Festus Okoye

Nigeria faces and has been facing serious challenges in the administration of criminal justice and this has affected the image of the judiciary, the government and the legal profession.

The perception of some Nigerians, rightly or wrongly is that a fair and just administration of criminal justice is possible but that the critical stakeholders are in an illicit liaison to pervert the cause of justice.

There is also the perception that the administration of criminal justice is heavily weighed against the ordinary people of Nigeria and that accounts for the overrepresentation of people from modest backgrounds in the various penal institutions in Nigeria.

Hence, some people have pointed out that those with means can fight their way out of any form of trouble with the law while the lowly and vulnerable depend on the benevolence of the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary when they are on the wrong side of the law. Unfortunately, the problems and challenges associated with the administration of criminal justice are multifaceted and the more the critical stakeholders try to get to understand the challenges and get to grips with them, the more the problems and challenges are entrenched and solidified.

Some of the problems in the criminal justice chain revolve around the arbitrary and sometimes confusing powers of the police in the arrest of alleged criminal offenders; the use of unwholesome means in the investigation of crimes; the paucity of funds and lack of investigation capacity by some of the law enforcement agencies; the lack of sufficient number of prosecution and judicial officers, delay in the administrations of criminal justice; the lack of understanding and proper understanding of the processes and procedures of our courts of law and the antics and manoeuvres of legal practitioners.

The direct implication and logical consequence of some of these problems and challenges is the congestions and overflowing of penal facilities and the attendant spread of diseases and lack of confidence in the judicial process.

Furthermore, the ordinary people who believe that they cannot get justice are more likely to take the laws into their hands and use extra judicial and extra constitutional means to achieve their own brand of justice. In different parts of Nigeria, we have an avalanche of vigilante groups performing police duties in terms of bearing arms, making arrests and detaining those that are suspected of penal infringement.

In different parts of Nigeria, the ordinary people are taking the laws into their hands and meting out instant justice to suspects as some of the people accuse the police of corruption and illicit liaison with criminal elements. Innocent persons have in the process been sent to their untimely grave due to the use of unconstitutional and illegal means to dispense instant justice.

On the flip side, innocent people that ought to be presumed innocent until proven guilty before a properly constituted court of law are herded to the penal institutions because of their lack of means and sometimes the corruption of the system. Successive regimes have initiated reforms in the administration of criminal justice and the problems and challenges remain and the question is why?

Why are we still treating justice for the ordinary people of Nigeria as an option of charity? Why did previous efforts at reform fail? Did reforms fail on account of elite conspiracy or lack of will on the part of those that are supposed to drive the reform process? Where are we in the reform effort? The latest attempt to address the challenge and problems bedevilling criminal justice administration led to the initiation and promulgation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 to be in operation in the federal courts in Nigeria and courts of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

This legislation repealed the Criminal Procedure Act and the Criminal Procedure Code which was applicable in all federal courts and courts in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. But more than just regulating criminal procedure, the Act covers a whole gamut of criminal justice process from arrest, investigation, trial, custodial matters and sentencing guidelines.

Apparently, the provisions of the Act are focused towards ensuring that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of all criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, and protection of the rights and interests of the suspects and the victims of crime. However, due to the diversity of Nigeria, our constitutional limitations and the federal structure of Nigeria, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 does not have universal application throughout Nigeria.

The implication is that each State of Nigeria that truly desires it and sees it as a progressive legislation can within the context and limits of its state peculiarities domesticate and adapt it to its own uses and needs. Following the trend of the ongoing reforms in the criminal justice system, so many states across Nigeria have promulgated and adapted the said law with few modifications.

For instance, Kaduna State adopted the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and repealed its Penal Code on May 29, 2017. The Law is cited as the Kaduna State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2017 and it is to provide for the administration of criminal justice in the courts of Kaduna State and for related matters, 2017 while the Penal Code is cited as the Kaduna State Penal Code Law 2017 and it is to penalize crimes prescribed under the Law and other matters connected thereto, 2017.

With the domestication of the law in so any states of the federation, what then can the critical stakeholders do to make it work? The stakeholders in this sense are those with the capacity to affect a particular policy, issue or organization and can be affected by the same policies or issues. In the administration of criminal justice, some stakeholders are apparent.

The courts and the Judges that sit in the courts are core stakeholders, the law enforcement agencies that arrest offenders, investigate crimes and charge penal suspects to court are core stakeholders and lawyers in the private and official bar are core stakeholders. To achieve a just and efficient criminal justice administration, there are irreducible minimums that must be met and their absence impairs and blurs the efficient and just dispensation of justice.

These minimums encompass the right to fair hearing within a reasonable time, public hearing and accountability, the right to be informed promptly and in the language that the suspect understands and in details of the nature of the offence, the need for adequate time and facilities for the preparation of defense, the entitlement to the services of a legal practitioner of choice and the right to an interpreter. It encompassed the right to life and the taking of life in a manner prescribed by law.

It encompassed the right to the dignity of the human person and the right to personal liberty. Fair hearing is therefore not an esoteric concept but a concept designed to guard against arbitrariness. Fair hearing in ordinary parlance connotes hearing the other side. In criminal law, it is said that no one should be condemned without being heard.

Due process also encompasses and warehouses some other rights of suspects and accused persons. It encompasses complying with the law and the constitution in matters of arrest, detention, interrogation and being charged to court.

To achieve a just administration of criminal justice, the stakeholders must come to grips with the lack of concrete attention and requisite and adequate budgetary provision for criminal justice institutions; low morale and severely limited capacity utilization in most of the institutions as a result of poor funding, lack of capacity building and neglect of the institution by successive governments; steady decline in the standard and quality of the justice delivery mechanisms as a result of poor funding, decaying infrastructure and inadequacy of equipment and materials; lack of coordination and, in certain cases, disharmony within the key institutions that are critical to justice delivery; blame game, buck passing and finger pointing in the discharge of the primary responsibilities of these institutions as none is ready to accept responsibility for the challenges bedevilling the institutions; absence or inadequacy of fiscal control measures in almost all the justice sector institutions that suggests there might be some leakages, wastages and delays in the release of appropriated funds due to the institutions from relevant sources; lack of modern infrastructure in the justice delivery system; the slow pace of the administration of justice and the manipulation of the law and the procedures by the gatekeepers in the administration of justice; the manipulation and corruption of the levers of justice by some of the key stakeholders resulting in anger, frustration and patronization of other extra judicial means and mechanisms in enforcing perceived rights and general lack of fidelity to the rule of law and due process.

Culled From newtelegraphonline

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