President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud OON, SAN, told the distinguished audience at Transcorp Hilton Hotel venue of MacArthur-sponsored conference on Administration of Criminal Justice, recently, that : "the administration of criminal justice project supported by MacArthur Foundation falls squarely within the thematic areas set out in our strategic plan and include: Justice sector reforms, rule of law and access to justice, elections and democracy, human rights, anti-corruption and, lastly, conflict resolution and transitional justice."
Thereafter, he enumerated the two main objectives of ACJA2015, namely, to encourage the domestication of the administration of ACJA 2015 in the remaining 28 States in order to ensure uniformity in the administration of criminal justice legislation across Nigeria, and secondly to promote the smooth implementation of the new criminal justice regime which ACJA represents, by building stakeholders' capacity within the outstanding 28 states.
He then announced a grant of $1.8 million with which MacArthur is driving this advocacy for a period of three years. He further told the audience that NBA will partner with the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) to drive enlightenment programme for 36 months in three phases.
The NBA President said that the 28 states which have not domesticated ACJA2015 will be divided into three groups, spread across the six geo-political zones and for a time-frame spanning 2017, 2018 through 2019.
The execution strategy comes at four levels, namely, project management, state committees, NBA's ICLE and partnership with selected MacArthur Foundation grantees and technical partners such as NIALS, CLEEN Foundation, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and the Department for International Development. (DFID).
Finally, he said that ACJA 2015 enlightenment programme will be facilitated by the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for which he declared open a website with domain address: www.nba-acj.org.ng.
Next, the Chairman of NBA’s Administration of Criminal Justice Reform Committee, Chief Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN, thanked NBA President, A. B. Mahmoud, SAN for initiating the process that has culminated in the MacArthur/NBA Conference and the evolvement of strategies for domestication and implementation of ACJA in the states where this statute has not been introduced. He then informed the delegates that there is a plan to run conferences across the country to sensitize ACJA Practitioners and the general public about the benefits of the new legislation.
Hajia Amina Salihu, who stood in for the African Director of the MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Kole Shettima thanked A. B. Mahmoud SAN-led administration of NBA for actualizing the dream of the foundation in advancing the course of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria.
Former NBA President, Mr. Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, SAN, moderated the plenary session which attracted some of the finest brains in the Administration of Criminal Justice. He advised ACJA 2015 committee members to interface with the Chairman of Governors’ forum, Chairman of Attorney Generals and Chairman of Body of speakers in order to facilitate the passage of the Bill into Laws in the remaining 28 states of the Federation. Professor Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, delivered the keynote address in which he declared that the MacArthur Foundation-sponsored conference would open up a new chapter in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria.
“This is an epoch-making event,” said Akinseye-George, SAN. “History is being made today. It was in 2003 that we began the journey to actualize the administration of criminal justice. The signal we are getting from the conference, today, is that ACJA is a dream come true. I can see some of those with whom we began the struggle in 2003: Fola Arthur-Worrey, a former Director of Public Prosecution in Lagos State, A. C. Kehinde, SAN, and Chinoye Aduagwu, Akin Olujimi, SAN. They were part of the struggle to bring ACJA into reality. In 2011, the Act was amended and improved upon in Lagos State.”
He mentioned former NBA President; Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, Professor Muhammadu Tabiu and Senator Dahiru Umar as part of those who championed the cause of ACJA.
Professor Akinseye-George, SAN, criticized the abuse of interlocutory injunctions which he described as “a mockery of justice.” He said this abuse “damages the integrity of the justice system,” His argument: “when a trial had to drag for over ten years on interlocutory injunction alone, when do you begin the trial?”
He warned that “we should not allow politicians to destroy this country,” adding that “if criminal justice is not rescued from the big man, we all stand endangered.”
One other speaker who contributed to the theme of the conference is Professor Dakas C. J. Dakas, SAN, the Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Jos who told the delegates that he had always advocated for the use of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) as the working document into which practitioners could incorporate elements of CPC or CPA as the case may be, and not the other way round, in order to produce acceptable statute for administration of criminal justice.
Honourable Justice Elizabeth Mopelola Idowu Alakija traced the history of ACJA in Lagos State to year 2004 when the idea of transformation of criminal justice procedure was first mooted, at which time Criminal Procedure Law was operational. But they soon realised that that law was already extinct, and so the need to upgrade the law became urgent. Meanwhile, she said that the use of advanced technology was already creeping in. Under the direction of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, she said that circumstances of the judiciary was constantly changing and they had to go through seminars and conferences to catch up with the changing world. This process upgraded the statute book to Administration of Criminal Justice Law of 2011 which had to go through some other changes to arrive at ACJA2015.
What do we have on the ground to implement ACJA2015? She drew comparison between ACJL and ACJA, and concluded that there are new innovations that have made ACJA an improvement on ACJL. She took a look at the issue of “Remand” for the first 30 days in the first instance and another 30 days in the second instance. However, under ACJA, she said that only 15 days of “Remand” are allowed in the first instance and another 15 days in the second instance.
She took another look at the issue of “Confessional Statement.” She challenged the Police to use telephone recorders to record proceedings in the court.
She then asked a rhetoric question; “If your Attorney General is not passionate about domestication and implementation of ACJA, how do you go forward? You need cooperation and synergy to move forward in the administration of justice, so there would be no lacuna.”
A lot of blames are put at the doorsteps of the Police for the delay in the process of prosecution. “If the police can key into the areas of innovation, we will be moving forward.” She said.
A very interesting issue was raised by the Director of Legal Services in the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Yusuf Ibrahim Challangwa, who represented the Chief of Army Staff, (COAS) Lieutenant General Yusuf Tukur Bruratai, that the exclusion of Court Marshall from the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) leaves a big vacuum in the statute book. He said that it was only fit and proper that Court Marshall should be part and parcel of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015). Notwithstanding, the Army chief regarded ACJA 2015 as breathing a whiff of “fresh air” in the legislation for criminal justice in Nigeria. One of the indices he pointed at was the provision for women to stand surety for bail in the court of law.
The conference rounded up, with a breakout session for interactive discussion by delegates from eight states where ACJA2015 has not been domesticated or implemented which form the pilots’ state for the first phase of the ACJA project. These are; Borno, Benue, Kaduna, Bayelsa, Zamfara, Delta Bauchi and Ogun States.