A Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, (NULAI), Nigeria has said that it has helped in resolving about 1, 400 pretrial detention cases in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Keffi, Nasarawa State in five years.
The President of NULAI, Prof Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), said this at an event organised in Abuja on Thursday.
The event was organised by NULAI with the support of United States Department of State International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and Partners Global.
The project was on “Reforming Pretrial Detention in Nigeria (RPDN): Project Retrospective Outlook Close -out Session.”
Ojukwu who was represented by the Executive Director, Abuja Law Clinic, Dr Nasiru Muhktar, said that the project started in 2018 and had been impactful.
“There is no iota of doubt this is the most impactful project NULAI has ever been involved in.
“This is certain because the reports are showing some amazing statistics of impacts that have been made on different fronts.”
He said “Over 1,400 cases have been resolved; over 500 students have been able to support pro bono lawyers to intervene in cases and these cases have been resolved.
“Over 15, 000 pretrial detention cases are being updated , the records are updated in the correctional centres, that is to show you that the use of technology has helped to solve a lot of systemic problems that are affecting the criminal justice system.”
Ojukwu, however, said that there has been a lot of problems of pretrial detention in the country which has resulted into overcrowding in the correctional centres.
“The figure in Nigeria is 75 percent and it has been consistent. What I mean by 75 per cent is that of every 100 people in the correctional center, 75 percent of them are pretrial detainees.
“This means that their cases have not been decided. They have not been convicted. Only 25 per cent have been convicted.
“We have been able to significantly reduce all the problems that make cases to be adjourned.”
He said that with the effort by the CSO, the period of adjournment has been reduced from 31 days to 14 days.
Also speaking, David Greene, Charge’ d’ Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Nigeria, said that Nigeria was not alone in facing the challenge of pretrial detention.
“It is universal. The fundamental principle of any democratic society like Nigeria is not just the rule of law, but there must be a functioning justice system,” he said.
He said that the project was implemented in the FCT and Keffi adding that the U.S. would replicate this role to include additional states in the north central region.
Similarly, NULAI’s Programme Manager, Mahmud Yusuf said that the organisation had been working with the Nigeria Correctional Services (NCS) to achieve its goal.
He said: “With a little over 70,000 detainees in detention in correctional centres across states, 63,000 are pretrial detainees which constitute a high percentage of pretrial detainees.
“The problem with pretrial detention is a system wide problem not just from the correctional centres but from the point of entry, you look at what are the courts doing, what are the prosecuting agencies doing.
“And then the resulting effect is the congestion and then the resultant pretrial situation we have across the country.”
He said that the way out was to look at the structures in place to address pretrial detention.
For Controller-General Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), Haliru Nababa, appreciated NULAI’S effort at
reducing cases of pretrial detainees in the country.
Nababa was represented by Controller, Custodial, Adamu Yahaya.
He said that the major challenge in the custodial centres was overcrowding of the facilities.
“NULAI has supported the service in addressing the issue of overcrowding of inmates awaiting trial in custodial centres,” he said.
On her part, Deborah Mancini, Director, Africa PartnersGlobal said the het organisation had been discussing issues relating to pretrial detention in Nigeria.
“We realised that Nigeria has gone through a very progressive legal reform process where they have put in place the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
“The Act gave a lot of opportunity to ensure that pretrial detention cases were handled more effectively in the courts.”