•‘Prison ratio to country’s population low’
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday said in justice administration is mostly self-inflicted.
He said a faulty criminal justice system explains why there was only 20,357 convicts in Nigerian prisons of a population of 170 million.
Osinbajo said Nigeria’s ratio of 12 prisoners to 100,000 people was far lower than that of the United States, with 458 per 100,000 at the end of 2015.
The Vice-President gave a keynote speech at a “stakeholders’ summit on administration of justice”, organised by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, with the theme: Contemporary trends: Catalysts for justice sector reform in Lagos State.
Represented by Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami (SAN), Osinbajo urged stakeholders to take delays more seriously.
According to him, findings by an NGO which deployed volunteers to observe court proceedings in Abuja and Kano State from October to November “support the viewpoint that delay in our justice system is mostly self-inflicted.”
Most judges in both locations, he said, started their days almost an hour late and sat on average of three hours and 11 minutes, covering only 62 per cent of cases listed during the period.
“For example, they found that judges in both locations did not sit 33 per cent of the occasions they were meant to do so. And what were the reasons for the absences? Officials trips, conferences and meetings,” Osinbajo said.
Referring to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, the Vice-President said the main causes of excessive delays include deliberate ploy by parties to delay cases, requests for unnecessary adjournments, interlocutory applications to protract proceedings and absence of defendants, witness or lawyers.
“This suggests that the stakeholders in the justice sector are mostly responsible for the problem of delay in the administration of justice ,” Osinbajo said.
The Vice-President decried delays in criminal trials, which he said take over two years on average to conclude at the lower court.
He said a typical criminal matter was poorly investigated due to poor forensic infrastructure, poorly trained police personnel, corruption and lack of public confidence in the police.
The result, according to him, is that several high-profile cases remain unsolved with few perpetrators apprehended.
“It also explains why in a country of over 170 million people, we have just 20,357 convicted persons in our prison system.
“You may wish to compare Nigeria’s sentenced prisoner population of 12 per 100,000, to that of the United States of America, which has 458 per 100,000 at the end of 2015,” the Vice-President said.
Towards addressing problems, the Vice-President said the Federal Government initiated several reforms of the criminal justice system, provision of equipment and capacity building for the police, strengthening institutional framework for cooperation and coordination among justice sector agencies, among others.
He recommended day-to-day system for trials as well as “significant costs for delay occasioned by lateness, ill-preparedness or the deliberate tactics aimed at stalling a case”.
Osinbajo added: “If we can agree that these problems are against our collective interests as practitioners and stakeholders, then we must make firm commitment to tackle the problems by changing our attitudes and standing up for what is right.”
Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen, represented by Justice Clara Bata-Ogunbiyi of the Supreme Court, said obsolete laws should be amended.
“The laws that regulate society must constantly change or they become obsolete. We have such obsolete laws in our legal system today,” he said.
Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said for any nation to experience economic growth, it must first have a functional judicial system that would not only encourage local and foreign investors, but also guarantee conducive environment for such businesses to thrive.
Ambode said experience over the years showned that societies with equal and unhindered access to justice have a better environment for economic growth and poverty alleviation than those that do not.
This, he said, prompted his administration to prioritise justice and security reforms, not only to maintain law and order, but basically to carry out the various developmental projects that would make Lagos safer and more prosperous.
“As a government, we are well aware that to achieve our socio-economic goals of a safer, secured, peaceful and more prosperous Lagos State, we need a functioning justice sector, which guarantees not only the maintenance of law and order, the enforcement of human rights and freedom, but also provides an administration of justice ambience that protects investments and encourages economic development,” he said.
He listed some major challenges faced by investors and entrepreneurs as the ease and cost of doing business and over regulation of business processes, saying the summit was not only timely but a veritable platform for experts to proffer solutions.
“We are mindful of the need to attract foreign investment, and public private investment, especially in the area of provision of infrastructure. No economy can develop without sustained infrastructural development. I firmly believe that discussions around all these issues are pertinent for this august gathering,” the governor said.
Besides, Ambode said his administration was working to ensure a system where justice institutions in the state are fully automated.
“One of our top priorities is to leave behind a legacy of a 21st century justice sector driven by digital technology and powered by digital literate judicial officers and legal services providers,” he said.
Also at the event were the Chief Judge of Lagos Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Abubakar Mahmoud, Justice Joseph Oyewole of the Court of Appeal, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu, represented by Saidu Atteh, among others.