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Tag Archives: CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM OF OFFENDERS HUMAN RIGHTS

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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EDUCATING/SENSITING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM OF OFFENDERS HUMAN RIGHTS: FOCUS ON BENUE, PLATEAU AND NASARAWA STATES OF NIGERIA

EDUCATING/SENSITING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM OF OFFENDERS HUMAN RIGHTS: FOCUS ON BENUE, PLATEAU AND NASARAWA STATES OF NIGERIA.

This is a summary of  a three day training workshop on the Application of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules (UNSMR) and Human Rights Standard for the Criminal Justice Sector in Benue, Plateau and NasarawaStates of Nigeria held at the Benue Hotels Makurdi.

Participants were drawn from the Prisons, Police, Judiciary, the office of the Attorney General and Civil Society Groups.

The training workshop was organized by Lawyers Alert with the support of Norwegian Human Rights Funds (NHRF). The workshop was aimed at increasing compliance with International Standard and promotion of best prison practice in three target States involved in a comprehensive inter-sectoral reforms efforts in the criminal justice sector.

 

This report summaries the key points arising from the workshop so that they can be incorporated into the planning and preparation efforts underway for possible replication in others States of the Federation.

REFORMS.

While the portion of the workshop devoted to international standards focused on content, those devoted to planning were aimed at learning a process that could be applied to addressing ongoing needs for improvements and reforms within the criminal justice sector.

 

Toward that end, the following objectives for the workshop were developed:

 

  1. To increase understanding and awareness of the UN Standard Minimum Rules and International Human Rights Standards among participants.
  2. To strengthen and contribute to respect of Human Rights and collaboration among the institutions of the Criminal Justice system.
  3. To empower Civil Society Organization to monitor Human Rights abuses in the criminal justice sector of the focal states.
  4. To develop a monitoring and reporting process to assess progress and identify new and emerging priorities to be addressed.

Following an introduction to the Standard Minimum Rules as a whole, participants were asked to identify key issues to be addressed during the workshop. Participants were divided into four groups. Each was asked to select a category of rules within the SMR on which to focus their planning activities. The process was repeated twice allowing participants an opportunity to examine eight categories in depth, identify one priority problem to be addressed in each and develop a practice plan to initiate reforms.

 

The eight topics selected and the problems within each are listed below. The planning process included identifying short-term solutions (those that could be implemented or begin implemented within six months). Following each problem were the short-term solutions identified by each group to address the problem.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Based on the evaluation results, review and findings from the sector wide forum, the following intervention areas were identified for short and long term impact.

 

  1. It was agreed that the Criminal Procedure Code should be amended in the focal States stipulating time limits on the Attorney General Office for Legal Advice.
  2. The Nigerian Bar Association in conjunction with the Justice Sector NGOs should create a network of Pro bono Lawyers in the focal States.
  3. Further workshop should be carried out based on the model of linking training on International Standards and good Prison Management with planning methodologies to put these principles into practice.
  4. The forum resolved that it would be possible to add a Training of Trainers component to this workshop design.
  5. The selection of participants surfaced as a crucial factor for this workshop and must be done carefully for future workshops. Senior Officers with decision making responsibility should be included in the workshop. In addition, it will be strongly advisable that those with relevant technical expertise in the areas that are under consideration should be included as participants ( e.g. the officer in charge or works if the Bore-hole well is to discussed ).
  6. For future similar initiatives, with addition of  a training of trainer component, a minimum of five days in a residential setting to allow for longer working days.
  7. Considerations should be given to planning for a second tier training and planning workshops to focus on needs identified through this process. Based on the current experience, two specific workshops have become:
  8. Basic International Standards orientation to familiarize sector personnel with basic Human Rights standards.
  9. Outreach and planning with external stakeholders and potential partner to plan actions in which they are likely to become involved ( e.g Legal Aid, Counseling, Sports and recreation ).

8.    There was a strong tendency among officer participants to defer to their    own headquarters staff and more often Abuja as the source for solution to what were often local problems. While the rule of the federal headquarters should not be over looked, there is a profound need to redirect the attention of prison officers to problems that can be addressed by their own initiative and focus attention in such as way as to promote site-based problem solving and initiative.

9.      It is important to focus on short-term projects to gap analysis and problem solving. By directing the process toward applications that make it possible to see concrete result within 6 months of planning process, realistic goals and actual accomplishment can be realized.

10.    Once the first rounds of problems are addressed, others should be anticipated and addressed in a similar manner. The process of planning and problem solving is one that should become an integral part of the criminal justice system.

11.    The practical application of human rights and good prison management principles was a very useful technique in transforming SMR from abstract concepts to practical principles that can be applied in Nigerian prisons.

12.    Promote sector wide communication among personnel of the criminal justice sector in the focal states on a practical problems solving level.

13.    Encourage and promote more cordial relationships between inmates and prison officers to promote appreciation as human beings.

 

IMPLEMENTATION AND FOLLOW-UP

Owing to the structural and long lasting impact of Recommendation

Lawyers Alert is saddled with the responsibility of coordinating activities towards the achievement of same in the focal State alongside key stakeholders.

 

Timely follow-up on the network of pro bono Lawyers as evidenced by the planning initiatives begun at this workshop are essential. The NBA Chairman of the various States should immediately agree for the formation of a Strategic Planning Committee and subsequent take off.

 

Regarding all other recommendations a Core Group should be formed comprising Heads of the various sectors from the focal States to move the process forward towards implementing other recommendations.

 

The Core Group will have responsibility for overseeing the final development of the strategic plans, ensuring implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. It will assume an ongoing role in further gap analysis, planning and evaluation.

 

Lawyers Alert remains immensely grateful to the Norwegian Human rights Fund for all the support especially in the realm of Prisoners Rights in the Middle Belt Nigeria and especially BenueState. This present initiative is indeed very ambitious and if the recommendations are implemented will undoubtedly change the plight of the Nigeria awaiting prisoner, who sometimes spends over 10 years in jail awaiting trial.

 

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Human Rights

 

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