In Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country, thousands languish in prison without trials. This analysis examines the various ways Nigeria’s criminal justice act is being violated leading to the perpetuation of awaiting trials in prison custody.
If future events could be pre-determined, 34-year-old Chris Chom wouldn’t have made any effort to save his nephew from his uncle’s beating that day. It was 14th of July 2017, Mr Chom, who works in Abuja as a chef had just returned to his family in Kaduna the previous day. He heard his nephew Abel crying so loud and rushed to see what could be the cause and met the boy being beaten by his father Mr James, who is Mr Chom’s uncle.
Mr Chom, who found the boy badly beaten, rescued the boy from his father and rushed him to the hospital. On their way to the hospital the boy died and Mr Chom was arrested days later and spent three weeks at the Kaduna State Criminal Investigation Department (CID), before he was later remanded for 21 months in prison. Throughout this period, he said, he was not informed of the offence he committed. He spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in June 2019.
Mr Chom’s ordeal is in direct contravention of Section 6 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). The section provides that except when the suspect is in the actual course of the commission of an offense or is pursued immediately after the commission of an offense or has escaped from lawful custody, the police or any other persons making the arrest shall inform the suspect immediately of the reason for the arrest. This was never the case for Mr Chom who was not informed of his alleged crime before taken into custody and later sent to prison.
Kaduna State passed the ACJA on 29th May 2017 while Mr Chris Chom’s journey to prison started on July 14 2017. However, Mr Chom’s case is not peculiar.
According to World Prison Brief, the number of awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria has risen from 39, 694 in 2015 to 50,427 in 2019. As at 22 July 2019, the total inmate population is 73,995. Male prisoners account for 98% of Nigerian prisoners (72,506) while female prisoners account for just 2% of prisoners (1,489). The global prison data organisation said figures of awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria have risen from 62 percent in year 2000 to nearly 70 percent. The prison population in 2000 stood at 44,450 but May 2019 have risen to 73,248.
A former Chief Justice of Nigeria Mahmud Mohamed described the ACT in 2015 as one which is meant to improve administration of criminal justice in Nigeria. “The administration of criminal justice (ACJA) is the culmination of a long held desire to improve upon the administration of criminal justice and to bring the rule and procedures of trial in Nigeria in line with global best practices and the needs of the twenty first century,” he said.
The ACJA is meant to address the challenges that perpetuate awaiting trials in prisons. However, years after its passage, many loopholes still draw this aim back.
Access to legal representation
Section 6 (2) C of ACJA provides for free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria where applicable. It also says the authority having custody of the suspect have the responsibility of notifying the next of kin or relative of the suspect of the arrest at no cost to the suspect.
This was not the case for Mr Haruna Shuaibu a 24-year-old man who was arrested for alleged robbery in January 2015 in Kaduna state. Mr Shuaibu said he went to Kasuwan Barchi, a market in Kaduna, to sell his cattle and was arrested for alleged robbery. In his account last December, Mr Shuaibu said his family has not been able to contact him since his arrest almost four years now and all efforts made by him to contact them through inmates who had been released has not yielded any result.
Section 296 of ACJA provides that suspects shall not be remanded for more than 14 days at first instance, which is renewable for another 14 days where good cause is shown. This provision was flouted in the case of Isiaka Oladele. His case was slated for arraignment before Justice Sybil Nwaka of the Sexual Violence Court Lagos on June 25, 2019 who had his case adjourned to October 2 thereby making him spend four more months in prison as the judge had twenty six cases for the day and could only attend to three as reported by Sahara reporters.
According to section 396 (3) and (4) of the ACJA, “Upon arraignment, the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to –day until the conclusion of trial. Where day-to-day trial is impracticable after arraignment, no party shall be entitled to more than five adjournments from arraignment to final judgment provided that the interval between each adjournment shall not exceed 14 working days.”
The essence of the above provision is to discourage unnecessary delay in proceedings such as in the case of Mr. Oladele and many others who are being remanded for months, even years, due to too many cases at the judges’ dockets.
Bala Nomau, a legal practitioner, believes Nigeria need more judges to avert incidences such as the one to do with Mr Oladele.
“The story made us to understand that the harvest is rich but the laborers are few hence the need to recruit more capable, hardworking and willing hands to man the judiciary. Also, there is need to amend the Constitution to accommodate the current realities. Just like it is in the Electoral Act, the ACJA should have clauses that will limit the period within which cases must be concluded in court. This way, we will curtail some level of laxity and delay on the part of judges and lawyers, respectively, ” he said.
The institutions saddled with the primary role of implementation of ACJA are the police, the judiciary and prison service. However, it has been observed that over time, lapses on the part of each of these institutions account for the perpetuation of awaiting trial inmates in prison.
The police play a vital role in the administration of criminal justice because it is empowered to investigate or detect, arrest and institute criminal proceedings against any person alleged to have committed an offense. The police serve as an entrance into the world of criminal justice administration, either through crime reports from the public or awareness and discovery of crime by its own personnel.
The question therefore is: how did the police institution became an obstacle to the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria? The police force is under the command of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and contingents of the force stationed in a state, who are subject to the authority of the IGP and under the command of the state police commissioner. The Inspector-General of Police or Commissioner of Police may decide to transfer a police officer handling a particular investigation to another location without the officer having concluded work on the case. This has untold effect on the administration of criminal justice.
Hauwa Isa, a lawyer said a good record keeping system will make such transfers seamless. “If everyone knows what they should do and records are kept in case files and files are continuously updated, the transfer of an officer shouldn’t affect cases,” she said
Inspector Dango Miaraum, a police prosecutor, explains how police prosecutors hand over in cases of transfer. “If you are in a department as a prosecutor, definitely someone will have to replace you when you are transferred. This transfer is called force reorganization. (It happens) when you are working in a particular place and the authority realize that you are needed somewhere because of your competence; this can originate a transfer.
“In the process, you will hand over all cases in your possession to the person coming to take over from you. For sensitive cases, you need to brief the person taking over from you i.e doing a proper handover. Telling him in details the current position, next line of action to be taken . If that is not done, definitely, there are problems for the new prosecutor who will be taking over a case without a proper briefing.”
Other lapses in the police handling process are delay in investigation processes, lack of basic awareness of the law and procedures as well as greed.
The dispensation of justice is typically the most important occupation of the bench. The problem of the bench is usually traced to the appointment and redeployment of judges. When a judge is appointed, promoted, or transferred, the cases before him may suffer some form of delay.
This implies that where a particular High Court judge is transferred from one state to another, sometimes the cases are transferred with the judge so the parties will now have their case entertained by the court the judge has been transferred to. In other times, the cases become de novo which means starting the cases afresh; this shows how the court as an institution of administration of criminal justice could affect the realization of the purpose of ACJA.
On the effect of this kinds of situations, Balarabe Haruna a lawyer said, “Rules of professional conducts and ethics requires a judge – before leaving after a transfer – to complete cases that are marked for judgement or cases that are at the stage of final submission; if the judge chooses to move [without doing so] the cases will suffer.”
Other lapses in the justice system include; inadequate number of judges and inadequate record keeping.
The Nigerian prison service is among the three agencies which play dominant role in the criminal justice system. The prison service is saddled with the responsibilities of taking into custody convicted persons and suspects as well as execution of sentences passed on individuals by the courts. They also ensure the reformation and rehabilitation of inmates through moral training, education and by offering them opportunities to develop other potentials and skills for effective reintegration into the society upon discharge. They also take care of the personal welfare of prisoners through the provision of good health care, feeding, clothing and recreational facilities.
The prison service conforms to the ACJA by producing prisoners before courts, during trial and rehabilitating prisoners after sentence, as stated in section 6 of the prison act: There is only one prisons service for the federation which performs the above roles. It has been uneasy tasks as they are usually concerned with the combination of key issues of security and welfare.
Increased inmates population which has strained existing structures and manpower is associated with health consequences such as outbreak of communicable disease, unsatisfactory financial provisions for running programs, pitiable and scanty infrastructures, as well as miserable sanitation occasioned by overcrowding. Another major challenge is the federal government’s control over prisons which means policies and decisions are often made without states’ input – where the impact of the policies are mostly felt.
How to surmount challenges – Don
The Head, Department of International Law and Jurisprudence, Bayero University, Kano, Professor Balarabe Haruna proposed three solutions to the challenge.
“Firstly, everyone must know their rights in the area of arrest, custody, detention and bail including conditions for granting bail. The police should be made to know more of their legal duties under the Police Act, the Criminal Codes, and the Constitution for the effective discharge of their duties as specified by the law. Lastly, there should be constant interaction or rapport between the police, judiciary and prison service, in the form of information sharing, keeping of adequate as well as updated statistics in relation to the capacity of incarceration facilities and the number of people sent their on a daily basis. If we follow the right steps according to the law, we wont get to a situation of having too many people detained for a very long time awaiting trial,” he said.
He charged the criminal justice tripod on record keeping.
This story was supported by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism
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