HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has watched with profound interest and intriguing fascination, the meticulous measures and steps being adopted by the National Assembly to firm up the provisions of the illustrious Administration of Criminal Justice Act through amendments proposed in a well considered bill sponsored by the Chief Whip of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and senator representing the good people of Abia North constituency- Senator orji Uzor Kalu which recently passed the threshold of second reading.
We in the organised civil society community in Nigeria supports this patriotic efforts of the Chief Whip of the Senate to seek the consolidation and strengthening of the set of laws on criminal justice administration in Nigeria which we consider as crucial at this period of our nation’s history whereby sophisticated crimes that are springing up demands twenty first century compliant, technology driven mechanisms and upgraded legislations to tackle and minimised.
HURIWA recalled that the Act which was signed into law in May 2015, has a 495-section law divided into 49 parts, providing for the administration of criminal justice and for related matters in the courts of the Federal Capital Territory and other Federal Courts in Nigeria. With the ACJA, Nigeria now has a unique and unified law applicable in all federal courts and with respect to offences contained in Federal Legislations. The law repeals the erstwhile Criminal Procedure Act as applied in the South and the Criminal Procedure (Northern states) Act, which applied in the North and the Administration of Justice Commission Act.
The ACJA, by merging the major provisions of the two principal criminal justice legislations in Nigeria, that is CPA and CPC, preserves the existing criminal procedures while introducing new provisions that will enhance the efficiency of the justice system and help fill the gaps observed in these laws over the course of several decades.
The Importance of Amending Criminal Justice Act to the smooth running of any society cannot be over emphasized. Indeed an effective criminal justice system is regarded by many as fundamental to the maintenance of law and order. However the Nigerian criminal justice system is not only dysfunctional it is also outdated and absolutely not fit for purpose. This much was highlighted by Professor Yemi Osibajo (SAN) when addressing the charges of the criminal justice system in Nigeria by asserting that “…many of the provisions are outdated and in some cases anachronistic. Besides, the loopholes in the law and procedure have become so obvious that lawyers especially defense lawyers have become masters in dilatory tactics. It has thus become increasingly difficult to reach closure of any kind in many criminal cases. Convictions and acquittals have become exceedingly rare”. While the foregoing assertion is quite instructive, It is pertinent to note that these views are widely held among many legal practitioners and eminent jurist, who have also called for fundamental reform to the Nigerian criminal justice system.
The Act which was signed into law in May 2015, has a 495-section law divided into 49 parts, providing for the administration of criminal justice and for related matters in the courts of the Federal Capital Territory and other Federal Courts in Nigeria.
The authority to amend the Constitution is derived from section 9 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed with a two- thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Between 1999 and 2018, there have been four (4) different amendments in the following orders:
a) On July 16th 2010, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 was altered for the first time. There were series of amendments therein but S.14 altering original S.145(1) stood out to deal with the constitutional requirement of the President to transmit power once he is leaving office temporally or unable to perform the functions of his office. It was further provided in S. 145(2) .
b) On November 29th, 2010 (barely four months after, the same National Assembly came up with yet another set of alterations essentially targeted at the time frame within which INEC shall conduct elections into the respective elective offices in the country and the determination of election petitions.
c) On the 4th of March, 2011, the 1999 Constitution was further amended essentially to expand the Jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court and make it a court of record.
d) Finally, in 2018, the fourth alteration to the 1999 Constitution focused on the age qualifications for elective officers as well as financial autonomy to the Legislature across the tiers of government.
Lagos State which took the lead in adopting then proposed law ahead of the federal government in 2007, had amended its own version of it in 2011.
Law experts, including judges, lawyers and a member of the National Assembly, at a recent session in Abuja, engaged in a painstaking item-by-item review of the about 110 proposed amendment to the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
Some of the proposed amendments include an amendment to Section 15(4) and (5) of the ACJA to make electronic recording of confessions by suspects mandatory; an amendment to Section 3 of the ACJA, to ensure that investigation precedes arrest in line with international best practice and the proposal for the inclusion of subsections (2) and (3) to the section to allow for collaboration between investigators and law officers for effective prosecution of criminal cases.
Participants equally examined the desirability or otherwise of proposal relating the amendment of Section 293 to remove the power of a magistrate to issue a remand order in respect of a crime the magistrate lacked the jurisdiction to try, with those from the prosecuting agencies arguing against it.
There was also the proposed amendment to sections 253 and 254 of ACJA to make25 it mandatory for the office of the Attorney-General to provide the court with the funds for witness expenses; and another for the abolition of the practice of trial-within-trial.
A review of the law would ensure an effective criminal justice system, capable of aiding the government’s primary function of maintaining peace, order and good government.
it would be neater and faster to have the old law repealed in its entirety.
“In view of the severality, enormity, and non-textual nature of the amendments proposed to the ACJA, I think that the best legislative approach to the proposed amendments will be to repeal and enact a new ACJA with of course the inclusion of a saving provision, which will save all actions taken pursuant to the current ACJA.
See the case of JONATHAN VS NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.
By and large, the provisions of the Act are geared towards curing most of the anomalies and lacuna in the existing criminal laws. But as we all know, in Nigeria, the problem is always not with the law but with the implementation of the law. This new law is very progressive, timely and in conformity with international best practices and we sincerely hope that it will be well implemented to give life to the dream justice system that the legislators have in mind for Nigeria.
HURIWA recalled that a bill seeking to amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) has passed second reading at the senate.
The bill sponsored by Orji Uzor Kalu, senate chief whip, is seeking to make the law more “effective and more humane”.
The bill passed first reading at the upper legislative chamber in July 2020.
While leading a debate on the legislation, the senator said there are sections in the Act that contradict the principles of fair hearing and court jurisdiction as provided for in the constitution.
He said: ”That section 8 (4) of the principal act which provides ‘the arraignment and trial of a suspect for a crime shall be in accordance with the provision of this act unless otherwise stated in this act be amended by deleting ‘unless otherwise stated in this act’ by inserting ‘and the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.’
“The constitution should be read together on provisions with establishment, composition and jurisdiction of courts.
“We can still set lofty goals for ourselves. I hope we can agree that, with this amendment, we aspire to create a criminal justice administration legislation that is both more effective and more humane.
“By ‘more humane’ I mean we should respond to crime in ways that recognise the humanity of those victimised by crime, those arrested and convicted of crime, and others who experience the ripple effects of crime and our justice system.”
On his part, Gabriel Suswam, senator representing Benue north-east, said many states are yet to domesticate the ACJA.
“When the judges had a conference here recently, some came to see me. And their complaint was about the ACJA,” he said.
“Most of the states have not domesticated the act.”
The bill passed second reading after it was put to a voice vote by Senate President Ahmad Lawan.
COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA). DECEMBER 11TH 2021.