From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
The National Association of Seadogs ( NAS) also known as Pirates Confraternity is working assiduously to impact on the Criminal Justice System of Nigeria to ensure a massive decongestion of the country’s correctional centres.
The group linked corruption in the criminal justice process as the major reason the Nigerian prisons are facing serious congestion, adding that there are so many person languishing in the prisons for years without trial.
Mr Ken Henshaw, Port Harcourt chapter President of the National Association of Seadogs (NAS), who spoke with The AUTHORITY at an event organized by the group in Port Harcourt, noted the need to examine the gaps in the administration of criminal justice, especially in Rivers State and proffer a lasting solution for purpose of decongesting the prisons.
According to Henshaw: “We had a meeting today and the meeting brought together experts in the legal field, legal practitioners, civil society organisations who are proficiency in working around human rights and prisons decongestion and also representatives from the Ministry of Justice.
“The purpose of the meeting is to examine the weaknesses and gaps in the administration of criminal justice system in Nigeria and in Rivers State particular.
“Our motivation for doing this is the fact that you go to Nigerian prisons today, at least about 75 per cent of those who are in those places are awaiting trial, some of them have been in incarceration for years, therefore never had the luxury of facing a Judge in their entire lives and they have been in detention for years. They have never had their cases ever heard and we have created a legal system that prioritizes illegitimate and illegal detention of persons, some of them innocent.
“So far, for the last three or four decades we have not made any serious attempt as a country to decongest the prisons.
“And so in the last two years the National Association of Seadogs have been trying to work towards decongesting the prisons. We have basically hit the road block, the more people we try and successfully get out of awaiting trial list, the more people takes their place immediately and so we decided to take a dive dipper to examine what are the factors, what are the gaps in administration of criminal justice in this country that makes it possible for people to be detained illegally without trial for such long period.”
He revealed that “After this extensive deliberation, we have found gaps which include; the near total corruption of the legal process in the country, also found gaps associated with the manner investigations are carried out by the office of the Department of Public Prosecution, gap associated with the fact that the courts are too small, the magistrates and the justices are just too few to examine these cases.
“Our aim of doing this is so that we can put together a set of recommendation which indicate what the problem is with the system and we will use this recommendation to carry out very detailed, intensive and extensive advocacy activities at the state and national levels to ensure that the administration of the criminal justice in this country is changed for better.
“The impact we hope to to create with this to ensure that there is nobody in any of Nigeria correctional facility who is spending more than a day or a week on awaiting trial and everybody should have a right immediately he or she is arrested be brought before a judge and has their case heard,” Henshaw added.
Earlier in her presentation, Mrs Cordelia Eke, a representative of the Rivers State Ministry of Justice, noted lack of political will as one of the challenges facing the system.
Mrs Eke further recommends for public awareness, such as uploading the law online for people to access, setting up of criminal Division, cooperation between different stakeholders in criminal system and creation of criminal justice fund, a way to reform the criminal justice system in the country.