Lagos Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem (SAN), in this interview with FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE, speaks on Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration’s scorecard, DNA forensic centre, plea bargain, prison and traffic congestion, among many other issues
The tenure of Ambode-led government will expire on May 29, what legacy are you leaving behind as Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice?
Under my watch as Attoney-General, the justice sector in Lagos State has experienced the implementation of programmes aimed at giving the people of Lagos State greater access to justice through dynamic law reforms and adherence to the Rule of Law.
Owing to the cooperation and support received from State House of Assembly, the Judiciary, the Police, the Prison Services and other security operatives, we have been able to collectively ensure that our dear state is a safe and secure environment for all regardless of our different tribes, religious and political affiliations.
One of the common faces of Lagos before Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s emergence was street trading, traffic congestion among many others. How did your leadership of Justice Ministry address this?
Upon assumption of office as Attorney-General, my first major assignment was to work towards the expansion and functionality of the Mobile Court in conjunction with the Lagos State Judiciary. Through the successful running of the Mobile Court system, we have been able to reduce street trading, traffic congestion and unethical/anti-social conducts on the roads as environmental nuisances, thereby improving the socio-economic well-being of the residents of Lagos State.
We recognized the importance of creating awareness of the law that were being passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly, therefore, we created a web portal where all Laws & Regulations of Lagos State are available online. The dedicated web portal, http:laws.lagosstate.gov.ng is regularly updated with all new laws and regulations and has since the launch recorded an average of 100,000 users every month and over 10,000 downloads of the laws of Lagos State.
Before this government, the fear of land grabbers was the beginning of mission in Lagos. How did the government tackle this menace?
We are all witnesses to how the activities of land grabbers popularly known as ‘Omo Onile’ were almost completely stifling commercial activities in the state before we came on board. In order to reduce to the barest minimum the activities of those notorious persons, who use force and intimidation to dispossess or prevent any person or entity from acquiring legitimate interest and possession of property, we created the Lagos State Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers popularly known as ‘Omo Onile Taskforce’ with a mandate to rid the state of land grabbers. The Task Force has continued to receive petitions and several criminal prosecution cases against suspected land grabbers are currently ongoing in different courts.
What would you refer to as one of the significant achievements of the Ambode-led government?
The DNA forensic centre is another landmark achievement of this administration that is worthy of being mentioned. The centre which was set up on the 3rd of May 2017 is of world class standard and the first by any government in Nigeria. Our ultimate aim of setting up the centre was to create an enabling environment for proper investigation, prosecution of crimes, adjudication and the administration of Justice in the state.
Under my watch as Attorney-General, the Ministry of Justice in January, 2017 organised a stakeholders summit themed the “Contemporary Trends: Catalysts for Justice Sector Reform in Lagos State;” where stakeholders from the public and private sector critically brainstormed on the collective ways to review the existing system and to introduce contemporary reforms in the justice system of Lagos State. The report on modalities to implement the proposed reforms has since been forwarded to the appropriate authorities including the National Judicial Service Commission, Chief Judge of Nigeria (CJN), Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Chief Judge of Lagos State for input and contribution.
To create a viable system for monitoring the prosecution of sexual offences in the state, we established the sexual offences and Child Justice Unit to ensure timely prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence cases at the newly designated sexual offences court, High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja Judicial Division.
What would you say has helped access to justice in Lagos State?
In 2018, we designed and created an online platform for the Lagos Public Interest Law Partnership (LPILP) to give room for accessibility. Through the LPILP, we have facilitated easy access to justice by firming out Pro Bono matters to private chambers and Legal Practitioners. The private chambers take up civil/criminal suits on behalf of LASG and defend/prosecute the said suits for the good of the public free of charge.
How has the Rapid Tax Prosecution Unit launched by the Ministry of Justice helped the course of justice in the state?
In line with the commitment of the Ministry of Justice to provide adequate support to the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) on its mission to ensure that tax payers comply with tax laws and ensure full tax compliance through prosecution of defaulters, we set up the Rapid Tax Prosecution Unit. This enforcement procedure has ensured some level of compliance with tax defaulters approaching LIRS to offset their outstanding tax liabilities.
To enhance due diligence in property transactions in the state, in 2017, we launched the E-Real Estate Litigation Database to provide ease of access to information to anyone who wants to deal in a property with information primarily on whether the property is a subject to litigation. Since its launch on 30th January 2018, the portal has recorded over 1,000,000 hits and over 10,000 “unique” or consistent users from Nigeria, United States, United Kingdom, South Africa and others.
To what extent would you say plea bargain has helped Justice delivery system in Lagos state?
The introduction and utilization of the Plea Bargain Protocol has reduced the time spent on criminal cases towards achieving prison and court decongestion. We launched the Plea Bargain Protocol in 2017 with a view to driving quick and effective resolution of criminal cases and in turn decongest the prisons and court dockets.
Congestion of prison is another clog in the wheel of justice system. How has the government addressed this menace through its Advisory Council on Prerogative of Mercy congestion of prison in the state?
As part of efforts to overcome prison congestion and ensuring accelerated hearing for minor offences, we facilitated collaboration between the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Fellowship to explore the adoption of restorative justice measures as part of sentencing options for designated relevant offences. The initiative, which is expected to eliminate the excessive use of prison sentences for minor offences, is to embark on a pilot scheme to assess the feasibility of Restorative Justice Options rather than imprisonment.
The Lagos Criminal Information System also known as Criminal Case Tracking System was initiated in 2018 by this administration. It is a crime data register which serves as a repository of biometric data of persons that have been in contact with the Criminal Justice System. Till date, more than 8,000 have been captured in the LCIS database in the Prison, Police and within the Criminal Justice Administration Sector and this include their personal, physical and bio-metric details.
Working towards building a ‘citizen-centric’ criminal justice system for the purpose of ensuring efficient and effective justice delivery, we published and distributed the sentencing guidelines to ensure uniformity of punishments imposed on convicts by all the judges and magistrates handling criminal cases in the state.
In bringing into effect major policy thrusts of the state government to the people of Lagos State, 14 Bills were passed into law while 12 are currently undergoing drafting process under my watch as Attorney-General.
All I have been doing is trying to summarise some of the interventions and achievements of the administration of His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode in the justice sector. The summary is by no means exhaustive and we shall continue to engage with stakeholders to bring the public to speed with the rate of development in this sector.
Culled from NewTelegraph
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