The Federal Government has been advised to declare a state of emergency in the administration of criminal justice system.
The advice is one of the recommendations of Policy Advocacy Conference on decongestion of Correctional Centres in the Country, organized by the Order of the Knights of St. Mulumba, Lagos Metropolitan Council, as part of activities marking its diamond jubilee.
The conference brought together top management of the correctional service, the police, the Judiciary; including the Department of Public Prosecution, High Court Judges and Magistrates as well as lawyers.
While welcoming participants, the Metro Grand Knight, Sir William Adebisi who explained that the conference was aimed at sensitizing, educating and compelling government agencies to implement policies for sound management of Correctional centres in the country, noted that statistics from the Ministry of Interior show that congestion at Correctional centres was due to the high number of awaiting trial inmates.
“In our view, a more constructive approach would be a declaration of a state of emergency in Nigeria criminal justice system with programmes and initiatives rolled out to tackle the slow pace of justice delivery. This should be done to reduce awaiting trial population, many of whom have spent eight years or more awaiting trial” he said.
Sir Adebisi said over the years, the Knights of St Mulumba had been involved in activities at Correctional services, including legal interventions, the payment of WAEC fees of inmates and other financial assistance up to an average expenditure of 500,000 naira monthly.
In a message, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, the Most Reverend Alfred Adewale Martins, described congestion of the Centres as worrisome and a reflection of the moral decadence in the society, noting that it would continue to rise if necessary measures are not taken now.
The Archbishop who was represented by Monsignor Pascal Nwezeagu recommended a number of solutions, beginning from the family unit.
“It says a lot about the value we have placed on human life and as long as things continue to go this way, we will continue to have this problem, so, the solution is that, we need to fix human beings, and we need to ask how to do this by fixing the family, because individuals come from families, how do we fix education in Nigeria and beyond that, we need to promote justice, show more love, more concern for the well being of others, even though we won’t have zero crimes, but we can reduce the rate of crime significantly” the Archbishop advised.
During the panel discussions on causes of congestion and workable solutions, participants made recommendations including, suspended sentencing, Community sentencing and dismissal of minor cases of inmates who had spent over five years in custody.
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In a keynote address, the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who was represented by one of his Special Advisers, Mr Suleiman Tala, noted that even though the NCOS cannot reject inmates sent to custodial centres, the Federal government had been taking steps to tackle prison congestion from many angles.
Buttressing this, the Comptroller-General of Corrections, Mr Haliru Nababa who was represented by an Assistant Comptroller General, Daniel Odharo pointed out that solving the challenge requires a multi-sectoral approach.
Acknowledging the blame placed on the police for prolonged trial, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba stated that he had implemented a number of measures to speed up the process.
The IGP who was represented by the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Mr Hakeem Odumosu listed the measures to include adoption of technology at interrogation rooms, monitoring of prosecution witnesses and establishment of a pool of Police prosecutors and legal minded personnel.
“Inconsistency in the appearance of Police Officer’s to give evidence at trials has been identified as one of the alleged causes of prolonged trials, disciplinary actions are being taken against officers who does this. Bearing in mind that many underlining factors create bottlenecks for speedy dispensation of justice, the Police as a component of the administration of criminal justice, will continuously work in synergy with other components to achieve the desired objectives” the IGP said
He described the conference as a step in the right direction and recommended more like it in addressing the challenges of congestion of Correctional Centres across the country