Speaking at the opening ceremony of a two-day Stakeholder’s Summit organized by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice at the Convention Centre of Eko Hotels and Suites in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria, Osinbajo lamented that detainees spent an average of three years in custody awaiting trial.
“We discovered that detainees spend average of three years in custody awaiting trial. As at 2017, we have 47,229 unsentenced detainees awaiting trials out of a total prison population of 67,586. It may interest you to know that Lagos State has the highest number of unsentenced detainees in Nigeria, which the National Bureau of Statistics and Nigerian Prison Service releases in 2015.
“Lagos State has 5,603 unsentenced detainees out of the total prison population of 6,532. The unsentenced detainees in Lagos State represented 85.9 percent of its total prison population and 10.4 percent of Nigeria total prison population. The length of time the unsentenced detainees remain in prison mainly depended on the length of proceedings. It is important for stakeholders to agree on concrete steps to remove bottlenecks,” Osinbajo stated.
In the light of the above, the vice president identified delay in the administration of justice as a major challenge that must be jointly tackled by all relevant stakeholders in the justice sector, just as he urged judges, lawyers and others to change their attitudes and stand up for what is right.
He said stakeholders in the administration of justice must now begin to take the issue of delay more seriously and shun all forms of delay tactics.
Osinbajo, who was the keynote speaker at the summit with the theme: “Contemporary Trends: Catalysts For Justice Sector Reform in Lagos State,” called on the judiciary, as a way out of the problem, to embrace day-to-day system for trials and heavy punishment for deliberate act of delay aimed at stalling cases.
The Vice President, who was represented by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), said it was also important for the judiciary to introduce significant costs for delay occasioned especially by lateness, ill-preparedness or deliberate tactics.
While alluding to plethora of statistics and judicial decisions especially a 2014 English Court of Appeal judgment where it was stated that ‘cases take up to a generation to be resolved in Nigeria occasioned by catastrophic delays,’ Osinbajo said stakeholders must now resolve to address the issue of delay once and for all in the collective interest of all.
He took a swipe at some judges who would not sit on time and rise early and lawyers who file frivolous applications and employ other delay tactics as well as shoddy police investigation, and admonish them to desist from such.
“If we can agree that these problems are against our collective interests as practitioners and stakeholders, then we must make a firm commitment to tackle the problems by changing our attitude and standing up for what is right,” Osinbajo said.
Speaking on the summit, the Vice President said Lagos State had a general reputation for trailblazing reforms in the justice sector and in many other sectors in Nigeria and beyond, adding that the summit, which is aimed at further initiating reforms in conformity with modern trends, was another testament of the fact that the reputation of the State was being taken seriously by the current administration ably led by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
He said even though Nigeria was just clawing its way out of recession, it was gratifying that the State Government deemed it important to invest in the summit to address some of the institutional challenges preventing the country from developing a first-class justice system in its commercial nerve centre.
In his address, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode said for any nation to experience economic growth, it must first have a functional judicial system that would not only encourage local and foreign investors to invest in, but also guarantee conducive environment for such businesses to thrive.
Governor Ambode said experience over the years has shown that societies with equal and unhindered access to justice have a better environment for economic growth and poverty alleviation than those that do not.
This, he said, prompted his administration to prioritise justice and security reforms, not only to maintain law and order, but basically to carry out the various developmental projects that would make Lagos safer and more prosperous.
“As a government, we are well aware that to achieve our socio-economic goals of a safer, secured, peaceful and more prosperous Lagos State, we need a functioning justice sector, which guarantees not only the maintenance of law and order, the enforcement of human rights and freedom, but also provides an administration of justice ambience that protects investments and encourages economic development.
He listed some of the major challenges currently being faced by investors and entrepreneurs include the ease and cost of doing business and over regulation of business processes, saying that the Summit was not only timely but a veritable platform for experts to proffer solutions.
“We are mindful of the need to attract foreign investment, and public private investment, especially in the area of provision of infrastructure. No economy can develop without sustained infrastructural development. I firmly believe that discussions around all these issues are pertinent for this august gathering,” the Governor said.
Besides, Governor Ambode said his government was working round the clock to ensure a system where all justice institutions in the State are fully automated, alluding to the fact that global strides in commerce and information technology have transformed the world into a global village.
“One of our top priorities is to leave behind a legacy of a 21st century justice sector driven by digital technology and powered by digital literate judicial officers and legal services providers,” he said.
One of such technologies being put in place, Governor Ambode said, was the Lagos State DNA Laboratory to process DNA evidence, just as he expressed optimism that it would serve as a powerful criminal justice tool in prosecuting the guilty and exonerating the innocent.
“This will also act as deterrence to criminals whose DNA data are in the DNA database, ultimately, playing a key role in the systematic reduction of crime in our State,” Governor Ambode said.