By Abdulwahab Abdulah
Mr Ade Ipaye is Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. In this interview, he spoke on the security problems facing the country; implementation of the state traffic law among others.
What informed the decision for magistrate courts in the state to sit weekends from this year?
It is to make justice accessible to the people of the state. People arrested on Friday do not need to spend the weekend in prison or police custody, just because the magistrate courts are not sitting to hear their cases or grant them bail. For instance, on environmental sanitation Saturdays, it is not unusual for defaulters to end up in custody.
With Saturday sitting, such cases can be processed immediately. By doing so, we decongest the prisons, police cells and lighten the weekly cause list of magistrate courts. To that extent, we speed up the administration of justice. Most importantly, we promote justice and give the arrested person a fair chance to vindicate himself as early as possible.
Would the magistrate court handle specific cases weekend?
All the cases they normally take during the week, they will have exactly the same jurisdiction on Saturday as they have during the week. I expect that they will take a lot of bail applications also.
What achievements have you recorded with Community Service as a means of sentencing by magistrate courts for minor offences?
Lagos State Government pioneered the community service as a sentencing option and with the necessary structures put in place, have gradually increased its use as a means of punishing minor offenders and deterring crime without locking them up in prisons or disrupting their lives.
In January alone, a total of 207 community service orders were completed. These are 207 individuals that could have increased the population of our prisons and aggravated conditions there. Able bodied beggars and street traders are included in this category.
We are now engaging the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation with a view to referring appropriate cases for vocational training after they must have completed their period of community service. This will further encourage constructive engagement of our vibrant workforce and reduce crime rate in our society.
What impediments have the state been facing in the course of implementing the new Lagos Traffic Law 2012?
I must say first, that we are seeing a remarkable level of compliance and this has improved the traffic situation as well as the security and safety of Lagosians. You would be surprised at the number of arrests made daily. If you know where we were coming from, you will know that we are making progress.
For instance, as we have less motorcycles on the road, it becomes easier to identify and arrest defaulters. However, I must say that we do not have enough Policemen out there. That is a general problem, not peculiar to traffic law enforcement. And, unfortunately, we still see some policemen and military personnel violating the restriction. This is, however, being dealt with. We have the commitment of their superior officers that the law will be enforced and they are doing their best.
The Road Traffic Law has continued to generate controversy. I need to clarify the allegations that commercial motorcycles operating on roads outside the prohibited list are, being arrested. What I found is that they still operate without crash helmets, riders card or proper plate numbers.
Many of them still carry more than one passenger, among others. All of these are contraventions of the law for which they can be arrested. Be that as it may, we have recorded 60 percent reduction in crime as compared to the pre-Traffic Law era and no new deaths. There had been a 35.9 to 70 percent reduction in the number of vehicles apprehended from November to December.
There are indications from the state Police Commissioner, that over 6,972 commercial motorcycle were seized by law enforcement agents between September last year till date.
There had been this debate on the crushing of such motorcycles. What is your reaction to this?
We are obliged to hold them for a while as the defaulters may be prosecuted and the machines may be required as evidence. Also, whether we intend prosecution or not, any alleged defaulter, who says he has a defence must be given the opportunity to come before a Judge or Magistrate.
We cannot dispose of the motorcycles unless we have given a reasonable opportunity to the owner or riders to make his case or to face prosecution as the case may be. When the motorcycles are well and truly abandoned, the state reserves the right to dispose of them in the most reasonable manner. Crushing is just one of the options that may be considered.
How would you assess human rights situation in Lagos State?
Never better. All of the programmes I had highlighted in my previous interviews, that is Office of the Public Defender, Citizens Mediation Centre, Public Advice Centre, Consumer Rights Unit, among others are all geared towards human rights protection or enforcement.
Making their services free means that even the poor and the vulnerable are given access to justice. All our vocational centres are concrete institutions for the realisation of rights. People are given the opportunity of learning a trade and living a productive life. Our free health screening, immunisation and healthcare programmes are also very relevant.
The right to life must be interpreted to mean the right to live a healthy life, so are our programmes on the environment. Even where we clear illegal developments and take the hard decision to displace people sometimes, it is so that the great majority might have a functional drainage or a clean environment; or so that the displaced people would not unnecessarily endanger themselves, such as when they set up businesses and residence rights under high tension power lines or when they dwell in totally unsanitary conditions.
If you look at all these efforts and institutions, such as our Office of Disability, Child Rights Centre, among others, you will fully realise that this government is doing so much for human rights, hence our decision to commemorate the day along with our friends.
How would you rate administration of justice in the state in the last one year?
We are making steady progress. Improved cooperation in the sector and dedication of key stakeholders have yielded a safer and fairer Lagos in 2012. Crimes happen, but the important thing is that they are detected and the criminals are prosecuted. At the moment, about 650 cases are being prosecuted by the ministry in various courts.
In addition to that, a lot of cases are prosecuted daily by the Police at the Magistrate courts. 753 reports of various investigations reached us for legal advice in 2012 and we exceeded the 70 percent mark in dealing with them. In 2013, we shall be stepping up our prosecution to ensure Lagosians that criminals will not go unpunished.
What are your achievements in the administration of justice?
There is so much to talk about. Our Civil Procedure Rules, which had already become a model in the country, has been further revised and the High Court will take effect this year. Apart from the courts, the Lagos State Citizens Mediation Centre dealt with over 18,000 disputes last year. Can you imagine a Lagos without that unique avenue to resolve disputes free of charge?
Of course, we also have the Multidoor Courthouse, the Office of the Public Defender, Public Advice Centre, Consumer Rights Protection Unit, among others. On the criminal aspects, we now have increased co-operation in the sector with the activation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee, which has the Chief Judge, Attorney General, Commissioner of Police and Comptroller of Prisons as members.
We meet quarterly to consider issues of prison decongestion, criminal prosecutions and monitoring of detainees among other issues of mutual concern. We also established a sub-committee, where representatives of all the concerned agencies meet more regularly to discuss and resolve problems.
You have seen already what is going on with prison decongestion with the Chief Judge and the Ministry of Justice taking active part. That is clearly unprecedented. With the establishment of Community Service as a sentencing option, the gains are enormous.
Lagosians have been complaining of delays in prosecuting cases in the state. What is your reaction to this?
Lagos State Government is mindful of the need to create a safe and conducive atmosphere for productive activities, hence the close attention we are giving to environmental offences like refuse dumping, street trading, begging among others.
People in Lagos with legitimate accommodation and business or other engagements have nothing to fear, but we shall continue to round up and prosecute others, who are involved in illegitimate activities. In particular, I wish to mention the fact that abandoned vehicles and abandoned property create a safe haven for criminals and criminal activities, hence the need to remove or sanitise them. I do not need to stress that security is an issue which we must all take seriously.
Litigants and their lawyers have been crying out over delays in the issuance of legal service. What does this portend?
The Ministry of Justice has been up and doing in the issuance of legal advise. Most time, case files relating to some of the cases are not forwarded to the ministry on time to deal with. However, as a way to further promote fairness in our criminal justice system, we established a system, where all persons remanded in prison custody, usually at the instant of Police investigators, while Directorate of Public Prosecution, DPP’s advice is being awaited must be notified to the office of the Attorney-General. This will enable us prioritise their cases, as against those of defendants, who had been granted bail. This will further ensure that people are not locked up for long periods of time awaiting prosecution.
In January 2013, the Legal Advisory Unit in DPP’s office received a total of 40 case files from the Police and had issued 65 legal advices. Similarly, in December 2012, we received 57 files and treated 97. This means that the Unit can now cope with its monthly inflow as well as consistently reduce the backlog of files that it had in 2012. It also indicates that we are moving nearer to our target of ensuring that legal advice was issued within 30 days of receiving a complete report of investigation into any case.
In January, the DPP’s office completed the prosecution of a 36 year old father, Friday Obot, who flogged his son to death. He was convicted for manslaughter and sentenced to four years imprisonment. I think this is a reminder to parents to be mindful of the possibility of causing injury or death to their children and ward in the course of punishment.
Also we had the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of Rev. King. At the High Court, the appellant was earlier found guilty on charges of attempted murder and murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
During the period under review, the Office of the Public Defender intervened in the pathetic case of an 11 year old girl, who was allegedly defiled by a pastor. The pastor was alleged to have procured abortion for the girl three times in 2012. OPD promptly got the pastor arrested and he had since been charged to court. The growing incidence of rape and defilement of minors justify a warning to parents.
I cannot but mention the case of Hope Okafor, a commercial sex worker, who was charged with murder for allegedly killing a client, Abiodun Sarumi. The client acting under the influence of alcohol assaulted Okafor and she stabbed him in self-defence. OPD represented her at the trial and succeeded in convincing the court to reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter.