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Non-costodial sentence key to prison decongestion — Onigbanjo, SAN, Lagos AG

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By Henry Ojelu

Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Moyosore Onigbanjo is the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos state. In this interview, he spoke on the huge challenges facing the administration of justice in the state and how his office is tackling those challenges.

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Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Moyosore Onigbanjo is the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos state. In this interview, he spoke on the huge challenges facing the administration of justice in the state and how his office is tackling those challenges.

There appears to be a consensus that the Lagos Administration of Criminal Justice Law requires improvement. How soon are we to expect a reform?

As a matter of fact, we are in the process of reviewing the Law. The process should be completed by the first quarter of Year 2020. We need to ensure that we have more robust provisions that can deal with issues like restraint order and pending investigation, freezing assets of criminals before they dissipate the asset or proceeds of crime. A lot more is in the review and the general public is called upon to support the Government in the area of prosecution by making themselves available in courts as witnesses when called upon.

Lagos state is popularly referred to as a mini Nigeria and its major attraction is the cosmopolitan nature, as the chief law officer of the state what are your plans to ensure that the ministry of justice continue to play its role to the society?

As you rightly said, Lagos is a mini Nigeria; Lagos prides itself in its large population of multi-cultural, multi- religions and a diverse ethnic society. As the Chief Law Officer of the State, I will, through the Ministry of Justice continue to ensure that residents have access to justice even in respect of the most mundane of matters. The plan is basically to foster speedy and time effective justice delivery equally amongst all persons in the state.

This will be achieved mostly through institutional and policy strategies. As a cosmopolitan city, we recognise the need to ensure that law and orderliness are kept. It is this administration’s agenda to clamp down on criminals, land grabbers and other trouble makers to reduce crime and all forms of security threat to the barest minimum. This administration has zero tolerance for criminals. We would also ensure that the poor and downtrodden in the society have access to justice through our agencies. It is no longer business as usual.

How do you plan to tackle some of the challenges confronting the administration of justice in Nigeria?

The major challenge confronting the administration of justice in the state is multi-faceted. On the part of the government, the plan is to tackle the operational problems and to ensure that there is cooperation between the different bodies working to enforce the law. The aim is also to ensure that residents have quick access to justice as justice delayed is justice denied. The state government has put in tremendous effort to enhance justice administration. However, most of the stakeholders within the sector are not under the control of the state government. Example of this is the police, prisons amongst others pivotal agencies. The challenges facing the different stakeholders can be overcome by concerted efforts and creating more synergy in achieving access to justice and ensure Law and Order.

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One of the major achievements of your predecessor was prison decongestion. What are your plans to sustain or surpass his achievement?

We hope to sustain and surpass the achievement of the council by strengthening the advisory council on prerogative of mercy. A new council will soon be inaugurated by Mr. Governor and we are optimistic that the members of the council will hit the ground running to decongest the correctional centres.  We are going to embark on a more robust approach in decongesting prisons and plans are underway to implement the initiative.

We would ensure that periodic visits are done and would also ensure that the gesture is spread across all the facilities within the state for deserving applicants. I will ensure the council is encouraged by working independently, fairly and transparently with adequate resources for the discharge of its basic duties. Also the State through Community Service Unit is willing and ready to work with the Nigerian Correctional Service to enhance the non-custodial sentence provision as provided in the Nigerian Correctional Services Act. This will immensely reduce the amount of people who go through the prison system.

What is your view on the effectiveness of plea bargain?

Plea bargaining is undoubtedly a veritable procedure for decongestion of the correctional centres, giving closure to victims of crimes, de-clogging the courts’ docket and reducing the state expenses/resources. It is one of the focal points of this administration to enhance the process to make it seamless and more efficient. In the last 2 weeks, 94 plea bargain applications have been treated. It is definitely effective, it saves the judicial and prosecutors’ time and criminal matters are quickly concluded. This administration intends to continue with the system and hopes that more defendants will embrace the option of plea bargaining if they are indeed guilty.

What are you doing to eliminate the public perception that of obtaining DPP advice on pending criminal cases is subject to undue influence?

Let me first correct the impression that Legal Advice issuance is delayed. This is no longer the case. It takes an average of 10-15 days to issue Legal Advice.

The DPP Office has been very efficient in ensuring that Legal Advice is dispatched in a timely manner. A two weeks deadline had been given some months back and there has been substantial compliance with the deadline. For instance, the DPP’s Office received 212 duplicate files for Legal Advice and 164 has been issued and dispatched. The remaining 48 could not be treated because of request for further investigation by the Police.

The Officers in DPP are of high moral and professional integrity coupled with the fact that this administration has zero tolerance for any corrupt practice. I would like to allay the fears of the public in this regard and urge them to speak up and write to my office with facts should they observe anything untoward.

Do you have any plans to strengthen and make ADR more accessible to Lagos residents?

ADR is the new wave and as expected Lagos State has made tremendous progress in entrenching it in its justice system through the establishment of the Multi-door court, citizens mediation centre and the OPD.  This administration would create more sensitization and awareness for members of the public. As you already know previous administrations have begun the work to making Lagos the hub of arbitration by investing in the LCA.

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The Ministry of Justice has the Citizens Mediation Centre, Citizens Rights, Office of the Public Defender, AGPT, all of which deploy the use of ADR in resolving disputes. The plan of this administration is to further enlarge the capacities of these offices by opening more centres in different LCDA/locations for easy access to the Public. We hope to commission 2 new centres of CMC.

How will you describe your relationship with the state judiciary and how do you intend to collaborate with them in tackling the challenges facing the courts?

Our relationship is cordial and mutual. As you know the judiciary is a separate arm of Government, it is independent of the executive as provided by the constitution. The need to preserve judicial independence necessarily limits engagement with the judiciary to matters that relate to public interest, policy and legislation. However we shall together tackle the challenges facing the courts in terms of infrastructure.

Recently, there was a conflict between lawyers in your ministry and police prosecutors. How is the matter being handled?

My office and that of others law enforcement agencies are in synergy. We all represent different parts of the same structure which is the justice sector and each part has been discharging its role as effectively as practicably. I think the constitution is clear as to the role of each agency. The courts have also on a number of occasions pronounced on the issue. I doubt that an issue should arise in that regard. In any case the law lies in the bosom of the court so I believe the court will set the issues straight

What specific actions will you be taking to bring a permanent end to the Omo-Onile syndrome in Lagos?

Since the enactment of the Lagos State Property Protection Law, 2016 and the establishment of the Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers, I make bold to say that the nefarious and notorious activities of Land Grabbers have been gradually curtailed in Lagos State. Yes, there are still pockets of reports of illegal activities of land grabbers across the State. It is worthy of note that since enactment of the law and inauguration of the taskforce, over 3600 petitions have been received by the 8 Taskforce. About 500 of these petitions have been concluded. Over 3000 petitions are currently being handled. In the course of the Taskforce operations, over 200 arrests of suspected land grabbers have been carried out.

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The operation of the Taskforce recently received a boost when 19 alleged land grabbers were arrested on the 13th November 2019, at Plot 1 Block II within Ogudu Phase II Government Residential Scheme in Kosefe Local Government and trial still ongoing at the Magistrate Court.

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