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NIGERIA PRISON DECONGESTION : LAWYERS ALERT’S MODEL

As at January 2013, there were 52,904 prisoners in Nigeria, with only 16,103 as convicts. The remaining 60% are awaiting trial prisoners, who are awaiting decision on their matters, or for their trial to commence.

This is no news in Nigeria. The news is that; some of these awaiting trial prisoners spend as much as 11 years awaiting trial. Most exhaust the time they would have spent if found guilty, awaiting trial.

More alarming is that even when they are released for want of evidence after several years, no compensation is made or paid out.

Lawyers Alert owing to the above situation made efforts at resolving this using Benue State as a pilot, particularly the Makurdi Federal Prisons.

Our first attempt was to visit the prison and carry out a census of all awaiting trial inmates that were unrepresented by Lawyers and/or could not afford Lawyers. 70% of the inmates were awaiting trial prisoners and about 518 had no Lawyers representing them after spending average of 2 years awaiting trial.

We thereafter began offering free legal assistance to these prisoners, securing bail for about 113 in a year.

While this was a feat, we knew our efforts still fell very short, it was a vicious cycle, as we took prisoners out, more came in, and Lawyers Alert was easily overwhelmed.

This method was not sustainable and certainly cannot resolve the issue, was the realization.

It was at this point, we carried out a study on what exactly are the issues. For the purpose of this write up, we will not go into the reasons, except to say that the reasons exhibited a cardinal lesson.

Lesson is, there cannot be a sustainable, lasting, and result oriented resolution of awaiting trial prisoners in Nigeria without the involvement of all the sectors of the Criminal Justice Sector.

These sectors are the Police, who make the arrest, the Solicitor-General office, that proffer the charges and prosecute, the Courts that conduct trial and the Prison that keeps the inmates. Healthy additions are the Justice Sector NGOs.

A viable solution would mean, these sectors coming together to discuss the situation and find a holistic approach.

This Lawyers Alert did for BenueState with the kind Assistance of the Norwegian Human Rights Fund.

The stakeholders came together to discuss prisoners rights and how it is violated at every point. (We had posted a detailed report, see the archives).

The Criminal Justice Sector Agencies in Benue thereafter began a process of networking and working harmoniously to ensure prisoners were not unduly kept in detention in prison while awaiting trial.

In less than three months they had achieved the success we registered in over a year of giving just Legal Assistance.

The agencies discussed together in Bimonthly meetings and assistance rendered where necessary. For example when the Solicitor General complained of lack of power (electricity) so as to generate prompt Legal Advice, Lawyers Alert donated a Generator to alleviate the problem. This was made possible by networking and sharing of challenges.

When the Prisons complained of lack of vehicles in conveying prisoners to Court, Lawyers Alert under the Access to Justice Programme of the British Council (we were the focal organization in Benue) facilitated the delivery of Buses to the Makurdi Federal Prisons.

It is worthy to note that years after the inception of these inter- sectoral meetings, the Chief Judge of the State, impressed by it, created a formal institution named State Justice Reform Committee that now includes all stakeholders.

Today Makurdi Federal Prison is the only Prison in Nigeria with the least percentage of awaiting trial prisoners in proportion percentage with convicts.

We believe this model can be replicated in other jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, most States Justice Sector, including the Federal Ministry of Justice   is so taken in by the lone, though commendable effort of legal assistance. This will not solve the situation unfortunately.

Prisoners rights are human rights after all

 

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NIGERIA: STATE OF EMERGENCY & LEGALITY OF GOVERNORS’ STAY IN OFFICE AND EFFECT ON CITIZENS’ RIGHTS.

In this piece, Elvis Towolawi Esq, a Volunteer with Lawyers Alert urges that the recent proclamation of state of emergency in the North Eastern states of Nigeria is Constitutional alongside the Governors’ remaining in power and the abridgement of certain rights .

Nigeria has been in the throes of violence and gross abuse of human rights especially in the Northern States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in the last 3 years. Thousands of lives have been lost, properties worth millions destroyed, people rendered homeless, all owing to the activities of the dreaded terror group – Boko Haram.

The President declared a state of emergency in those states pursuant to section 305 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Under subsection (3), the President is empowered to proclaim a state of emergency only when:
(a) the Federation is at war;
(b) the Federation is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war;
(c) there is actual break-down of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part to such extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security;
(d) there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger;
(e) there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the Federation;
(f) the President receives a request to do so in accordance with the provisions of subsection (4) of this section;
and in extreme situation where the Governor fails to make the request (as provided for in subsection (5).)

Testing the President’s proclamation of the state of emergency in the water of facts as to whether it accords with the dictate of the Constitution validates the President position. There’s no cloud of equivocation that violent fanaticism is threatening to throw Nigeria over the edge and tear the Country into splinter units. Public peace is raped with impunity; human blood and rights, spilled and violated with puerile relish; and symbols of the Nigerian State are harassed and harried from all corners by some Islamic militant sects in the North, and by bands of criminals.

It’s an open secret that the Governors of these states have become effeminate and feeble to discharge their responsibility as Chief Security Officers.

In Borno State, Bako Haram sect now runs a quasi-sovereign state within, where they have conquered and established some authority.

The long of the story is that the North Eastern States as well as other Northern States are in a boiling cauldron of violence; and the short is that the dialogue and amnesty appears very short of progress. The President’s Declaration of the State of Emergency is therefore in line with the letters and spirit of the powers conferred on him by section 305 of the Constitution.

However, the thrust of this discourse is to examine the Declaration itself in the mirror of the Constitution, considering the probity and legality of the Governors’ position as chief executives of the affected states; and the consequences of the Declaration on the citizens’ enjoyment and enforcement of fundamental rights.

On the question of the probity of the affected States Governors’ continued functioning in office in the face of the Declaration, one would aver that there is no place in the Constitution that provides for the removal of a sitting Governor when a state of emergency is proclaimed in a State. Rather, the Constitution as amended, in Section 305 (4) even empowers the Governor to request the President to issue a proclamation of a state of emergency in his state when the situations stipulated under subsection 3(1), (d) and (e) occur. Would the Constitution attempt to give power that would abrogate an existing Constitutional power?

Social commentators referred to the then President Obasanjo act of removal of Governors in Ekiti and Plateau when State of Emergency was declared during his administration as a precedent. This it is argued was borne out of autocratic propensity as it is unconstitutional and inappropriate. President Obasanjo’s displayed the military part of him when he removed the Governors of Ekiti and Plateau States.

On the issue of citizens’ rights – Does the proclamation of an emergency rule flush away the foundations of the fundamental rights of citizens? In a state of emergency certain fundamental rights can be derogated and watered down for the purpose of attaining public safety and national security.
Constitutionally, it is covered in section 45 (1) and (2) where core human rights can be restricted for public interest, safety, and defence.

It is important to note that citizens’ rights can only thrive, flourish, and be protected in a harmonious, peaceful and safe climate in a state; where a State is in the throes of violence and insecurity, such rights lose its colour.

Emergency powers are exercised to protect a state from the demons of insecurity and disaster making it is reasonable that certain rights should be curtailed for the aim of the rule to be achieved. The end of emergency rule is the restoration of a clement environment for the enjoyment of human rights.

In conclusion, the state of emergency power as exercised by the President is in line with the provisions of the Constitution; and the legality of the Governors’ functioning is firm; and the citizens’ rights can be abridged for the greater goal of keeping the sovereignty and strength of the state, for it is principally within the state that the rights are enjoyed and enforced. If the state crumbles, then the rights would become like soil, to be trampled upon with little regard.

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PYRRHIC VICTORY: COURT JUDGEMENTS AGAINST STATE SECURITY AGENCIES IN NIGERIA

When a citizen is injured by State Security Agencies in Nigeria, notably the Army, Police, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt and Crime Practices Commission (ICCPC), etc, it can be quite a challenge enjoying the fruits of Judgement against these Agencies in the event of victory at the Courts, especially if the relief is monetary.
Yes, Laws do exist to cloth the citizen with relief. The fundamental challenge is however the route or process towards enjoying the relief after the Judgement of Court.Generally, this is how it works. After Judgement the Court prepares papers for execution of the Judgement so as to enforce compliance. Bailiffs are assigned to carry out execution i.e. seizing the properties of the Judgement debtor, who is in default of compliance, in order to give life to the Judgement. Two policemen are normally detailed to accompany the Bailiffs.
This process is the problem.

Police officers often decline to escort Court Bailiffs to Police Headquarters, Army headquarters or any other Para Military Body to execute Judgements. They plead ineffectiveness even if they do. They cannot act against their Bosses or Organizations. It therefore becomes a practical impossibility to take away, for instance, a police vehicle for non compliance with Judgement of Court.

A lot of citizens whose rights have been violated by State Security Agencies and have monetary reliefs awarded by the Court therefore do not in real terms get any relief. Monetary award or damages do hardly get paid.

For instance, Lawyers Alert was able to secure Judgment in the sum of N5m for a mother whose son was unlawfully killed by the Police. The Judgment was delivered by the Federal High Court Makurdi, in November 2011 against the Inspector General, I.G, and Commissioner of Police, C.O.P. Benue State

Both parties have not appealed the Judgment, but till date have refused to pay the compensation.

We contacted the I.G and C.O.P , had several meetings all to no avail. We could have executed the Judgement, but, for the Bailiffs cannot go into Police Headquarters and attach their properties in satisfaction of Judgement without Police officers accompanying them.

Monetary Judgements against Security Agencies are therefore practically speaking, empty judgements.

They are at best emotional vents for satisfaction to wit: that the Court deemed a citizen to have been wronged. Sometimes this assuages the injury.

Until the day Nigeria Security Chiefs believe in the rule of law and have respect for the Judiciary and sanctity of Court Orders, this will continue to be the position.

The Institution of the Judiciary needs to be strengthened, made strong and potent otherwise victory in Court against State Security Bodies will remain pyrrhic/empty victories.

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Unlawful Killings in Nigeria, It could have been meBy Rommy Mom esq After the hearing of my case in the Makurdi High Court on the 9th of May 2013, I was billed to leave for Abuja on the 10th of May, 2013.There were reports the previous day of tension on the Makurdi – Abuja route owing to the killings of about 44 Police Officers by militias 2days earlier in Nassarawa State. Vehicular movement was difficult owing to blockages on the road by their angry widows assisted by youths. As is the practice, the widows assisted by youths (read thugs) were ever ready to cause mayhem.

Given the deaths suffered by the police, and the fact that the resulting action, whether legal or illegal, was in sympathy with the police, the police were expectedly not interested. They were after all, mourning their reportedly 44 killed colleagues. Never mind that in good times the police are equally helpless.

On this Friday, 10th May 2013, I made the necessary calls, reasonably ascertained the route to Abuja from Makurdi was safe, packed my bags, and started the four hours’ drive to my home in Abuja.

The drive was smooth except for the rather heavy traffic I was driving against. Wondered aloud why the opposite traffic was heavy, but put it down to the weekend and folks leaving Abuja for deserved rest in their home states.

An hour and half into my journey on the outskirts of Akwanga, a town two hours to Abuja, I ran into traffic of motorists all parked and obviously anxious. I pulled to the shoulder of the road, and my worst fears were confirmed. The road was blocked.

The widows were back on the road and this time heavily fortified by armed thugs I was told. And so we waited hoping by some miracle, we will continue our trip. I understood some other motorists were parked far ahead of us and we were in a very safe zone.

An hour into the wait, pandemonium broke, cars screeching and reversing as the hoodlums commenced violent acts of breaking vehicles and setting some ablaze. Yours sincerely of course did a deft U turn and headed back to Makurdi, stopping only after about 20 kilometers when I saw other vehicles parked at obviously a safe distance from Akwanga. About 100 vehicles were parked in the area. We commenced another wait.

This turned out to be a bad decision, very bad decision. Approximately 30 minutes into the wait, two trucks of hoodlums arrived at a break neck speed. Human’s thirsty for blood, militias,  jumped out wielding axes, sticks, stones and a few locally made pistols and guns.  One of the trucks parked right BESIDE my vehicle and about 30 yards from I was standing. Hell broke loose.

People began running into the bush, while the hoodlums lashed at them, sound of glasses breaking as they broke windscreens, screams of women and children, it was in one word, terrifying.

It, for me was the first time I had come directly into such violence and seeing same first hand. I was rooted to the spot, could not move but seeing everything and noting everything. Only one thought crossed my mind. Dying a violent death is one thing I had always feared given living in Nigeria in recent times. For us who travel within the country so often and always, this has always been a fear I nursed. Now it was developing and there was absolutely nothing I could about it.

In the madness that was playing out, there was a sudden chill, when almost everyone ran into the bush except for a few of us including me. A dark spectacled Hoodlum approached me, what are you still doing here, he barked. I don’t know what’s going on, I heard myself answer. Suddenly there were three of them asking questions at the same time. I answered none. Where is your car they asked? I pointed to the Dark Honda, yards away, which was miraculously yet to be vandalized.

What do you think of the dead policemen I was quizzed. They should have been provided bullet proof vests and more importantly the authorities should have had a better plan I said. One slammed his hand on my car ask why I didn’t tell that to the government. The Chief amongst them (it seem) yelled that I take my car and drive off. Mumbling words of appreciation, I got in the car, hoping their minds won’t change, turned the ignition and drove off shaken and sick to my stomach.

The point was made to me finally.

In the last 12 years of our democracy almost 800,000 Nigerians have died in such gruesome barbaric display of violence for absolutely no fault of theirs, innocent people.

Government has been totally unable to provide its most basic obligation: security.  It has progressively gotten worse in the last 3 years.  This is the plight of Nigerians today. Harsh reality use to be once you set out on a trip, you anxious about bad roads, robbers and unscrupulous security agents.  A new addition: Militias and hoodlums.

MEND, Boko Haram and OPC alongside motley of violent groups, from Fulani herdsmen to tribal warlords have taken over the country. We live and breathe at their mercy while paying taxes to non functional government.

Of what relevance is Government in Nigeria one is tempted to ask? We dig our boreholes for water, buy Generators for power, employ Guardsmen for our homes for security, attend private hospitals when ill and send our kids to private schools for quality education.

Where then is the place of Government? Of what relevance is Government in Nigeria? The situation and challenge calls for a Leader who truly is passionate and has a vision for effecting positive change and not enriching himself, kinsmen and friends in situations where corruption is King and Rule of Law nonexistent.

Until Nigeria is blessed with such a leader, the downward spiral continues.

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We’ve got to question this democracy

By Rosanwo

The drive for an egalitarian society will remain abstract if attention is not paid to details within the system.  Building a democracy in a complex heterogeneous state as Nigeria requires intense attention to details.

Our greatest undoing for years to come will be related to basic democratic values and how they are applied. It questions our ethics and values as individuals or as a people. The rule of law is conspicuously missing from our democratic system. Man is bound to err and the devil is bound to manifest, but onus lies on the state to respond adequately with the rule of law.

A society cannot discuss or determine cases of violations without being first governed by the rule of law. According to Lauren Oliver, human beings in their natural state are unpredictable, erratic, and unhappy. It is only once their animal instincts are controlled that they can be responsible, dependable, and content.

The debate within the Nigerian polity is subtly being eroded by the ‘don’t hate’ or opposition syndrome. The ruling party (PDP) and its goons are subtly using social media to pass a message that is quickly gaining momentum. Their argument is that one must not abuse the government because it is wrong, anyone who attacks the PDP must surely like the opposition party. By and large, the opposition parties are eventually as guilty as the PDP when it comes to abuse of power or office, so by default the ruling party should get more flak than the opposition political parties.

Since 1999, the PDP has had majority reign across the nation – from the Presidency to the Senate, House of Representatives and state governors. The party must understand that its firm grip and control of the Nigerian state will generate criticism in as much proportion. Should any political party act as stupidly as we have seen in the past, without the people retaining the right to let them know how stupid they have been?

Many recent events in the country are, to put bluntly, on the borderline between sheer stupidity and foolishness with no regard for the rule of law. For unfortunate but obvious reasons, majority of the citizenry will not bother to question the political parties. Has the PDP or any of the opposition parties proved itself to be different in a positive way?

There are several instances and different scenarios depicting abuse of power or office.

March 2012, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, two term governor of Lagos state and the national leader of the opposition party- ACN, turned 60. All roads led to Lagos state, where a carnival-like party was held. To ACN stalwarts, Asiwaju deserved to be honored; after all, he ensured the party regained its stronghold of the southwest and hence buttered their bread. Solely a private affair between a political party and its supporters, questions were raised on how the carnival-like party was funded.

PDP and other opposition parties making use of the press implied that the events must have cost over N1billion.  Being accountable to no one but themselves, the event was massively spectacular in the midst of abject poverty; the masses were placated with packed food handouts. One pertinent observation was the deployment of Lagos State resources during the celebration and the question arises regarding abuse of power by the incumbent governor in deploying state resources to celebrate with the leader of his political party.

The ACN was quick to defend itself by claiming that the PDP and its other perceived enemies were out to score cheap political points against them in Lagos. They were in a celebratory mood and were not breaking any law as such but did not try to disprove the fact that state resources were deployed. Did other states under ACN leadership also contribute to this party from their state coffers?

Did the ACN Senators and members of the House of Representatives (who still refuse to declare their earnings) contribute towards this grand celebration?

A lot of questions were left unanswered but it was very obvious that Lagos state resources amongst others were deployed to facilitate the party. Even if not via cash contributions as alluded by the press, but manpower and state facilities were used.

Did Lagos state generate any revenue from the use of the state stadium? Should state resources be deployed for the benefit of a private citizen and other personal events? No.  If Asiwaju paid for the cost of this party from his private coffers, one must ask how much he was worth before and after attaining public office.

Last week the ruling People’s Democratic Party decided to host its Board of Trustee (BOT) elections inside the presidential villa, Abuja. While the internal democracy of all political parties is pivotal to our budding democracy and party structure, it should also be of interest to all citizens. How these political parties conduct their internal affairs is not too far from the way they govern the nation when elected, a maize plant won’t yield cassava when it is harvest time.

On the roll call of the political big wigs who attended the elections, was Chief Olabode George, one time National Vice-Chairman PDP South West, former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority and an ex-convict. No surprise there; the PDP has proven time and again to be a shameless party with no morals and values. What kind of message is the ruling party passing to the nation when ex-convicts are part and parcel of its Board of Trustees? Someone in the PDP needs to check again what a board of trustee means.

It is expected that the president will only use the presidency for the sole purpose and duty which he signed up to; this does not need to be a written law as we do not expect to be governed by morons. The president may receive all citizens and political parties including the PDP, who so wish to be granted audience at the presidential villa in line with his primary assignment as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But, the election of the PDP BoT chairman is purely a party affair, which should be held at a private venue or at party quarters, and not at the expense of the state. Subjecting the state especially the presidency and its instruments to the use of one political party’s pleasure is a dangerous precedence which must not be condoned.

The presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not owned by the PDP even though the president is a member of the PDP; he has no right to subject the presidency to be used for PDP party affairs. From the local government to the federal government, it is not unusual to find political office holders spending state budget on sycophancy.

We should learn from other democracies and adopt what will work for us. President Obama of the USA gets a free ride on Air Force One only when he is on official trips, official trips being defined as any act involving the official duty of the president including explaining and garnering support for his policies. This also includes official state visits to other countries. It costs $179,750 per hour to maintain Air Force One; this includes fuelling, maintenance of pilot and crew as well as other operational costs.

When Obama embarks on private or political party trips, it is not as him being the president but the de facto leader of his political party and he must therefore foot part of the bills for the trip. On such trips, President Obama must refund the cost of food, accommodation and travel.  He also refunds the equivalent airfare him and his aides would have paid if they used a commercial airline. They will be some grey areas when he makes official and political trips across the country and this is promptly addressed; the underlining principle is that the president cannot deploy state resources to meet the needs/demands of his political party or associates.

In recent times, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, was seen making use of a budget airline on a getaway with his wife to celebrate her birthday. Nigeria is not as rich as the US or the UK using GDP indicators as a baseline. It is mind boggling why we have a political system fraught with greed and a lack of accountability and our political office holders live a life of opulence and impunity.

One wonders to what use the presidential jets in Nigeria have been subjected to. Pictures of ex-militants riding one have surfaced in the past. Relatives and acquaintances of the president must be having a jolly free ride on the state bill. When asked about the high budget of running the presidency, our president defended his position by asking us if we have been to Ethiopia to witness presidential banquets.

These are issues we tend to overlook which in turn build the confidence of our politicians to remain unaccountable to the citizens. We are the ones responsible for giving life and meaning to our democracy; we are the ones to enshrine our values and ethics in building Nigeria. Such values must include curtailing the excesses of elected political office holders.  It is not by divination that the nations which respect the will of their people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful; it is the basic requirement for a sustainable democracy.

This piece was first published in The Scoop

 

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