By BARTHOLOMEW MADUKWE
Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN) is the Solicitor General of Lagos State. No doubt, if you talk about prosecutor in the state today, he is one of the most experienced prosecutors, having led the prosecution team that succeeded in convincing a Lagos State High Court that Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, former chief security officer to late General Sanni Abacha, was the brain behind the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
In this interview, Pedro stressed that for purpose of criminal justice system, the Commissioner of police must ensure that every police officer is answerable to the Attorney General of a State, noting that atleast transportation allowance should be made available to police officers going to testify in courts.
Often, the Nigeria police prosecutors are being accused of fraustrating prosecutions following their absence in courts, which usually compel judges to dismiss criminal cases on ground of lack of diligent prosecution, what is your take on this?
It is unfortunate that the system we have in Nigeria is a complete system failure, what do you expect the police to do? How much is the man paid? When the man investigated the case where was he and where is the man now? The policeman may have been on another assignment now. Maybe the man has been posted to Sokoto.
Now you want him to come and testify in Lagos, will he use his salary to pay his transport fare? No! So I do not blame the police officer. Even the policeman in Okokomaiko (Lagos State), you say he should come and testify in Lagos High Court, will he fly? Who then is checking from the police authority if any provision is made for the policeman going to testify before a court? The answer is nobody!
Don’t you think that if a bench warrant is issued, a police officer can be compelled to appear and testify before a court, so as to assist the prosecution?
We cannot force them to make order to issue a bench warrant. Who is going to execute the bench warrant, another police officer? (Laughs) It is only in Lagos, by virtue of my position as the Solicitor General of the state, with the cooperation of the Governor of Lagos State and the Attorney General that made it possible to have a vote for Investigating Police Officers (IPO) and witnesses in criminal cases.
So in Lagos State, as I speak, if there is any witness coming from Kano to testify and the witness says he is coming by air, I will pay his air ticket and one hotel night for him to sleep to give evidence. That is what operates in Lagos now. Unless the police officer is not willing to come; this is another problem.
As an experienced prosecutor, do you see any way forward in ensuring that IPOs and witnesses in criminal cases turn up in court whenever they are needed?
How would they (police) be able to perform their duty, when there is no provision for their transportation and hotel accommodation for the period that they would stay? They can’t! But because of our experience with the police officers, we have agreed with the Governor in making money available; it is only where a police officer has been compromised and he does not want to testify, which you cannot compel.
Whatever I am saying is based from my experience and interactions with the police officers. But if the police officer is willing to come, it is his right to demand for his transport fare. This is even why we need state police.
Atleast 33,731 awaiting trials are in Nigerian prisons and in some cases IPOs cannot be reached, while prisons are getting congested, what is your take on this development?
For the purpose of criminal justice system, the Commissioner of police must ensure that every police officer is answerable to the Attorney General of a state. If you are afraid of giving the Governor of the state power, give it to the Attorney General of the state to ensure better criminal justice system.
And that no police officer that comes to a state and would leave that state without the consent of the Attorney General, who will first make sure that the officer’s attention won’t be needed in any matter in court. Such police officer must have gotten a clearance from the Attorney General to show that he has no pending case in court. If the police officer is cleared, then he can now be transferred outside the state.
What this means is that police officers will then be constant in our courts to testify. They are the ones that know the witnesses. They are the ones that granted some bail, they will fish the accused persons out. Then we would have little awaiting trials in our prisons. So that is part of my own
You have been an advocate of state police; can you shed more light on why you you hold the strong view on state police?
A state police can enforce a state law. If there is a state police answerable to the office of the Attorney General and he has given a directive to the Solicitor General, the police officer dares not fail to comply. The police officer must comply. It is just like asking me about LASMA; they say LASMA is involved in one case, I will make a phone call and before I do that three times, the LASMA person will quickly appear in court.
That is the type of thing I are talking about when I say we should have state police. When the police is been controlled by the federal, the Governor himself cannot be in control of the police without the Commissioner of police coming to Abuja to ask if he has to obey or not.
And do you see any state ready for state police?
I know that some states are ready for state police of their own. I can talk of Lagos state, Ogun state and others. But if the federal government and some states are not ready for state police in Nigeria, then in the area of criminal justice system, that power of control over the police, from investigation to conclusion of the case, should be reside with the Attorney General of that state, so that the police can take directive instruction. As it stands today, there is need for a change of the policing system in Nigeria. Until we do that, we will still have the same thing we have today.