in the prisons and detention are people who don’t have any business staying there.”

She said: “Those are petty offenders that could have been dealt with in other ways. It is like criminalizing poverty. They are detained under laws that were made during the colonial days. If you can take them out of the system, it will free the system and enable it work more efficiently.”

Specifically, she said the objectives of the project are to access existing laws and acts, that are minor or petty in nature in the focus states; to access the process and attitude of enforcement of such laws and practices; to identify key organizations for strategic partnership in the project intervention for efficiency of implementation and to identify groups to target for project interventions.

She stated that the project was done in conjunction with Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), adding that the pilot states are: Lagos, Enugu, Abia, Kano and Federal Capital Territory. According to her, 21 countries already signed it. Nigeria she said is coming on board to create awareness so that we can address these problems from the roots.

In his forward to the project, Chief Justice of Federal Capital Territory, Justice Isaq Bello noted that the report represents the beginning of a new vista in the administration of criminal justice. “I therefore call for its full implementation and also seek the support of all stakeholders with roles to play in this Decriminalization and Declassification of Petty Offences Project,” he said.

On her part, Prof. Chisi Okafor, Board member, PRAWA noted that some of the laws are draconian and called for increased awareness.

Assistant Controller General of Prison Welfare, Nigeria Prisons Headquarters Abuja, Tunde Ladipo expressed the view that the project would help to reduce crime if implemented.

Also, Noel Ailewon, who is the new Controller of Prisons Lagos State Command, said prison authorities would partner with organizations like PRAWA to improve the welfare of inmates.

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PRAWAUju Agomoh
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