The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), with the support of the MacArthur Foundation organised a one-day Conference on the Administration of Criminal Justice on November 9, 2017 at the Transcorp Hilton, Hotel Abuja with two main objectives of promoting the adoption and implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 in 28 States of the federation, deepening the knowledge of lawyers and enhancing capacity in criminal justice practice through continuing legal education.
The drawbacks inherent in the Nigerian criminal justice administration engendered the enactment of the one of the most important initiatives; that is, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act on 13th May, 2015 (ACJA). The ACJA thus represents a major watershed at revamping criminal trials, introducing innovative measures to achieve speedy dispensation as well as shifting attention from punitive justice to restorative justice. The ACJA also sought to achieve greater balance between the interest of the victims of crime, the society and the defendant and promote more effective collaboration between the various institutions of the system.
The two-pronged goals of the administration of criminal justice project as conceived by the NBA are, namely, to engender wide-spread criminal justice reform through encouraging the adoption of the ACJA in the 28 states to ensure uniformity; and to ensure seamless implementation of the ACJA through building stakeholders’ capacity within the identified 28 states.
The objective of ACJA as articulated in Section 1 thereof, namely, “… to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant and the victim”.
The foregoing coupled with the fact that the criminal justice system is predicated on complex matrix of several institutions structured along expansive and equally dysfunctional federal system may make the stated objective of the ACJA a mirage unless all tiers of Nigeria’s federal system are motivated, mobilized, aligned and work collaboratively. This necessitated the convocation of the conference.
The conference received goodwill messages from top judicial officers, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief Judge of Benue State representing his brother chief Judges of the states and the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice. The keynote address from Prof. Akinseye George (SAN) on the Overview of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 in the administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria, following an explorative welcome remark by the 28th President of the NBA; Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, Esq. (FCIArb -UK, SAN, OFR) and an animatingly expectant Welcome Address by the Chairman of the NBA’s Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice, Arthur Obi-Okafor, Esq. (SAN).
The conference was attended by the representatives of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory and 14 other Chief Judges, 14 Honourable Attorney-Generals and Commissioners of Justices, 16 resource persons, national officers of the NBA, many senior Advocates of Nigeria, several bar leaders from the 125 branches of the NBA,Civil Society Groups and stakeholders from media houses.
Apart from the President of the NBA; Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON,SAN. (FCIArb (UK), Resource persons at the conference included Honourable Justice Idowu Alakija, Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, Esq. (SAN); the 25th President of the NBA;Yusuf Ali (SAN), R.A Lawal-Rabana (SAN), Prof Dakas C.J. Dakas, (SAN); Rev Father Ambrose Ekeriku who represented Chief (Mrs.) Justina Offia, SAN; Brigadier General Yusuf Ibrahim Shallangwa, Director of Army Legal Services, who represented the Chief of Army Staff; Dr. (Mrs.) Uju Agomoh; Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey and Mr. Yusuff Abdullahi who stood in for Mallam Suraj Saeda.
A total of 23 presentations, including interventions, were made at the conference by all the resource persons and some participants during the main session which focused on Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and the Requirements for Domestication and Implementation: Challenges of Successful Domestication and Implementation.
Participants are unanimous in making the following recommendations/resolutions:
- That the criminal justice system is better understood, appreciated and evaluated by all stake holders and the need to review, reform and modernise it cannot be overemphasized.
- That the NBA is irrevocably committed to sustained periodic review, sharing of experiences and identifying the difficulties encountered in the implementation of the ACJA, and articulating improvements.
- That consequently, the NBA has launched the ACJA Website which shall serve as the information hub and the go-to site for information regarding criminal justice administration in Nigeria so as to leverage on information and communication technology (ICT) in driving its initiative.
- That while pursuing adoption of the ACJA by the 28 States, legal pluralism recognises by the New National Justice Policy as stated in Part 2 thereof to the effect that it is purposed to “Preserve and maintain the plural character of the Nigerian legal system” cannot and must not be compromised as constituent parts of the Nigerian federation in retaining their peculiarities, margin of appreciation and capacity to enact legislations suitable to their respective circumstances.
- That the above notwithstanding, the context of our federal system implicates the possibility of promoting alignment of objectives of our laws and legal principles, synergy of our institutions and acceptance of efficient institutional processes based on national and indeed internationally accepted standards.
- That the plight of State counsel/prosecutors both at the federal and state levels should be positively looked into and their comfortability ensured given the critical role they play under the ACJA in particular and the criminal justice system in general.
- That the human element particularly positive attitudinal disposition on the part of every stakeholder is most vital for the success of the ACJA.
- That the NBA-Institute of Continuing Legal Education is empowered to house the e-learning portal through which online training will be deployed in addition to awarding certificates and credits to lawyers that will be trained;
- That the NBA will also partner with other stakeholders including selected MacArthur Grantees and Technical Partners in delivering the intended objectives.
- That the provision that allows a defendant to be detained by a Magistrate for 30 days at the first instance and another 30 days later should be reconsidered; – Section of the ACJA.
- That the political angle to domestication, e.g. engaging with the Chairman of Governors Forum and the Body of the HAGs, should not be ignored.
- That Our advocacy should not be for wholesome adoption of all ACJA 2015 sections but peculiar circumstances of various states must be taken into consideration.
- That the structural challenges bedevilling the criminal justice administration must be seriously addressed such that e-infrastructure (e.g. e-filing, e-recording, etc.) must be introduced,encouraged improved and/or utilized.
- That SWOT Analysis must be carried out by the appropriate stakeholders in every state in the context of adopting the ACJA in every state.
- That there should be early engagements between investigators and prosecutors in every case.
- That witness’ expenses should be provided by the State forthwith.
- That the overriding objectives of the ACJA requires new rules of court to be developed.
- That capacity building at all levels (judges, prosecutors, investigators, lawyers etc.) must be embarked upon by all stakeholders to guarantee the required salutary outcomes.
- That the elephant in the room is funding; though there may truly be dearth of adequate budgetary provision for the criminal justice administration, yet creativity on the part of institutional heads is critical and encouraged to positively impact on the system.
- That mechanisms for periodic or quarterly reports to relevant authorities (HAG, CJ, police authorities, the Bar leadership etc.) and requisite follow-ups should be put in place.
- That monitoring, enforcement and evaluation is a sine qua non for success.
- That there should be celebration of success and successful role models and practitioners of ACJA.
- That there is urgent necessity to move the ACJA from a mere statement of intent to a truly beneficial piece of legislation.
- That policy guidelines for the application of Plea Bargaining as is in Lagos State must be established.
- That the NBA should henceforth be involved in justice sector budgeting process and hearing.
- That there should be the IG Force Orders to actualize the video recording and other requirements of the ACJA.
- That there is urgent need for review and reform of the Rules of Procedure of Court Martial as the rules being used was adopted by the British Court Martial in 1972 whereas the British Court Martial Rules of Procedure had been modernized since 2014.
- That there is need to comprehensively reform the Nigerian police otherwise the benefits of the ACJA will be seriously undermined especially when investigations ought to precede arrest.
- That the possibility of filing written depositions in criminal matters can be initiated as it is being done in civil cases.
- That the exclusion of the applicability of the ACJA to Court martials should be re-visited, re-examined, debated and a final decision should be taken and communicated to the leadership of the NBA.
- That the foundational initiatives and foresight of the 25th President of the NBA; Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, Esq. (SAN), in kick-starting the reform of the criminal justice system by the NBA deserve a resounding commendation and the same are hereby formally lauded.
- That the determination, selflessness and patriotism of the 28th President of the NBA; Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, Esq. (FCIArb (UK), SAN, OON), and the entire leadership of the NBA as currently constituted in moving forward the reform of criminal justice agenda is hereby formally commended and appreciated.
- That conference appreciates and commends the NBA in implementing this all-important project, all the resource persons and participants in gracing the programme with their commanding presence and for their invaluable contributions thereat.
At the end of the conference, Aare Isiaka Abiola Olagunju, the General Secretary of the NBA commended the MacArthur Foundation for finding the NBA worthy of support and for the sustainable partnership provided. He particularly singled out both the President of the NBA; Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, Esq. (FCIArb (UK), SAN, OFR) and Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, Esq. (SAN); the 25th President of the NBA; for their exemplary and salutary leadership in ensuring that the NBA played a leading role within the context of criminal justice reform. He equally appreciated all resource persons and participants from across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
Dated this 9th day of November, 2017.
A. B. Mahmoud OON, SAN Isiaka Abiola Olagunju, Esq
President General Secretary