Some experts in United States of America’s justice system and key stakeholders in Nigeria’s criminal justice system have harped on the establishment of a database to reform and drive efficiency in the delivery of justice in the country.
This was contained in a statement yesterday by the Secretary, Media Sub-committee of the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC), Senator Iroegbu, who noted that this was in fulfilment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in Nigeria.
The experts drawn from criminal justice sector and law enforcement agencies made this call at workshop on the Justice Sector Assessment (JSA) for the FCT organised by Partners Global, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) in collaboration with ACJMC on Thursday in Abuja.
They noted that the country’s criminal justice system was confronted with various challenges including : manual collection of data, delayed and pro-longed trials, flouting of court orders by law enforcement agencies, congested prisons and detention centres, lack on non-custodial sentencing, and the absence of a data base amongst others.
According the experts and stakeholders however, scientific data collection would be a significant step in addressing these challenges towards reforming of Nigeria’s justice sector.
Speaking, a US expert in Corrections, Re-entry and Criminal Justice, Mr. Stefan LoBuglio, observed that the main gap in Nigeria’s justice system that needs to be filled was information technology and intelligence sharing.
According to LoBuglio, lack of a national criminal justice data base prevents agencies to be as efficient as they could be.
He said: “Better record keeping will lead to expedited case disposition, it would lead to more individuals being released, better pre-trial services and some relief in prison decongestion. It would also lead to better human rights.”
He informed that the JSA process which is being launched in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will be based on a successful template that have been tested in the United States, which will be that of data gathering, both qualitative and quantitative to improve justice system.
He however, commended the Nigerian government for re-orientating the correctional service to one focused on rehabilitation.
LoBuglio also applauded the stakeholders at the meeting for their passion and interest to support the JSA. He said: “Nigeria have very committed and passionate individual who want to see a fair criminal justice system and also have some very strong criminal agencies that are blazing a path forward and I would say we have been particularly impressed”.
Also speaking, the Secretary of the ACJMC, Mr. Sulayman Dawodu, stressed that Nigeria needs to establish a data base so as to track the delivery of justice to Nigerians.
Dawodu stressed that lack of data results in lack of direction in the administration of criminal justice in the country.
“There must be record keeping in the criminal justice and this record will also create a data base that is needed for you to look back and access clearly what is going wrong within the system and what has been done,” he said.
He added: “By the time you collate information or data, you will see clearly where you are, you will see what is going wrong and then you can take steps. But we are going motionless, no direction, we are just doing it day in day out without record of what is going on.
“Meanwhile, you should be able to tell how many people have been arrested at a given point, what offences they were arrested for, to know what the trend is and be able to know how many people are getting bail and on what condition. The lack of data base makes you directionless, you cannot make policy changes that is well informed.”
In the same vein, another US expert, Mr. Robert Gibson, expressed optimism that with accurate data Nigeria is quite capable of achieving an efficient judicial system on her own.
Gibson who works for Preston Corporation with over 20 years speciality in ‘local justice system around the world’, opined that prison decongestion which he described as a global problem should be a key element to be addressed in driving reforms.
The Programme Officer, NULAI, Mr. Mahmud Yusuf, explained that the objective of the JSA is to provide foundational knowledge to access how pre-trial services could be established in the FCT and advance reforms in the ACJA.
Yusuf said: “The objective of this sector assessment in Nigeria or FCT specifically is to give an understanding of case flow processes from the point of arrest to the point of release or currently in detention to improve bail processes, reduce the rate of demand for defendants and improve defendants legal representation process.
“So, everything that is in between the point of arrest to the point of release is important to know, so that you are able to address the gaps specifically with each agency”.
The programme officer while noting that opportunity exists to establish pre-trial services however, stressed on the need to ensure that there are set guidelines among agencies that have the mandate to grant bail from the police, prosecuting agencies to the court so as to reduce cases of stringent bail conditions.
“There should be guidelines on bail with categories of the offences and there needs to be compliance”, he said.