For quite a few awaiting trial inmates in Lagos State it will be yet another Christmas in prison custody while some will have their first experience celebrating the Christmas and possibly the New Year at the correctional facilities.
It is interesting to note that issues with most awaiting trial inmates and the consequent congestion in correctional facilities is the doing of the Judiciary.
Yes, the Judiciary is the only institution that has the power to commit anyone to prison custody (whether legitimately or otherwise).
Recently, the Duty Solicitors Network in collaboration with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, the NBA Branches in Lagos State, Enough is Enough (EiE), EndSARS United and other CSOs conducted an audit of the correctional facilities to ascertain if the 2020 Endsars suspects were still in Prison Custody.
We reached out to the Correctional Facilities, the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary before we embarked on this exercise. All of them could not tell us for sure if there were any detainees from that period as some of the records they had did not distinguish between inmates arrested as a result of the Endsars protest and suspects from everyday criminal activities (which I found extremely odd).
We however found out that some of these Endsars suspects, now awaiting trial inmates (Political Prisoners) are in prison custody afterall.
What shocks me the most is that in the last 2 years (2 Christmases and 2 new years) the following is the reality:
- Since arraignment, most of them have not seen the inside of a court room
- On the days their cases come up, the magistrates suspiciously don’t sit
- No DPP advice has been submitted in some cases
- Where DPP advice was issued, no information has been filed at the High Court
- Where information has been filed at the High Court, no court has been assigned to hear these cases
Let’s now ask the tough questions:
- Between the Police, the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary, who amongst these institutions is sabotaging the provisions of our Administration of Criminal Justice Law?
- Who amongst these government bodies is destroying our justice sector and ruining whatever we have left of a failed justice system?
I went to Court today to represent Ismail and Daniel who were both arrested and detained 2 years ago but the court, again suspiciously did not sit and the inmates were not brought to court.
Can the Judiciary give us an answer why this is the case?
Can the Ministry of Justice give us an answer as to why there are no DPP advice after 2 years and why they are not diligently prosecuting these cases?
Why are some of these awaiting trial inmates in detention for more than One whole year without access to JUSTICE?
The response I will likely get is: “We are trying our best…”
With this, I wish the Judiciary and all other Government stakeholders in the Administration of Criminal Justice Sector a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
We hope that the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Reform Committee will rise to the occasion and meet our expectations in 2023.
On a final note: Remember those in Prison as the Holy Book commands. Especially since you all put them there!
Bayo Akinlade, Esq.