Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode hosted a very successful Stakeholders Summit on Administration of Justice from January 30-31, 2017. There was broad consensus among participants, that our criminal justice system is not working in the interest of Nigerians. Indeed, the overwhelming tone was the sobering conclusion that such is the unpredictable and uncertain state of our criminal justice system, that we cannot rely on it to produce results that are fair and just. This was why not a few of us were alarmed when Governor Ambode signed the Lagos State Anti Kidnapping Law with a death penalty provision, taking the easy way out of a problem that requires a robust intervention.
Death Penalty: Not a Deterrent
I do understand the need for Lagos State Government to achieve its vision of a peaceful, secure and safe environment, especially for business. However, it seems to me that the solution does not lie in the ‘populist option’ of legalising death penalty even for the grave crime of Kidnapping. The death penalty has not deterred persons from committing armed robbery, why will it therefore deter kidnappers? Kidnapping in Lagos State and indeed across other States of the Federation, is fast becoming the norm largely because the benefits outweigh the costs. An important cost of crime is apprehension and punishment. Would be Kidnapers will refrain from committing the crime if they are certain that they will be caught, efficiently prosecuted and soon after the offence has been committed. The sentence of death is the end result of a successful process of arrest and prosecution. It must be obvious to Governor Ambode that the institutions of criminal justice in the state are struggling to achieve their mandate, thereby making the benefits outweigh the cost of crime.
The Lagos State Judiciary faces certain inherent problems, which pose a challenge to effective prosecution of offenders. Some of these challenges include the backlog of pending cases in the Courts. This number is continuously increasing. Archaic systems and procedures including writing in long hand and limited use of IT are still very much part of the justice system in the State. Despite the huge resources spent by the State Government in equipping the Police, including the establishment of the Police Trust Fund, the police are struggling to keep up with offenders in the State. Public perception of corruption, impunity, absence of accountability, incompetence has ensured that Lagosians in general do not see the Police as a friend. To be fair, the deployment of two progressive Police Commissioners to the State in quick succession, has brought about some hope for efficient policing in the state.
In all, it is the situation of prisons in Lagos State more than any other that has shown the limitations of the administration of criminal justice in the State.
Lagos State has four prisons Ikoyi, Badagry, Kirikiri Medium and Maximum. Ikoyi prisons has a capacity of 800 beds, today it locks up more than 2, 239 prisoners; over 2000 are remand prisoners. Badagry Prisons has a bed space of 130, it now holds over 268 prisoners. There are 1,700 bed spaces in Kirikiri Medium Prisons it now holds just above 2734 remand persons. The average time spent on remand in these prisons is between 5-12 years. There is at least one example of a person who has spent more than 13 years awaiting trial in Ikoyi prisons. For emphasis, Lagos State has the highest number of awaiting trial persons when compared with all the other 35 States of the Federation and FCT. More than 6,500 persons are awaiting trial in prisons in Lagos State. Of course, the population of Lagos State and the high economic activity must be taken into consideration; however, the inability to process these persons quickly largely indicates limitations across all the criminal justice institutions in the State.
The Government of Lagos State should eschew legislating death penalty for the sake of it and focus on a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in the State. It must be added that given the reality of Federal ownership of the main criminal justice institutions, the solution cannot be Lagos State centric. As a starting point, the Government of Lagos State should take more than a passive interest in Federal Government interventions in economic reforms and interventions in criminal justice administration. The contribution of Lagos State to Nigeria’s socio-economic development places the State in a unique position to provide leadership in finding solutions to the current social and economic tribulations being experienced by majority of Nigerians. A large number of our population is jobless and unable to find work. Many are homeless and indigent. Crime including Kidnapping, has therefore become a tempting and quick way to acquire money.
At the Lagos State Administration of Justice Summit, I proposed two broad recommendations for the consideration of the Lagos State Government.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, on behalf of the Government of Lagos State should propose a single agenda item -The State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice in Nigeria -for the consideration of the National Council of States. The purpose of this is to enable broad consensus by Federal Government and 36 State Governments on practical ways of achieving efficiency in the justice sector in Nigeria.
Key issues for discussion under this agenda will include:
(1) The need for President Muhammad Buhari to present his administrations’ vision, policy statement and action plan for the Justice system in Nigeria.
(2) The need to adopt a consensus on funding the judiciary including establishing an independent Judicial Benefits and Compensation
Commission appointed by the President in consultation with State Governors, to undertake a comprehensive review of salaries, allowances and benefits of all Judicial Officers in Nigeria including lower court judges. The Commission should be required to submit a report with its recommendations to the National Council of States for deliberation and possible implementation.
(3) Direct the Ministry of Interior to develop a National Crime Prevention Strategy, including strategies for implementation and monitoring
(4) Implementation of existing recommendations of Presidential Police Reform Committees specifically those relating to the review of the conditions of service of the Nigerian Police, including an audit of the physical state of all police stations and training institutions in Nigeria.
(5) Modalities for a national dialogue on the desirability of state police.
(6) Proposals for the appointment of a Chief Visitor of Prisons to conduct Prison inspections on a regular basis, respond to complaints, investigate deaths in custody and publish independent regular findings of his work and make appropriate recommendations for action to the
National Council of States
(7) Modalities for undertaking an audit of all prison facilities in Nigeria
with a view to identifying persons who should not be in prison
(8) Modalities for a national dialogue on the desirability of state prisons.
(9) Fast track the enactment of the Nigerian Police Service Bill. The new
law should be aimed at facilitating public service delivery, human rights, transparency, gender equality, pro-poor policing and enhancement of community policing. Further, the proposed law should emphasise accountability, including vesting the operational control of the police in the hands of the Inspector-General of Police rather than the President.
(10)Fact track the enactment of the Nigerian Prisons Service Bill, including affirming the provisions that provide for the proper and efficient administration of prisons, protection of human rights and upholding of international standards.
(11) Proposal for the establishment of a National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) with representation from the three arms of government to provide high-level policymaking, implementation and oversight of interventions in the Justice Sector. Its membership should include representation from the States, State and Non-State Actors from the justice sector.
The Government of Lagos State should Identify Ikoyi Prisons as a ‘prison of concern’. This is less dramatic than to declare a ‘State of Emergency’. The important objective is to focus the attention of government and non- government institutions at the Federal and State level on the need for urgent intervention. The State government should engage the Federal Government on modalities for removing the prisons from its present location. The state of the prisons and the surrounding prison officers’ accommodation constitutes not only a security risk but also a health and safety concern.
The Lagos State Government should consider the appointment of an independent public interest law firm to do the following:
(1) Undertake a Legal Audit of all prisons in Lagos State
(2) Facilitate a high level meting of Federal and Lagos State institutions to
review the outcome of the Legal Audit.
(3) Propose practical (immediate, medium and long term) measures to the
Federal and Lagos State Government on achieving decongestion of these prisons
Itesiwaju ipinle Eko lo je wa l’ogun.
Olawale Fapohunda, Managing Partner, Legal Resources Consortium and former Attorney- General, Ekiti State