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Category Archives: Lenses of the Law

THE PLIGHT OF INDIGENT INMATES IN NIGERIA.

BY: SOLUMTOCHUKWU .P. OZOBULU ESQ

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Natasha(not real name) gazing at the blue sky inhales deeply as she steps out of the Makurdi medium security prison where she has been incarcerated for close to ten (10) months awaiting trial. She stood fixed tormented by the thoughts of her experiences in prison custody. Just like flashes of lighting her mind wandered from the beating she got both from fellow inmates and prison warders alike on different occasions, the apology called food, the odour that serves as air freshener to the air tight cell rooms that made her feel choked most times. She did not forget the moments without sanitary pads and underwear or the moments when she had to alternate between sleeping on the bedbug plagued mattress and the bare ground. At this point tears dropped like the rain and flowed down her chin as she remembers the few friends she made in custody who are not free from the hunting/inhumane treatments.

There has been an awakening to the quandary of inmates in our Nigerian prisons, the gross terrible condition they live in and the very harsh situation they have found themselves in. Over the years, there has been serious concern about the state of the Nigerian prisons, because of the dilapidated state of the buildings, the quality of health care received by the inmates, abuse of human rights and the congestion of the prisons. The Prison system in Nigeria ought to serve as an institution of correction, reformation and rehabilitation; geared towards disabling its inmates from further criminal pursuit but this is not the case.

There is an ill-conceived believe that prison inmates have no rights within the general population. Their rights may be limited; but they have a degree of human and civil rights that is guaranteed by the Constitution, by international conventions and the UN Declarations. For instance, the UN General Assembly adopted the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners otherwise known as the “Mandela Rule”, on December 14, 1990, which guarantees the basic human rights of prisoners. Therefore, prisoners cannot and should not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; they are to have full access to due process and equal protection and should not be discriminated against. Inmates are to be protected against discrimination and not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading punishment which borders on abuse of their rights. Furthermore, they are entitled to adequate medical and psychiatric care. And their physical safety must also be assured at all times.

Another primary concern surrounding the Nigeria Prison system is the congestion of the Nigeria prisons which, has been a major concern for almost a decade, among stakeholders in the country. Congestion constitutes a major problem creating a negative effect on the welfare of the inmates in the Nigeria prisons. On further investigation it was discovered, that an average Nigerian prison contains three times more persons than its capacity.  For example, the Makurdi Medium Security Prison has an Original capacity of 240 inmates however, as at March 2019; there were over 975 inmates in detention. Of this number, over 623 are still awaiting trial. Several writers have identified congestion as a major problem facing the Nigeria prisons which has exposed the inmates to improper health conditions, claimed the lives of some inmates and put enormous pressure on the prison infrastructure.

The genesis of this problem can be traced to poor administration of criminal justice in Nigeria and unethical activities of the Nigeria Police which has constantly threatened the physical, mental and social well-being of inmates. Consequently, the Nigeria prison has failed to achieve its major role of rehabilitation and reformation of inmates but rather the scenario has been that of dehumanizing situation and hardening of the inmates.  The congestion of the Nigeria Prisons lays a foundation for a whole bunch of other pressing issues that directly deal with the welfare of prisoners ranging from the quality and quantity of food they are served to the quality of water for drinking and domestic affairs, to mattresses they sleep on, and the list goes on and on.  This cause definitely comes along with its appalling effects which are not limited to but include; poor sanitation, poor medical services and increase in human right abuse. The congestion of the Nigeria prison is gradually leading to an apparent decay not just of the horrifying infrastructures but also of the institution as a whole. We can consequently say that the Nigeria Prison system is a walking corpse gradually edging it is way to an end, if no severe holistic intervention is put in place.

The Panacea to this nemesis of congestion of prisons and abuse of prisoners’ right in Nigeria includes but not limited to:

  • Establishment of more prisons.
  • Upgrading of existing prisons to meet with international standards in order to improve the welfare of prisoners.
  • Capacity building for prison officials in order to carry out their duties within the ambit of human rights.
  • Establishment of committee for monthly supervision of the prisons by the Minister of Interior.
  • Domestication and Effective implementation of Administration of criminal justice Act by states government.
  • Provide tools and access to education and skill acquisition for Inmates.s
 

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LAWYERS ALERT SECURE ANOTHER BAIL

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Our dedication to the protection and enforcement of Human Rights.

The legal department in line with the vision and strategic plan of the organization and in line with our commitment towards de-congesting the prison, through rendering pro- bono services to indigent inmates visited the Makurdi prison sometime in February.  The legal team came across a peculiar case of a young man who was arrested on his first visit to the state for a contract. The incident occurred on the 10th of November 2018 at about 11am, while he was waiting to be served his meal in a restaurant in Makurdi, a group of young men mobbed him and leveled some accusations against him based on the fact that he was an unfamiliar person in the neighborhood. He was taken to the police station and his working tools were confiscated. He was brutalized, maltreated, deprived of some basic human rights while in police custody. He was eventually remanded in the Makurdi Medium Prisons. He was without legal representation between November 2018 and February 2019 when the legal team came to his rescue.

Upon further investigation we realized that he had two First Information Report (FIR) drafted against him and that on both FIR all the other accused persons totaling about twenty(20) persons had already been granted bail.  Moved by the circumstances surrounding his arrest and subsequent remand; we drafted and filed the necessary bail processes at the appropriate court.  After several adjournments the matter was transferred to two separate courts. Empowered by our vision we did not give up, rather we tenaciously pursued the matter in the two courts were the mattered has been transferred to.

The next hurdle before us was to ensure that the two courts grant the bail applications before them. Eventually both bail applications were heard and graciously granted. Armed with this good news we visited the prison to inform him of the new development and get a contact outside the prison that could help with processing the already granted bail. We got in contact with his sister who came into town and visited the office on Thursday. She was grateful to the office for the help of LAWYERS ALERT in securing her brother’s bail. On Friday the 26th of July 2019, all bail conditions were met and Harrison Igweonu was released from prison custody.

 

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PETTY OFFENCES; THE NIGERIAN CONTEXT

By Roseline Oghenebrume, Director Programs, Lawyers Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn sets in the suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria. Alhaji Abubakar (Pseudo name) after his morning prayer wakes his family up to begin the grind for the day. His family comprises of two sons and a daughter all aged 15, 13 and 11 respectively. In his words, it is Monday, you have to meet up with travelers at the Jabi Motor Park or else no food for you all. They begin their journey on foot for a 5km walk with their goods to be sold off on their heads. While they approached the park, they sighted the task force team and obviously took to their heels. While the eldest was lucky to have escaped, the two others were swept off the roads in the van of the task force and their goods seized.

These types of petty acts that are seen as offences is regrettably targeted at low income earners, the vulnerable and the poor. For instance, citizens engaged in activities such as loitering are arrested by security agents shouldered with the responsibility of enforcing these laws. In one instance, someone hawking goods in trying to escape arrest jumped off a fly over in Abuja Central District Area, losing his life in the fall. Security agencies go out at night arresting women and breaking people’s doors, dragging them out on account of their sexual orientation and perceived type of job. Commercial bus drivers trying to eke a living are said to commit offences when parked in a non-designated area and can be sent to jail if they don’t come up with the resources to pay their way through. The above is a picture of what a less privileged family/ citizen in Nigeria deals with on a regular/daily basis.

Nigeria is a country with a population of about 180 million persons with over 70% of its population said to be poor. Nigeria recently ranked highest in poverty according to a report by the World poverty Clock released in June 2018.  This shows that the Nigerian criminal justice system cannot effectively cope in keeping with this high population with regard to arrest and prosecution nor does it have the prison to hold these persons.

As it stands today, Nigeria has about 75,000 persons in prison with about 60% of these persons awaiting trial. Those awaiting trial for petty offences account for a higher percentage of those awaiting trial. Petty offences are more to do with the poor and vulnerable who are often prone to these acts owing to economic dis empowerment. Petty actions like hawking, obtaining goods by false pretence, sex work, sexual expression, slander, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, use of insulting language, intake of alcohol in some Northern States, etc. are criminalised.

Petty offences are not only inconsistent with sections 34, 35, 41 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution, which provide for right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to freedom of movement and right to freedom from discrimination respectively, but are equally inconsistent with Articles 2, 3, 5, 6 and 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights duly ratified by Nigeria.

The effect is State resources are expended in rather needless investigations and prosecutions and the prisons congested. Good governance, more attention at economic empowerment and fighting corruption by Government will be more in focus if Government is not distracted by expending resources on petty offences that are criminalised. Petty offences have resulted in lack of justice for the poor, social discrimination sometimes with grave consequences.

We at Lawyers Alert strongly believes that decriminalising petty offences in Nigeria will aid development given the likelihood of more time and focus on development issues.

Based on the above, the following are recommendations;

 

  1. Laws/policy reform which is critical in decriminalising petty offences because the small actions that are made petty offences are being institutionalised by certain laws in Nigeria.
  2. State and Non- State Actors should be engaged. Majority are not aware of the effects of these laws, they have not been made to understand the importance of decriminalising petty offences and its effect on socio, economic welfare of the nation.
  3. Lawyers are to be encouraged to offer free legal services to victims of petty crimes rather than demand professional fees which the vulnerable and poor people who are the victims of petty offenses cannot afford.
  4. Continuous sensitization of the vulnerable and less privileged in the society. Lack of knowledge of human rights or where to get assistance when their rights are abused is part of the problem that institutionalizes petty offenses.
  5. Civil Society groups, the Media and other Human Rights Activists to embark on a campaign towards decriminalization of petty offenses in Nigeria. Petty offenses target the most vulnerable in the country; the poor, less privileged and uneducated.

 

Poverty is not a crime……

Human Right is for all…….

Decriminalizing petty offenses is a human rights issue….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Election Primaries through the Lenses of the Law

Compiled by Mr Lazarus M.A, Miss Jerum Uneje, R.A. Hwande Esq and S.P. Oobulu Esq

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Nigeria’s democracy is nascent and oscillates on a 4-year election cycle. As the present administration draws close to the end of its tenure, various political parties have conducted primaries across the Federation as stipulated by the legal framework regulating the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Political parties are legally saddled with the responsibilities of sponsoring their candidates’ campaigns for every political position for election.

The law perhaps is apt regarding the conduct of party primary elections regarding how a candidate can be elected. On this point, section 87 of the Electoral (Amendment) act, 2015 clearly lays down the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties which could either be by direct or indirect voting. The spirit of this section is in line with provision of section 36 of the 1999 constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria which guaranteed fair hearing. By direct election, aspirants are given the opportunity of being voted for by all members of the party present at the election venue, while in indirect primaries aspirants are voted for by delegates (the number is usually determined by the position contested for). Whichever procedure (direct or indirect) a political party decides to adopt, the aspirant with the highest votes becomes the representative of the party.

Despite this injunction, the Media, Civil Society and other stakeholders report that the recently held primaries fell short of the provisions of the ELECTORAL (Amendment) ACT 2015. All the major Political parties failed to adhere strictly to the provisions of the subsisting legal framework as shown in a range of malpractices that shadowed the primaries across the country.

The APC (All Progressive Congress) adopted the indirect primary election procedure in Benue State. This system as earlier mentioned makes use of delegates who elect candidates on behalf of the party congress. However, it is alleged that the procedure was not strictly followed in practical reality. For instance, it was reported that during the House of Representatives election for Kwande/Ushongo Federal Constituency, violence ensued because of protests from delegates who alleged that they were being impersonated. Allegations of vote buying and tampering with the delegates list were also rife and thrown at 2 of the aspirants.

Elections-Rally

The PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) which also adopted the indirect election procedure also failed to comply with the provision of section 87 of the ELECTORAL (Amendment) ACT 2015. It is alleged that the PDP primary elections at all levels and stages in Benue state were marred by violence, supplanting of candidates, vote buying and clear case of God-fatherism. In Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency for election for example, candidates were alleged to have been substituted.

From the above it is clear that the spirit and tenet of the above section of the Electoral Act was violated in its entirety. In any case, elections, be they at primary or general stage require strict compliance with the provision of the electoral act to ensure peaceful, orderly and smooth conduct. Any deviation from these provisions is punishable under the Act if found guilty by the court of law. For instance, section 122 of the Electoral Act provides for the offence of impersonation and criminalizing same. The punishment paragraph under sub section (1) of the above section stipulates that, if found guilty the person shall be liable for a maximum fine of 500,000 (five hundred thousand naira) or 12-months imprisonment.

 

Other alleged offences also took place. For example, it is widely reported that the All Progressives Congress (APC) failed to conduct the required primary elections for the State House of Assembly; instead, party big wigs selected candidates of their choice for the elections over those desired by the electorate. This is a clear violation of the subsisting electoral law.

The above stated violations have their consequences in varying degrees and dimensions including the following:

The rights of both the delegates and aspirants who have the mandate to vote or be voted for have been fundamentally denied and breached by leaders of the various political parties.

Another serious consequence is the potency of derailing the forthcoming general elections and its credibility.

Another consequence is the breeding of grounds for violence and unrest in the political ecosystem.

Based on the foregoing therefore, the following are recommended:

  • That the Independent National Electoral Commission intensify its monitoring of Party Primaries, investigate allegations and sanction erring Parties accordingly.
  • Sensitize political parties and their officials on the need to adhere strictly to the provisions of the subsisting legal framework regulating the conduct of elections
  • The justice system actors including the Police, the Judiciary and other stakeholders should be sensitized on the need to closely monitor, investigate and sanction erring individuals and parties accordingly.
  • Power brokers should be told of the need to ensure peaceful elections by midwifing a free and fair process thereby providing a level playing field for all.

Leaders of thought such as the traditional and religious leaders should be encouraged to preach against the culture of vote-selling as it inhibits community development subsequently.

 

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