Unarguably, Lagos State has been a pacesetter in many fields, including commerce, public health, transport, environment, and especially the Judiciary. The State has pioneered many ambitious initiatives in the justice sector, which many other states have replicated. The State recently took an unprecedented step in establishing a Forensic Laboratory, to tackle the challenges of criminal investigation. The laboratory will bring precision to criminal investigation and aid prosecution with smoothness, predictability, reliability and ease. Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, the foresighted Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, told Onikepo Braithwaite, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi in an interview last Friday, that the State has convened a ‘STAKEHOLDERS’ SUMMIT ON ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE TITLED: “CONTEMPORARY TRENDS: CATALYSTS FOR JUSTICE SECTOR REFORM IN LAGOS STATE” on January 30th – 31st, to address issues in justice adminstration.
Honourable Attorney-General, we understand that you are organising a Summit on the Administration of Justice and Justice Sector Reforms, to hold on 30th – 31st January, 2017. What is the essence of this Summit? Which stakeholders are expected to be in attendance? What issues do you hope to tackle at the Summit?
The Ministry of Justice Stakeholders’ Summit is an attempt by the Ministry and by extension, this government, to create a platform for all stakeholders in the justice sector to come together to proffer solutions to areas identified as requiring improvement within the sector. By this Summit, we intend to create a platform for exchange of knowledge and ideas and it is expected that the Summit will feature about 25 high level speakers drawn from within and outside the country. No doubt you are aware that Lagos State is the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. For it to remain so, there is a need to continue to update our laws and policies, in order to create an enabling environment for investors and even tourists. The best way to do this is to get the contributions and participation of stakeholders through a platform such as this. The Sessions planned will consist of Plenary, Panel discussions, a host of interactive deep conversations, as well as lively discussions addressing the most topical themes in Justice Administration. Topics will range from Criminal Administration, to appraisal of Civil Procedure, Ethics and Efficient Court Administration. The Vice President, His Excellency, Prof Yemi Osinbajo SAN GCON, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Ade Ipaye, Judge Chile Eboe- Osuji of the International Criminal Court, and other legal minds including Aare Afe Babalola SAN, Chief Wole Olanipekan SAN, Mr. Femi Falana SAN, Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey, and representatives of Microsoft, to mention a few, will be contributors at the Summit.
Last October, there was a shake-up in the Judiciary, with the DSS raids leading to the arrest and prosecution of some Judges. Thankfully, no Judge from the Lagos State Judiciary was involved in the saga. Is this because the Lagos State Judiciary is corruption free? Though the conditions of service of the Lagos State Judiciary may be slightly better than that of many of their counterparts, much more must still needs to be done to improve the lot of Lagos State Judicial Officers. What plans do you have to do this? As of last week, Judges working for the Federal Government were yet to be paid their December salary. What is the implication of this for administration of justice? What advice can you give to Government in its quest to eradicate Judicial Corruption?
If you go down the path of Nigeria’s recent past, Judges were usually not well paid or catered for. It was not until a Summit as this that Lagos State led the path through massive reforms in this direction, to ensure that Judges do not have to suffer by the nature of their job. The State continuously seeks ways of creating
comfort for judges to ensure that the idea of the purchase of justice has become unattractive. In the same vein, the Judiciary in Lagos State is the most active Bench not only in Nigeria but Africa as a whole. You may not know but a Judge in the Lagos State Judiciary handles cases not less than an average of 100 cases in a week. It is therefore necessary that our judges should be given the most favourable conditions to work. This Administration, under His Excellency, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, Governor of Lagos is poised to further improve on the working conditions of judges in Lagos State. Stemming corruption also involves prompt payment of emoluments as Judges are not to engage in any trade other than dispensation of Justice.
In eradicating corruption, it must also be borne in mind that appointment to the bench is not a license to wealth, but a call to serve. Appointment to the bench must be based on merit and of people with character who have distinguished themselves at the Bar.
The new annex of the Lagos High Court (Igbosere entrance) and other State Courts are in a state of disrepair. What plans do you have to overhaul these courts? Inadequate funding of the judiciary is a challenge. How do you cope with this in Lagos?
The desire of every well meaning government is to improve upon the facilities it met on the ground and this administration is not an exception. The administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is a very progressive one and so, administration of justice being one of the cardinal areas the administration is focusing on. There are plans to not only overhaul the courts, but to engage in every laudable effort or project that can advance the course of justice in Lagos State. Of course a sizeable budget has been allocated for repairs and maintenance of the Courts in Lagos State. In fact, presently, the Ikorodu High Court is undergoing some maintenance works, and as soon as that is completed, we intend to face other court premises that require attention.
Not only are the prisons in Lagos State in a deplorable condition, they are overcrowded. For example, Ikoyi Prisons which has a capacity for 800 prisoners, presently accommodates over 2000 prisoners. Badagry Prison with a capacity for 160 inmates houses about 370. Is there anything that your administration can do about the bad conditions in the prisons since they are run by the Federal Government and not the State? Would there be a difference if the States ran their own prisons? What can your administration do within the present framework to improve prison conditions and prisoners welfare?
It is true that under the constitution, the maintenance, operations of the prisons is the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government. However, Lagos State being progressive provides assistance to all the Prison authorities in the State. The State intends to do more, towards decongesting the Prisons and also contributing in other related areas by provision of crime control and prevention mechanisms.
Most of the Prison inmates are said to be awaiting trial and yet to be convicted. Some were arrested for offences as ridiculous as “wandering” and have been in Prison for several years. What steps are you taking to decongest the Prisons? Many of those incarcerated are still there because they cannot afford legal representation. What has your administration done so far to provide free and/or affordable legal representation for indigent inmates and the less privileged residents of Lagos?
With regards to Prison decongestion, my tenure and by extension Lagos State Government has already put in place machineries for same. Furthermore, the DPP’s Office has a system of tracking cases where files received from the Police for rendering of Legal Advice has a time limit. This is also monitored up till the Court when legal advice is issued. Those who should not be in prison are quickly released, while those to be prosecuted go on to face their trial. Here, the emphasis is on speedy dispensation of the cases. The State also in collaboration with Judiciary, do physical decongestion. The Chief Judge of the State by tradition, does this annually and the officers in the DPP and the Public Defenders operating from my Chambers contribute their bit. Those released are those incarcerated for minor offences and those who have almost served out their term. Another means adopted by the State to decongest the Prison is through non-custodial sentences, this is a situation where rather than the Court imposing term of imprisonment, it would order community service. Indigent offenders are provided free Legal representation by the office of the Public Defender. The officers of this Agency of the Ministry are stationed in all Magistrates and High Courts for purposes of overnight cases brought by the police, they also appear in the High Court to defend indigent offenders. There is also a restorative Justice project presently being pushed in conjunction with the Prisons Fellowship of Nigeria. This project is expected to decongest the prisons and impact the Criminal Justice Sector.
Last year, pursuant to the passing of the Lagos State Properties Protection Law into law, your administration set up an anti-land grabbing agency to implement the law.Has the agency recorded any successes so far? Has the promulgation of the law been effective in serving as any type of deterrent to the miscreants that engage in these activities in Lagos State?
The records of the Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers popularly known as Omo Onile Menace Taskforce indicate that 863 petitions have been received so far, out of which 120 (One Hundred and Twenty) petitions have been resolved while others are pending and receiving full attention. Presently, some cases are pending at the Special Offences Court, sitting in Ogba.
On the level of its impact, Lagos State Properties Protection Law, 2016 serves as a deterrent to those that attempt forcible take over of land in Lagos State. I can candidly say that the level of awareness of residents of Lagos State on the activities of land Grabbers has increased. Residents now know what steps to take when their rights over their Land is being threatened, and that is to report to the Lagos State Special Taskforce on Land-grabbers, by bringing petitions rather than resorting to self help, and use of intimidation and force. Awareness on Land Grabbing is key to the combat against land grabbers and increase in property investment.
Ogun State followed Lagos State and passed a similar anti-land grabbing law, extending the scope of its own law to kidnapping. However, inspite of the law, we see that kidnapping seems to be on the rise in Ogun State. What steps are your administration taking to ensure that kidnapping does not become a problem in Lagos State? The issue of kidnapping and even ritual killings in Lagos is giving residents sleepless nights. What do you think is responsible for this and how can this tide be stemmed? Do you think existing legislation is tough enough to discourage would be kidnappers and to bring them to justice? Or are you considering a fresh law in this regard?
We can blame the economy all we want, but the truth is that hunger has never been a good justification/defence for any man who steals. No doubt, the issue of kidnapping has been on the rise in every part of the country, and it has become an issue of National concern.
As you may be aware, the administration of His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is a people oriented government. It believes that its greatest asset is its people more than any other thing. Hence, it is not for the purpose of merely scoring political points that H.E. has continued to equip the Police in order to ensure effective policing within the State. Lagos State has also recently set up the Neighbourhood Corps Agency which is to work with the police and other security agencies to improve community policing. Corp members will be individuals from within their known localities, which will ensure proper knowledge of the terrain. We believe that in no time, issues such as kidnapping, either for ritual purposes or ransom will be a thing of the past. Also the proactive Lagos State House of Assembly, recently passed a Bill stipulating tough penalties for kidnapping. So you see that all these issues are being considered by this government.
Despite the series of innovations introduced in the State to make sure that the length of time it takes to decide a case is reduced, cases are still taking very long before they are determined. Why is this so? What are your plans to make justice swift?
Your observation on delay in the administration of justice confirm the saying that you can have the best set of Rules of Procedure, yet may not achieve the desired target.
The administration of justice is not an issue for the Government alone, but it involves everybody from the Judiciary to legal practitioners and even the populace. There are many cases pending in court that do not have any business being in court. This is the more reason why people must embrace Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms, so that only cases that are real and deserving are filed in our courts. Users of the Court system must embrace Modern trends that are practiced in other climes. Lawyers must be able to advice their clients on the implication of approaching court where the issues could be resolved by ADR. I must tell you that we have the best set of Rules of Court, but when the practitioners do not make use of the Rules to achieve optimum results, the system cannot move forward. We will continue to review our rules of court and laws to ensure that we achieve the desired goal which is efficient and speedy dispensation of justice.
For the first time in the history of Nigeria, a proper forensic laboratory is being established and your Ministry is taking the lead. What informed this move which we understand will involve a huge financial commitment? Which personnel will man this laboratory? Where and how will they be trained?
True, Lagos State is at the verge of having the first Forensic Laboratory in Nigeria that is purpose-designed to help fight crime. There are several reasons why we decided to establish the laboratory. This administration believes that being able to successfully prosecute a criminal and/or prevent any type of crime, to save life and property is priceless. The two most important reasons why the forensic laboratory is being established are first, to Fight and Prevent crime by adding a scientific approach to criminal investigations and law enforcement. Experience has shown that an important reason why some crimes remain unsolved and certain crimes cannot be stopped before they happen, is the absence of forensic laboratories and expertise in its area. Second is to stop export of human remains abroad for identification by DNA after manmade or natural disasters. Lagos State has witnessed several unfortunate incidents, including plane crashes, building collapse and fire. Some of the remains recovered could not be identified using the traditional methods of identification. In each case, human remain samples were sent abroad for identification using DNA technology and the families had to wait for months or even years before they can bury their dead. Sending samples abroad costs money, but most importantly it takes time. We want to be able to do all such identifications in the future, and help the society bring closure to such cases, faster.
In terms of personnel to man the laboratory, and to ensure immediate impact, the core personnel at startup are already accredited and experienced in different aspects of forensics. This means that the facility will be ready for business on its first day of operation.
Lagos State which statistically, is the most populous state in Nigeria, keeps growing by the day. The huge influx of persons from all over the country would necessarily create challenges in the area of crime control, prevention and deterrence. How are you handling this challenge as the chief law officer of the state?
As the Chief Law Officer of the State, I am looking at more preventive measures as opposed to being reactive. For example, Lagos State is set to introduce functional CCTV cameras in all nooks and crannies of the State. These cameras will help in crime prevention, detection and prosecution.
The recent Anti-Kidnapping Law passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly has elicited criticisms from human rights activists, especially with the provision for the death penalty. Some see capital punishment for kidnapping as extreme. Delta State which made that provision before, later reviewed it to life imprisonment. Why did Lagos consider it necessary to so provide?
It is true that there are also strong advocates against the death penalty both locally and internationally. However, the bill was subjected to intense debate by members of the public and the consensus was that there should be a strong response to the spate of kidnapping for ransom that has afflicted Lagos in recent times. It must however, be noted that death penalty is only imposed where death occurs in the course of the kidnap. It is akin to the concept of felony murder, where a killing is treated as a murder because though unintended, it occurred during the commission or attempted commission of a felony.
The Lagos State Security Trust Fund has been commended by all and sundry, and many states are now borrowing that initiative. What law provides for the Trust Fund, how is it funded and how are the funds disbursed?
The Lagos State Security Trust Fund was created for the sole purpose of raising funds and other resources, with the aim of supporting Security Agencies in the State in combating crime. Funding is through donations from corporate bodies and private individuals, Local Government Councils, and Non-governmental organisations. The spending, disbursement and activities are regulated by the Board. Funds are used for interventions for all security Agencies operating in Lagos State.
Lagos has given wide powers to its magistrates, by the enlargement of their jurisdiction. Has this not encroached on the jurisdiction of the High Court? Especially with the provision that they can now handle matters involving up to N10 claims?
This policy evolved as a result of the State’s quest to reduce workload and congestion in the High Court. The Monetary Jurisdiction of the High Court is unlimited, hence the policy cannot encroach on the Jurisdiction of the High Court.
Do you subscribe to the proposal that a career in the Magistracy should end at the Magistracy and that Magistrates should no longer aspire to the higher Bench?
My answer is No. This is in view of the constitutional provision that any lawyer who has attained a minimum of 10 years at the bar can aspire to become on Judge.
You happen to be sitting and superintending over so many directorates and agencies. We have the Citizens Rights Centre, Office of the Public Defender, and many others. How do you ensure that these directorates do not work at cross purposes and that they don’t take on the jobs and duties of the conventional courts?
The functions of each of these agencies are clearly spelt out, there is no overlapping as they perform different functions. The Office of the Public Defender (OPD) defends the indigent, while Citizens Mediation Centre as its name connotes is charged with dispensing mediation. Each Directorate has specific roles and duties. For instance, the CMC deals with a lot of landlord and tenant matters amongst others, whilst the Office of the Public Defender is basically to provide legal services to the indigent. The Directorate of Citizens Rights is the pioneer department for ensuring access to justice in the State. All these departments, at some point, interface with each other. Most of the departments explore ADR mechanisms in resolving disputes, which is in line with best practices and will ultimately decongest the Courts. Indeed, their functions are complimentary towards better justice delivery to the public.