Problems in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria

on   /   in Law & Human Rights 3:41 am   /   Comments

By Robert Omote

It is no cheering news that Nigerian Prisons and Police cells are daily becoming congested with the influx of accused persons or suspects awaiting trials or those whose matters-are still being investigated by men of the Nigeria Police in the face of criminal justice that is obtained in our courts which has been commercialised.

Allegations of corruption and abuse of office by judicial officers are on the increase and tho chief justice of Nigeria has recently threatened to drag some of them before the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission ICPC and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).  Most worrisome is the glaring lact that clients are monetarily ready to pay for the services of their counsel and magistrates/ Judges/ Presidents handling their matters. Actual legal practice unfolds the complicity of the Police and the Judiciary in inhibiting the efficacy of criminal justice administration in Nigeria.

Access to justice either “mean the right or means of approaching the court for redress or the right to secure social justice from the state” S.6 (1999) CFRN. This power extends to all matters between persons or between government or authority and to any person in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligation of that person.

In order to ensure that justice is dispensed without fear or favour, various courts ,ire established to exercise original and appellate jurisdiction. S.6, S. 36 (6) (1999) CFKN.

Due administration of Justice has given rise to a number of cases. In SOGBANMU VCOP, WACA said “The expression ‘administration ot” justice’ is not Limited to the hearing of cases whether civil or criminal in the courts.

It includes steps taken preliminary to the hearing of cases. In criminal matters, it starts with the complain by the complainant at the Police Station to officers whose duty it is to hear and investigate such complaints with a view to deciding whether the person against whom the complaints are made should be arrested or summoned.

The arrest and investigation process signal the commencement of the ordeal ahead of the victim of an awaiting trial. The accused is ushered into a hostile environment shrouded with various objects of intimidation to wit an unfriendly cold bare iloor that he is forcefully made to sit on. intermittently the suspect is harshly addressed by the investigating police officer, slapped or even resort to the use of coercive objects of threat like horse whip, electric wire, cutlass, all for the purpose of making suspects to admit to confessional statements they never intended.

Such victims of the barbaric action of the Police ostensibly wear visible marks in some parts of their body in complete violation of S. 34 (l)(a) of the 1999 constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, no   person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

The same constitution slams the Police further when in S. 25{F) said “….a person who is charged with an offence and who has been detained in lawful custody awaiting trial shall not continue to be kept in such detention for a period longer than the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed for the offence.

In the same vein, S. 35 (2) frowns at the Police unjustifiable manner of extracting information when it declare “Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his choice. SS 35(4) and 36 (5) further protect the liberty of the suspect S. 35(4) declares “Any person, who is arrested or detained shall in accordance with S. 35(i) (c) shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time and if he is not tried, within a period 01” (a] 2 months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who is in custody or is not entitled to bail, or (b) 3 months from the date of his arrest or detention in the cause of a person who has been released on bail, he shall without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against him) be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure thai he appears for trial at a later date.

S. 36 (5) on the other hand avails the suspect the presumption of innocence until he is proved guilty by the court, yet 1he police in its acts of illegality prejudge and condemn  him through  his induced confessional statement.

A confession is an admission made at any time1 by a person charged with a crime stating or suggesting the interference that he committed that crime, S. 27. Evidence Act, Ikemson v. State (1989) 3 NWLR (pt. 110) 455, Hassan v. The State (2001) 6 NWLR (pt. 706).

It is trite law that confessions if made voluntarily are admissible against the person who made them. A confession, is inadmissible if caused by any inducement, threat or promise, having reference to the charge against the accused, proceeding from a person is authority and sufficient, in giving the accused or suspects ground for supposing that by making it, he would gain advantage or avoid any evil of a temporal nature (S. 28 Evidence Act).

This is as much rule of English Law as Nigerian Law. In Kareem v. FRCN (No. 2) (2002) 8NWLR 366 (pt. 770) 682-683, the apex court emphatically said an accused person will not be convicted upon a statement that is not admissible in evidence against him unless it is shown by the prosecution to have been a voluntary statement in the sense that it has not been obtained from him either by fear of prejudice or hope of advantage exercised or held out by a person, iri authority.

In  Nwachukwu  v.  The  State   (2002)  NWLR (pt. 751), R.3, the Appeal Court said “when an objection is taken to a statement on the ground that it was not voluntarily made by the suspect or accused person, a trial within trial must be held to determine the: admissibility of the statement before it can be admitted in evidence in the hearing of the substantive matter.

It is obvious from the nitty-gritty of litigation that members of the bench, state counsel and prosecutors perceive the concept of trial within trial as mere legal technicality employed by activists in particular and consequently not disposed to it; yel it must be determined before the substantive matter is heard.

In this circumstance, the fate of the suspect whose liberty is kept on hold can better be imagined. This misfeasance of the Police is exacerbated by the hasty manner in which matters still under investigation are charged to court because the accused family could not accede to be spurious bail conditions of the police.

At the magistrate court, the prosecutor is a law unto to himself. He determines the legal barometer of the court. Proceedings in criminal matters are stalled in his absence, his failure to produce the IPO, who has gone on transfer in most cases out of jurisdiction with the case file or his inability to produce witnesses who would have testified against the suspects/accused persons.

This legal drama is worse at-the higher courts where state counsel ungentlemanly battle to assiduously impress it on His lordship of his uncelebrated efforts in searching for the witnesses just to secure an adjournment at the expense of the suspect: whose productive hours in life are being wasted away in prison custody.

The legal traverse in the administration of justice does not preclude in all modesty the conduct of the magistracy, who in many cases, grant bail applications but with stringent conditions even on matters relating to minor offences.

The magistracy may instantly rule that the suspects/accused be remanded in Prison custody because his court lacks jurisdiction to hear the matter, in concrete terms and for the purpose of efficacy of criminal justice administration in Nigeria, the Police be restrained from charging matters to courts that are not constitutionally empowered to handle them.

Families that cherish human liberty better appreciate the significance of the Investigation Police officers. Justice is titly and inevitably weighted in favour of the rich who can afford the services of brilliant lawyers. They secured the services of counsel who shall mobilise the IPO for the duplication of accused file and send to the office of the Director Public Prosecution at the Ministry of Justice for legal advice.

The poor who cannot secure the services of a lawyer and does not even know of the existence of the Legal Aid Council is daily detained in Police custody or thrown into the Prisons. The DPP’s office graphically is a relics, an archive of a sort exhibiting heaps of untreated files awaiting advice on matters that concern human liberty. Perhaps many of the personnel in the office of the DPP do not and cannot  appreciate the trauma that suspects/accused go through when incarcerated.

Conclusion
Criminal justice administration is akin to Judicial activism. Both anchor on quick dispensation of justice. It is incumbent on the criminal justice committee of each state of the Federation to liase with their Attorney-sGeneral and work out a mechanism that will fast track the review matters of Prison inmates especially those awaiting trials.

Prison visit at the whims and caprices of the Chief Judge of a State is inadequate to decongest the prisons. A tactical committee can be instituted to do it on a monthly basis and make submission to the superintending committee on a quarterly basis.

Human liberty is priceless. In the words of Justice Anthony Aniagolu “the Police and Judiciary need only to be cleaned up and the other arms of government’ will automatically follow suit. Once the Police can be trusted to apprehend criminals and (he courts entrusted to give them immediate trials and punishment, every member of society would soon wake up arid law and order established.

“His Lordship position is reinforced in the words of M.A.K. Smith, one time Inspector General of Police “it is to be acknowledged that a corrupt law enforcement officer undermines the confidence and trust of the public. Such an officer is also an obstruction to the pursuit of justice”.

These declarations should guide the resilience and doggedness of the new Inspector General of Police, Mr Onovo in aiding the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria; to he demonstrated by a holistic re-orientation of the altitude of his men in extracting information or statement from suspects.

His efforts can then be complemented by those of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Chief Judges and the Attorney Generals in protecting the liberty of the average Nigerian citizen. This is the benchmark of the justice committee and one of the cardinal points in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria.

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