By Emmanuel Udom
Members of the ACJL Working Group in Lagos on Thursday, March 12 visited the Comptroller, Nigerian Correctional Service, Samuel Iyakoregba, at his office in Ikoyi.
Led by Samuel Akpologun Esq., Lagos State CLEEN Partner/Data Collector, the group presented an address and made recommendations on how the service could work in partnership with CLEEN in ensuring that the many challenges facing the prisons are tackled.
Below is the speech delivered during the visit.
MEETING OF THE LAGOS STATE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE WORKING GROUP WITH THE COMPTROLLER, NIGERIA CORRECTIONAL SERVICE, LAGOS COMMAND: ADDRESS AND RECOMMENDATION DELIVERED
With support from MacArthur Foundation, CLEEN Foundation is implementing the Project, “Promoting Accountability and Transparency in the Administration of Criminal Justice System in Nigeria” in Lagos State. One of the project activities is to monitor the implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law in Lagos State.
This working group was set up by CLEEN Foundation to achieve that purpose. The working group holds a bi-monthly meeting to deliberate on the effective implementation of Criminal Justice Law, and to explore strategies for collaborating with partners towards the attainment of the spirit and intent of the ACJL in Lagos State.
The purpose of this meeting, therefore, is to make recommendations as well as establish a synergy with the Nigeria Correctional Centre (which is a stakeholder in the Administration of Criminal Justice System) in ensuring its effective implementation of the ACJL with the view of promoting accountability and transparency in its administration of criminal justice
In the case of Zubairu v. The State (2015) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1486) at 524 Paras. B; the Supreme Court made it clear that the two-fold aims of criminal justice are that the guilty shall not escape or the innocent suffer. Thus ACJA/ACJL aims, amongst others at achieving speed in the trial of criminal cases; accountability and transparency in Criminal Justice Administration and Effective protection of the fundamental rights of citizens
The Nigeria Correctional Service is a very important stakeholder in the Administration of Criminal Justice. Arguably one of its greatest challenges to the actualization of the aim of the ACJL is the perennial problem of overcrowding.
The total capacity of the entire prison facilities in Nigeria is about fifty thousand in totality. As at October 2019, the official population of Nigeria prisons was 74, 081. 72,662. 98% of these number are males.
Of the above total figure, 51, 380 (69% of the population) are awaiting trial inmates. Sadly, these awaiting trial inmates are not entitled to any form of reformation reason being that they are yet to be tried and convicted. This undoubtedly is a case of double jeopardy for them.
Furthermore, even though as far back as 1971 the Government White Paper, states that the functions of the prisons include custody, diagnosis, correction, training and rehabilitation of inmates, the realization of this objective has been a continuous challenge till date and the overcrowding of the facilities accounts for the major huddle on the path of such realization.
According to Dr. Uju Agomoh, the causes of congestion of the correctional facilities, range from factors such as high rate of remand; delay in the administration of criminal justice by the Court arising from congestion and lack of resources both material and human; excessive use of imprisonment by the courts; abuse of power of arrest by the police and other law enforcement agencies; poor co-ordination amongst the criminal justice agencies; and inadequate utilization of non-custodial measures.
There have been various suggestions, recommendations and interventions. One of the guiding philosophies of the ACJA/ACJL as stated in the preliminary thereto is that all ministers in the temple of justice are enjoined to assist in the efficient management of the criminal justice institutions (which includes the prison). Further to the above, the ACJA/ACJL, therefore, presupposes that the attitude of the courts towards bail henceforth should be that offenders arraigned before the courts for offences other than murder are expected to be granted bail as a matter of course except in exceptional circumstances. The law also provides for the use of non-custodial sentencing for minor offenders instead of sending them to already overcrowded jails.
How the Correctional Service can Drive Conformity with the ACJL
Unfortunately, however, ministers in the temple of Justice seem reluctant to transition from their old disposition to the new one dictated by the ACJL. The good news now is that the Nigeria Correctional Service Centre which is at the receiving end of this situation has been armed with necessary legal tools to force the other stakeholders into heeding/observing the provisions of the ACJL in this regard.
Evidently one of the most pragmatic steps in that direction is the enactment of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act. Beyond the change in nomenclature, the Act in Section 18 enjoined the state comptroller of the correctional service to notify the heads of courts once his facility reaches its maximum capacity. Consequent upon the above, Section 12 (8), empowers the State Controller of Correctional Service to reject the intake of additional inmates where the facility under his watch is filled to capacity.
We, therefore, recommend and urge you, sir, to seriously consider implementing the above provisions of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act as a matter of urgency. We believe that such steps will jolt all other stakeholders in the Administration of Criminal Justice System in Lagos into taking their ACJL responsibilities seriously. We also recommend effective synergy and information sharing between the correctional services centre and the other stakeholders.
Lastly, this working group would love to work closely with the state correctional service centre for the achievement of these suggestions and the implementation of its law-given responsibilities. It is on this premise that we invite you to participate in the bi-monthly meeting of this Working group. We shall communicate meeting schedules with you subsequent.
Samuel Akpologun Esq.
(Lagos State CLEEN Partner/Data Collector)