Different despicable episodes of human rights violations by security operatives have been a common feature of the Nigerian society. Nigerian citizens are not safe from the public paid operatives saddled with securing their lives and property. Citizens suffer arbitrary arrests for civil issues and prolonged detention for bailable offences. In order to extract confessions, suspects are subjected to inhuman tortures. Suspects are arrested without being told reason(s) for the arrest. The result of all these security anomalies is an unsafe, chaotic society.
Nigeria used to have two principal statutes on criminal justice: Criminal Procedure Act and Criminal Procedure Code. The two enactments were defective and inefficient, while the people they were meant to protect were at the serious receiving ends. Because of the long use of CPA and CPC, without appropriate reforms, some lawyers leveraged on their defects to delay cases unnecessarily in courts.
The glaring lapses found in CPA and CPC led to the promulgation of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) and the Oyo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2016 (ACJL) respectively. The principal aim of ACJA is to engender formal compliance with human rights issues. The provisions of ACJA have brought about certain innovations, including improving issues of human rights and proffering solutions to the challenges of prolonged trials in courts.
With ACJA in place in Nigeria and in some states, a number of human rights issues that beset members of the public in the hands of security operatives is set to experience rapid reduction or total eradication. Issues of human rights that will be things of the past include unlawful arrests, proxy arrests, arrests without warrant, arrests for civil wrongs like breach of contracts, application of torture and unleashing of inhuman treatment to suspects. So far, some states in the country have replicated ACJA in their respective states. These states include Oyo, Lagos, Ekiti, Kaduna, Anambra, Rivers, Abuja and few others.
ACJA/ACJL, as lifesaving as they appear, cannot function effectively without some forms of advocacy in terms of sensitization and education. This advocacy is what CLEEN Foundation, formerly called Centre for Law Enforcement and Education, has been in the forefront of. Established in 1998, its mission is to ‘promote public safety, security and accessible justice through the strategies of empirical research, legislative advocacy, demonstration programmes and publications in partnership with government, civil society and the private sector ‘. CLEEN Foundation has field offices in many states of the federation and they organise regular interactions with relevant stakeholders. During one of such monthly virtual interactions occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 5th Bi-Monthly Meeting of Oyo State Working Group, held on 28 August 2020, the state partner of CLEEN Foundation in Oyo State, Barrister Kehinde Adegbite, stressed the need to ensure that security could only be guaranteed when the criminal justice system was effective.
In his opening remarks, the chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Oyo State branch, Barrister Olayinka Esan, expressed delight at the regular meeting as he said it’s an avenue to educate lawyers, members of the public and other stakeholders on the provisions of ACJL. In his contribution, Barrister Fola Awoyemi proffered solutions to the problem of police officers who are not lawyers prosecuting criminal cases. He suggested that states could grant fiat to private lawyers so as to prosecute criminal cases pro bono since there are private legal practitioners who are ready, willing and capable to offer such free legal services to shore up their status in the legal profession.
Present at the virtual meeting sponsored by CLEEN Foundation included lawyers, human rights activists and other relevant stakeholders.