By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed grave concern over the continued abuse of the pre-trial detention provision in the nation’s criminal justice system.
While marking the African Pre-trial Detention Day last Wednesday (April 25), the commission’s acting Executive Secretary, Mrs. Oti Ovrawah, said the annual event was set aside to raise awareness on the plight of pre-trial detainees in prison and other detention facilities across Africa.
“This forum gives us an appropriate platform to join other Africans in raising awareness on the challenges and consequences of excessive and prolonged pre-trial detention of persons in Africa,” she noted.
Represented at the programme by Mr. Dahiru Bobbo, the NHRC boss observed that, “Though a close examination of some laws in Nigeria allows the practice of pre-trial detention in certain circumstances, available evidence shows excessive use or abuse of the practice.
“This negates the human rights safeguard of the right to personal liberty, and the constitutional provision of presumption of innocence of all accused persons until proven guilty. It has also been shown that the arbitrary use of the practice is a major cause of prison congestion – which exposes detainees to high risk of various human rights violations.”
Speaking further on the implications of engaging in excessive use of pre-trial detention in handling criminal matters, Ovrawah disclosed that the practice had resulted in the violation of international norms, the rule of law and waste of public funds.
“The human and socio-economic toll of pre-trial detention on human development is huge and the need to tackle these challenges needs not to be overemphasised. Thus, the advocacy to reduce the use of the practice considerably has been in the front burner of discussions among criminal justice institutions.
“The human rights implications of abuse of pre-trial detention raise serious concerns to the commission as well as other stakeholders.”
Worried by the ugly development, the NHRC boss reeled out some of the commission’s efforts at tackle the problem of pre-trial detention across the country.
“As part of institutional efforts aimed at addressing the challenges thrown up by the practice, the commission conducts regular audit of prisons from where cases of pre-trial detention and other issues of human rights violations are gathered and acted on.
“The NHRC collaborates and liaises with several local and international organisations for the advancement of human rights particularly with a view to ensuring Nigeria’s compliance with her treaty obligations.
“The commission had also established a Public Interest Litigation Unit with a view to curbing the practice of pre-trial detention and its attendant ills through taking up cases of victims in this regard and ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to redress the violations. The prison audit report of the commission has continuously made recommendations for policy reviews to address the challenges thrown up by this practice.
“The commission has also engaged in continuous training of law enforcement personnel on human rights standards as it pertains to their statutory responsibilities.
“The setting up of Human Rights Desk at various police formations, and the hosting of dialogues with the police and other stakeholders on cases of alleged human rights violations are measures amongst others, that have been taken by the commission in addressing the ills associated with pre-trial detention.
“National efforts like the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, the recently constituted Federal Government committee to address the challenges of pre-trial detention in the country and many other measures point to our collective responsibility at curbing the ills brought about by the excessive use of the in the country.
In a goodwill message, a representative of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, Mr. Obinna Ozumba, said the passage of the ACJA was a watershed moment in Nigeria’s criminal justice advancement.
Mr. Ozumba, however, pointed out that there is still a lot to be in order to curb pre-trial detention in the country’s criminal justice administration.
“There should be a better enforcement of the provisions of ACJA to stem the tide of pre-trial detention that has dogged our criminal justice system,” he said.
Representatives of security agencies such as the Department of State Services, prisons, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, were in attendance at the event.