Criminal justice system and the release of 30% of detainees – Nigerian Observer

I have to blame the threat of congested correctional centers on the nature of the criminal justice system in Nigeria. The criminal justice system encompasses all the paraphernalia of the judicial system in Nigeria; ranging from police, courts, correctional centers and other law enforcement agencies. The investigation takes weeks or months to conclude and when a case is concluded after investigation and brought to court for trial, if charges are not filed against them in a competent court, there will be a delay.

Referring to Section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which requires the Chief Justices of the Federal High Court, Federal Capital Territory High Court and State High Courts appoint judges and chief magistrates to conduct monthly visits and inspections of all police stations and other detention centers in all states of the federation and the FCT.

Home Minister Rauf Aregbesola made a very ambitious promise in October 2019. He promised that Nigerian prisons, now renamed Correctional Institutions, would be decongested. Aregbesola made the statement shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Nigerian Corrections Act on August 14. The Aregbesola declaration is ambitious because every government over the past 20 years has instituted one prison reform or the other, with little or no result. With the cooperation of state governors, Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of the Interior will be able to decongest correctional centers by 50% in line with his ambitious promise in 2019.

The Honorable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN and Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Home Affairs, have deployed virtual courtroom sitting technology in correctional facilities which aims to ensure prompt dispensation of justice and the decongestion of detention centers in the country. Malami said so while launching the pilot project for the deployment and use of virtual courtroom facilities at Kuje Correctional Centre, Abuja on Monday, December 6, 2021.

Rauf Aregbesola, the interior minister, said 30% of detainees in detention centers across the country should be released. The minister said he would meet with state governors to decide on the mass release of the detainees, adding that 90% of them are being held for breaking the laws of various states.
Speaking at a NAN forum in Abuja recently, Aregbesola said more than 70% of the 75,635 detainees across the country were awaiting trial. The Minister added that the decongestion of the 253 detention centers nationwide was necessary because some detainees have no reason to remain in detention. He called on all stakeholders to work for a “better structured administration of criminal justice”.

“I have written to the Nigerian Governors Forum to allow me to come and speak to them on how they can support the decongestion process,” he said. “Because governors need to buy into this system for us to do massive decongestion, especially of inmates awaiting trial. “If we get buy-in from the state judiciary and the state government, we can remove 30% of those who are there.

“If you look at a man who is caught for petty larceny and you try him for three years, even if you convict him for this crime, how long will he remain? “How long is this guy going to stay, probably six months, but without a trial he will stay there for three years. “Once again you have arrested a boy below deck, there is no fixed crime and he is there forever and so on. So we need buy-in and support from state governments. “It’s about them knowing the situation critically and letting them set up committees that will profile everyone who is there. And help either convict them or release them or see s they have exceeded the required time.

“PRISON DETAINEES AWAITS PRESSURE ON PRISONS”
The minister said the high number of inmates awaiting trial (ATI) is putting undue pressure on detention centers across the country.

Aregbesola said 51,541 inmates in various prisons across the country were awaiting trial.

“As many as 70% of Nigerian prisoners are serving time without being sentenced as they are awaiting trial,” he said.

“Assuming the waiting period for the trial is even short, it probably won’t be a problem, we can manage it.

“How can you put people on trial for fifteen, ten years, how? and they are not a few.

“Some are even there forever, there’s no case, there’s no legal process, they’re just there.

“Ours is to keep, we have no power over those who are there, we cannot release them. So as long as there is a warrant to hold them, we keep them,” he said. added.

Aregbesola therefore called for a review of the administration of the country’s criminal justice system to provide a timeline for trials.

Beginning in June 2001, for example, former President Olusegun Obasanjo created six different inter-ministerial, presidential and task force committees on prison reform. The situation has become so serious that in 2007, the same government set up a committee to harmonize the reports of the various committees.

Release of the terminally ill and those without a confirmed case of criminality, those who have become elderly, low-risk offenders and those who do not have a sufficient legal basis to remain in detention. The United Nations has called on countries to reduce the number of people in detention, saying “physical distancing and self-isolation under such conditions are virtually impossible”. Former United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said authorities should seek ways to release detainees who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, such as those who are elderly or have health problems. She says they should also consider releasing low-risk offenders.

“Now, more than ever, governments should release anyone detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views,” Bachelet said. It is essential that governments address the situation of detained persons in their crisis planning in order to protect detainees, staff, visitors and of course society at large,” says Bachelet.

I have to blame the threat of congested correctional centers on the nature of the criminal justice system in Nigeria despite the fact that funding is limited. The criminal justice system encompasses all the paraphernalia of the judicial system in Nigeria; ranging from police, courts, correctional centers and other law enforcement agencies. The investigation takes weeks or months to conclude and when a case is concluded after investigation and brought to court for trial, if charges are not filed against them in a competent court, there will be a delay.

The other factor is the slowness of the administration of justice in the country which is attributable to long and sometimes malicious adjournments which led to the non-dispensation of most cases, thus abandoning the detainees in the prisons, in the insufficient funding of the judiciary, to the slow process of investigation by the police. Unfortunately, due to the inherent flaws in the system, the correctional center system which is supposed to be a reformatory eventually became punitive, negating the true essence of sending convicts to jail. The implication of this reverse system of prison administration is that the inmates of our correctional centers emerge more criminal than they were before their conviction.

In addition, the constitutional duties of Chief Justices to visit prisons must be consistently upheld. This power conferred on chief justices to visit and release inmates guilty of offenses or those who have exceeded their prison term and who are still there would contribute to drastically decongest the prisons.

The police should also be provided with the necessary means to fulfill their constitutional role in the administration of justice. I sincerely believe that when this is done, the justice delivery system will improve and this, in turn, will help decongest our prisons for a healthier society.

Finally, due to the poor image that the country’s heavily overcrowded prisons have given to Nigerians and still give us pariah treatment in the committee of nations, regardless of their status and political orientation or inclination, he will receive a garland welcome if state governors should strive to work with the federal government to decongest the “death sentence” state of our prisons. However, apart from financial partnership, another reason why it has become imperative for state governors to work with the federal government to achieve this goal is the Land Use Act of 1978 which vested all land between the hands of governors. And to complicate matters, Section 315(5)(d) of the 1999 Constitution also upheld the Land Use Act. For example, Section 5(1) of the Act which gives so much power to Governors reads: “It shall be lawful for the Governor in respect of lands whether situated in an urban area or non-urban, to grant statutory occupancy rights to any person for any purpose.Therefore, the above section vests the authority to grant occupancy rights to the Governor and would certainly require the Governor’s cooperation to see the day.

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Inwalomhe Donald writes via inwalomhe.donald@yahoo.com