CLEEN Foundation Imo State Office Drives Advocacy on Improving Implementation of the ACJA /ACJL in Imo State
Access to justice is recognized in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and other international human rights standards that have been ratified by the Nigerian state as one of the fundamental human rights of all men- citizen and alien alike.
This notwithstanding, the Nigerian criminal justice faces a mirage of setbacks, to wit; the strictly punitive nature of our justice system, bureaucratic delays in the administration of criminal justice, high cost of litigation, rigid/complex legal rules and procedures, low legal literacy, and corruption, a situation that disproportionately affects indigent citizens.
Thus, building on the gains of the decades of series of advocacy interventions carried out by the CLEEN Foundation to bring about the needed justice sector reforms with a focus on the administration of criminal justice and policing in Nigeria, the CLEEN office in Owerri, Imo State paid two courtesy visits to the Imo State Judiciary and the Correctional Center, respectively on 4th and 5th May 2022. The goal of the visits was to reiterate CLEEN Foundation’s commitment to advocating for the effective administration of Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System through strategic partnerships with the Government and their agencies toward the effective implementation of ACJA 2015 in Imo State.
Responding to the team, the permanent Secretary of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission, Mrs Jennifer Nwosu recognized the need for the speedy implementation of the novel provisions of the now domesticated law. She however, noted that while there is ongoing capacity training of the lawyers under the state Ministry of Justice on the implementation of the 2020 law in Imo state, there is still more work to be done in the areas of sensitizing citizens and other justice sector actors on the provisions of the Imo state ACJL 2020. She asserted that without this, the law will only amount to a mere academic exercise.
The Permanent Secretary further urged the CLEEN advocacy team to assess the level of readiness and willingness on the part of citizens to embrace the regime of electronic hearing contemplated under the law. She further noted that many of the novel provisions of the ACJL in Imo State would require funding to bring them to fruition. According to her, such provisions that would require funding, include maintaining a central criminal record registry, filing of quarterly reports, maintenance of a case management register, establishment of community service centres in every judicial division named by registrars, to mention a few, and stressed that funding remains the major barrier to the implementation of the law in the state.
At the Imo State Correctional Service, the CLEEN Foundation team were received by the key staff of the Imo State Correctional Service including the State Controller of Correctional Service, Mr Kingsley Njoku.
Responding to the team, the Stae Controller expressed deep appreciation for the visit and noted that the command has been prioritizing the non-custodial measures in dealing with minor offences- a welcome development that has a direct impact on the ongoing decongestion exercise in the country.
He further stated that the non-custodial measures being followed are in line with the provision of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 and section 460(4) of the ACJA,
which urges the courts to among other things, consider the reduction of congestion in prisons while exercising their powers. He assured the team that the Imo state command of the Nigerian Correctional Service will continue to adopt the non-custodial measures provided for by the ACJA and the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, to ensure that Correctional centres do not exceed its holding capacity.
Speaking to the challenges faced with the implementation of the ACJA 2015, the State Controller informed the advocacy team that the main challenge faced by the Command is the continuous holding of suspects with no access to legal representation. More succinctly, he requested for support in the form of pro-bono services to enable the indigent suspects to access free legal aid, which is a fundamental human right provided by the Nigerian Constitution and the first step to accessing justice. The primary reason for the series of advocacy work which culminated into the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015- the country’s first attempt at providing a unified policy document for the effective administration of criminal justice in Nigeria, was the hope that when domesticated by the states, it will eliminate the challenges facing the effective administration of criminal justice system.
In conclusion, the CLEEN team reiterated the foundation’s commitment to collaborating with all relevant government MDAs toward the actualization of its mission to promote public safety and security through her various justice-related programmes and to continue to advocate on the highlighted issues.