Reforming the Nigerian Criminal Justice System By Douglas Ogbankwa Esq.
The Nigeria Criminal Justice System has endured Legislations foisted on it by colonial legacy.
Thus ,our Body of Laws that drive our Criminal Justice System are stern ,inflexible and impose grave punishments that may not be commensurate with the alleged crime committed .
Another issue is that the Criminal Code in many States of the Federation, has not been amended to meet with the Changing Society.Some of the crimes have been phased out by development ,while the new crimes that are now rife , accentuated by the development of Society are not provided for .
While one concedes that punishment is a deterrence in curbing crime ,it is not in every case of conviction that a Convict should be sent to Prison.The recent Enforcement of the Covid-19 Regulations in many States of the Federation ,where there were mainly non-custodian sentencing is a testimony of the fact there there can be enforcement of Laws with out custodian sentencing . Misdemeanors should there fore be confined to non-custodian sentencing.
Premium should be placed on non -constodian sentencing,where a convicted person can be sentenced to Community Service to either sweep public places ,clear public places or even do other menial public jobs.This will reduce prison decongestions and save Government money used enforcing custodian sentencing.
It will also provide a better reformatory process for the Convict ,as most times taking them to Prison makes them even more hardened.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Implementation Committtees of States should insist on going on the stipulated routine checks of Facilities of the DSS,EFCC, Customs, Immigration NSCDC and any other Agency of Government that maintains a holding facility,to ascertain the level of compliance with the ACJA and ACJL and abhor arbitrary detention of Citizens as this is only done with the Police .The alleged practice of the DSS and the EFCC not granting access to their holding facilities ,to the the Administration of Justice Sector Monitoring Committees of States of the Federation, should stop forthwith.Democracy thrives on freedom and respect for the Rule of Law .These Agencies should desist from such if the allegations were true.Nigeria is a Society governed by Laws .All Law Enforcement Agencies must conform to those Laws .We are not in the Hobessean State of Nature ,where life was Brutish ,nasty and short. The Rule of Law must prevail at all times !
The Law should also be amended to ensure that an Officer or Officers of an Agency of Government that orchestrates arbitrary detentions of Citizens should all be jointly ,personally and severally liable for any litigation that may accrue therefrom and not necessarily the Agency.This is stop the arbitrary detentions of Citizens with out just cause .The Crime of Illegal Extortion should also be created to stop the harrassment of our young boys on the road, under the guise of looking for Yahoo Boys or Internet Fraud Sters .Internet Fraud is pepertrated on the Internet and not on Nigerian Roads .These heinous harrassment of Nigerian Citizens on the Road must stop .Any Officer caught doing so should be punished forth with .The Penal Code is created to regulate the Government and the Governed.Nigeria seems to be the only Country in the World ,where the Penal Code does not mostly apply to those enforces the Law .It is high time we created an Independent Body in every State of the Federation to monitor all security Agencies .It is called Internal Affairs in the United States .This is to protect the weak and the vulnerable.
The Law should also be amended to allow for a parole system to be put in place ,to allow convicts to be given a new lifeline to have their prison sentences suspended and they released before time ,subject to good behaviour .This will also ensure a decongestion of our prisons.
Bail should now be treated as a right and not as a privilege as it is presently treated for Bailable Offences. To this end ,the current practice of filing Motions to admit to Bail when a formal Charge has been proferred should be jettisoned .
Once an arraignment has been done, the Defence Counsel should apply orally for Bail and if there is no cogent opposition, it should be granted with a Bench Ruling as is done world wide and the Defendant released to a Surety or Sureties present,especially Family Members of the Defendant. The current trend of Motion for Bail ,Counter Affidavit and Reply to Counter Affidavit for almost every Bail Application in a Superior Courts of Records in Nigeria, makes mockery of the Criminal Justice System as it does not fester in any other place in the World .
The needless rigidity of Bail Conditions only makes for a proliferation of Professional Sureties who may not be able to produce Defendants when the need arises.Bail conditions should therefore be liberal.The slow pace of verifying Sureties should also be looked into .
This brings us to the issue of obnoxious Bail Conditions,some times theb scenario looks like a persecution than a prosecution!Bail conditions should be the same for a particular crime .The Discretion of Judicial Officers are being abused.There should be Bail Guidelines ,the same way we have sentencing guidelines .
If a party needs to recall a witness,he should make the Application orally and same accordingly granted and if the witness is in Court and his deposition is before Court,he should be taken immediately and witness concluded with .The Process of filing a Motion ,Counter Affidavit and some times ,Further Affidavit ,for the recalling of a Witness is a ruse.We are not a serious people when it comes to expeditious determination of trials. We know where the problems are !
Sentencing and granting of Bail Guidelines should be issued in all States of the Federation,to streamline the issues of sentecing of convicts and granting of Bail to Defendants. The Discretion allowed currently for sentencing of Convicts and granting of Bail to Defendants, has been abused by Some Judicial Officers.It is either they are too liberal or they are two obnoxious. There should be a sycronisation of the process , by way of guidelines in form of practice direction to ensure unanimity of purpose in each State of the Federation to make the Criminal Justice System more predictable and Certain.
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