Legal Framework on Decongestion of Detention Centres in Nigeria
Sanity and orderliness in every society can only be achieved when there are laws and strong institutions to enforce the laws. It is not enough to have laws, but it is important that all the actors and stakeholders in the CJS must give its best in achieving the goals of justice and fairness.
This article is intended to examine the legal and institutional frameworks that are necessary for the decongestion of detention centres in Nigeria as well as the various factors militating against the prompt dispensation of justice and how it leads to the congestion of detention centres.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended)
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is the grundnorm of the country, that is, every other law takes precedence from it. The rights of every citizen are as contained in its Chapter Four. Some of the rights relevant for the purpose of the topic under review shall be discussed. Some of these rights include:
Right to life -In Nigeria, the Constitution devoted a whole chapter to Fundamental Human Rights, and in that chapter, the right to life ranks first. Section 33(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999 (as amended) specifically provides for the right to life thus: Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
The right to life imposes on individual and the State, the obligation not to deprive another intentionally of his right to life except within the permissible circumstances by law. In the case of Olanrewaju Oni v The State, the appellant administered acid chemical on his daughter which resulted in severe burns of the mouth and the lungs which eventually led to the girl’s death. He was charged and tried for the murder of his daughter. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to death. This principle was also illustrated in the cases of Lateef Adeniji v State.
Also, the right to life imposes an obligation on the State to refrain from intentional and unlawful taking of life save in exceptional circumstances permissible by the Constitution in section 33(1) -(2) CFRN. The right to life as provided for and enshrined in section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) also covers an already convicted person who although sentenced to death, has a pending appeal or review as the case may be. Failure to respect the right to life of a detainee has led to the congestion of prisons as majority of the inmates are awaiting trial detainees.
Right to personal liberty- Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution [as amended]: “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law.”
The meaning of personal liberty was construed by the court in Adewole v. Jakande. The court held in this case that the closure of private schools by the Lagos State government is a violation of the personal liberty of parents to train their children where and how they deem fit. The court particularly stated that: Personal liberty‟ means privileges, immunities, or rights enjoyed by prescription or by grant.
It denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint, but rights to contact, to have an occupation, to acquire knowledge, to marry, have a home, children, to worship, enjoy and have privileges recognized at law for happiness of free men. The violation of these rights and the restraint without justification of lawful authority has led to the congestion of detention centres in Nigeria.
Right to dignity of the human person- By virtue of the provisions of Section 34 of the Constitution “no one should be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment, nor be subjected to slavery or servitude, and no one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour, save any labour required in the consequence of the sentence or order of a court among other exceptions”.
Right of prisoner to privacy may be violated because a prisoner or an inmate who is in lawful detention cannot claim that his or her right of privacy has been violated. However, it is reasonably expected that a prisoner should be subjected to constant and thorough search while in prison so as to prevent concealment of objects that are forbidden for prisoners such as weapons, drugs, and other contrabands.
The Criminal Procedure Act and the Criminal Procedure Code
Nigeria is a federation consisting of 36 states. Nigeria has two laws that regulate its criminal proceedings, namely, the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).44 While the CPA is applicable in the South, the CPC is applicable in the North. These laws regulate the criminal proceedings in Nigeria.
Under these laws, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) being the first point of call in any criminal investigation process is mandated to ensure that cases are reported to the court after its investigation for prosecution and possible conviction. The CPA and the CPC provides that the NPF arraigns persons in its custody within certain hours not later than 24 hours in order for the court to determine the charges against them.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015
The CJS, before the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, rested under two major regimes, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Criminal Procedure Code for Southern and Northern Nigeria respectively. The legal regimes had litany of loopholes, gaps and inconsistences.
The ACJA is a Federal Law passed by the National Assembly and signed by the then President Goodluck Jonathan with the aim of ensuring speedy trial and dispensation of justice as well as the efficient management of the criminal justice institutions.
This objective is supported by section 36 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to the effect “that whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he/she shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal”.
The ACJA has brought several innovations and inroads to the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria. Some of the notable innovations include;
- Plea Bargaining. By virtue of the provision of Section 270 of the ACJA, a defendant can write to the prosecution for plea bargain. The prosecution may enter into plea bargain with the defendant, with the consent of the victim or his representative during or after the presentation of the case. This will lead to speedy dispensation of the case.
- Police Diversion- Similarly, the ACJA also provides for police diversion. This practice includes pre-court interventions or strategies that police can apply as an alternative to court processing or the imposition of formal charges against low-risk youth. The practice is rated effective for reducing future delinquent behavior.
The Correctional Service Act 2019
The Nigerian Correctional Services Bill was signed into law on 14th August 2019 and repeals the Prison Act, Cap P29, Laws of the Federation, 2004. It enacts a Nigerian Correctional Services Act to address issues that were not covered under the repealed Act and improve on prison administration.
The Act contains several provisions as it moves from the perception of prisons being a center for retribution to a “correctional” facility with a focus on reformation, rehabilitation, reintegration and better treatment of prisoners. For instance, it makes provision for the medical, psychological, spiritual and counseling services of offenders and the deployment of educational and vocational skills training programs that can improve their human capacity.
One of its notable additions is Section 34 which focuses on female inmates and their needs. Section 34(1) mandates separate female institutions for female inmate in every state. Although, not every state in the federation has a prison, the facilities which house female inmates are separate from the male facilities.