By AHURAKA ISAH
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubarkar Malami (SAN) recently announced that the government hired lawyers in private practice to provide legal representation for indigent Nigerians awaiting trials in various prison facilities across the country.
Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata made this known in Abuja at a roundtable on building the culture of Pro-bono in Nigeria, jointly organised by the Ministry of Justice, Justice Research Institute and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Apata in his remarks noted that many Nigerians have been denied justice while some remain in prisons awaiting trials because they could not afford legal fees.
The Permanent Secretary who was represented by the Deputy Director, Department of Public Prosecution, in the ministry, Mr. Julious Ajakaye, explained that some infringement were occasioned by gross deprivation of fundamental human rights, thereby effectively denying indigent Nigerians they justice they deserve.
He however noted that the government has led a number of initiatives including the establishment of Legal Aid Council in 1077, and the prison Decongestion Reform programme.
“Statistics indicate that a disappointing percentage of inmates in Nigerian prisons are awaiting trails inmates largely because they cannot afford legal representation. As part of the initiative, government through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice firmed out cases to private practitioners and external solicitors to provide legal representation to verifies indigent inmates in various prison facilities,” he said.
The ministry disclosed that citizen’s inability to access legal services has led to a sad state of affairs where citizens are unable to redress violations to infringement on their rights.
In an effort to complement Malami’s effort and to ensure that families in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are not extorted while trying to get justice, Chief Judge, of the FCT, Justice Ishaq Bello set up declogging panels to decongest courts in the FCT of the backlog of criminal cases and civil matters.
While inaugutating the panel, Bello disclosed that over 300 cases have already been identified for quick adjudication.
He also urged the FCT Police Command to sieve cases that are not prosecutable in order not to saddle the court with unnecessary responsibility.
The panels which comsititutes of two different teams, are being headed by Justice Sunday Ameh and Justice Olasumbo Goodluck.
They are expected to review pending cases before the courts in the FCT and dispense with prolonged matters in a dispatch manner.
While inaugurating the panels, Bello obserbed that relatives of inmates are usually extorted on daily basis by those with prosecutorial powers in the country.
“My heart bleeds when I come to think of how the families of those behind bars could get extorted on daily basis under the ground that charges would be reduced for their relations or even set free from the prisons.
“These people are being extorted and they dare not open their mouths because they fear that they might be aggravating the conditions of their own behind bars,” he said.
He added that the syndrome of adjournment of cases on the grounds that investigation is not concluded will no longer be tolerated.
“If we discharge any suspect, let them re-arrest. We will not make any order against arrest. But as soon as they do that, we are giving them two weeks within which they must lead evidence,” he said.
He said the Settlement Week Committee would be charged with the adjudication of over 300 civil cases (some dating as far back as 2006) through the alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
With the seeming cooperation of the FCT Police Command, the courts and detention facilities may feel a sigh of relief.
Director Legal Services in the FCT police command, Mr. James Idachaba noted that the command would work effectively with the panel.
“Those cases we can no longer continue with their trials, we will be very straightforward to say so,” Idachaba said.