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Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria

In the introductory notes of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN, FCIArb) opined that delay in the dispensation of justice, congested dockets, abuse of arrest powers by the police, excessive use of imprisonment due to lack of alternatives, congestion of prisons and high population of Awaiting Trial Prisons (ATPs), lack of witness’ protection, among others, were factors that compelled a change from the old criminal procedure laws to the new one: Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015).

The intent of the law is to reduce the above mentioned factors in the dispensation of criminal justice in Nigeria.

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Crime is an offence committed against the state; meaning the state prosecutes such offences committed by an individual infringing on the inalienable human rights of another individual. Due to the fact that the right of an individual is involved when a crime is committed, coupled with the fact that every individual is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, makes it pertinent for such offences to be established and disposed of by the relevant agencies within reasonable time without infringing on the rights of the suspect.

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Sadly, the Nigeria is yet to attain the achievements of ACJA. A typical example is the recent manhandling of a lawyer by police officers at the Kabusa Police Station in Abuja. For clarity, Section 17 of ACJA provides that where a suspect is arrested on allegation of having committed an offence, his statement shall be taken, if he so wishes, in the presence of a lawyer of his choice.

If a suspect is detained at a police station and decides to only make a statement in the presence of his lawyer, then it means the lawyer, in order to discharge his duty, has to visit his client (the suspect) at the police station. If an altercation occurs in the process, considering the fact that we are in Nigeria where police and lawyers consider themselves as enemies, and the lawyer peradventure commits a crime, Section 8 of ACJA must be complied with in handling such lawyer.

Section 8 of ACJA provides that a suspect shall be accorded humane treatment, having regard to his right to the dignity of his person, and not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In essence, even if the lawyer in the discharge of his duties at the police station commits an offence, he ought to be treated with dignity, not slapping, manhandling or brutalizing him. This begs the question, if a lawyer to a client can be treated in such degrading manner, what then happens to the client who is a suspect in the commission of a crime?

The first point of call in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria starts from the police station. By virtue of Section 4 of the Police Act, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is responsible for the prevention of crime and apprehension of offenders. They are the ones saddled with the responsibility of arrest and investigation. It is for this purpose that the police ought to help actualise the intent of ACJA for smooth and speedy justice dispensation.

It is trite that our police stations do not have the technology for video recording of confessional statements, neither do we have the power supply to maintain such feat, but then, the behavioural patterns at our disposal, free of charge, can be changed to ensure that we reduce the level of crime in our society. If you ask me, real investigations of a crime cannot be conducted in police stations; only facts are available from statements of suspects, complainants and witnesses. The real investigation is conducted at the scene of the crime; gathering independent facts to determine the perpetrator of an offense, not beating it out of suspects.

My point is that when the investigation of a crime is tainted with several violations of the provisions of ACJA from the police station, the courts’ hands are tied to do otherwise, as they cannot give what they do not have.

In summary, the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee ought to partner with independent monitors like CLEEN Foundation and check the excessiveness of the police in the discharge of their duties at the police stations for effective administration of criminal justice in Nigeria.

Godspeed.

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