By Kayode Oyekanmi
A major highlight of the inaugural speech of Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu is to make ‘Lagos Greater’. In order to actually actualize this vision, Mr. Governor devised Project T.H.E.M.E.S, an acronym for his administration’s six strategic development agenda namely, Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and Environment, Education and Technology, Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy, Entertainment and Tourism as well as Security and Governance.
An integral part of the THEMES agenda is upholding of Law and Order which is captured under Security and Governance, the last leg of the THEMES’ pillar. A democracy consists of three vital organs of government namely; the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The legislative arm formulates policy and enacts it as law, the executive carries out policy in action while the judiciary applies the law according to rules of procedural justice and resolves disputes.
To guarantee freedom, which is the hallmark of democracy, these three arms must be separated as much as possible and balanced against each other. For a successful democracy, the existence of a free and fair judiciary is a must.
It is in view of the significance of the judiciary in a democracy that the Sanwo-Olu administration is evolving critical reforms geared at oiling the wheel of justice in the state. The objective is to ensure that the justice sector continues to experience the implementation of programmes aimed at giving the people greater access to justice through dynamic law reforms and adherence to the Rule of Law.
An essential part of the plan is to clamp down on criminals, land grabbers and other trouble makers to reduce crime and all forms of security threat to the barest minimum. The Sanwo-Olu administration has zero tolerance for criminals, and it is poised to ensure that the poor and downtrodden in the society have access to justice through our agencies.
An EXCO Sub- Committee on Road Traffic and Law and Order was inaugurated to look into the expansion and functionality of the Mobile Courts in order to seek ways of reducing street trading, traffic congestion and unethical/anti-social conducts on the roads, as well as environmental nuisances; thereby improving the socio-economic well-being of the residents of Lagos State.
To demonstrate the seriousness and commitment of the administration towards Law and Order, the Honourable Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) personally prosecuted traffic offenders at the Mobile Court in October last year.
In the last few months, the focus has basically been to foster speedy and time effective justice delivery equally amongst all persons in the state. This is in recognition of the fact that this can only be achieved mostly through institutional and policy strategies.
The Lagos State Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers, popularly known as ‘Omo Onile Taskforce’, with a mandate to rid the State of land grabbers, has continued to receive petitions and several criminal prosecution cases against suspected land grabbers currently ongoing in different Courts. The operation of the Taskforce received a major boost when 19 alleged land grabbers were arrested on the 13th November 2019, in Kosofe Local Government and trial is still on-going at the Magistrate Court.
Presently, there are over 35 Land Grabbing cases in Court, wherein land grabbers are being prosecuted and it is hoped that justice would be served without hindrance to serve as a deterrent to other land grabbers.
Recent Statistics shows that there is an appreciable increase in the number of citizens who patronize the Taskforce for resolution of land grabbing cases. This is due in part to the intensity of publicity and awareness campaign as well as testimonies of people who have had their cases resolved through the Taskforce.
Towards the end of last year, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice intervened in respect of an encroachment on the land of an elderly couple at Ejigbo, whose video went viral on social media. The couple was invited to this Office and the police are investigating into the alleged criminal activities of the individuals named.
In the area of access to justice, in the last five months, the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) has handled 1,636 cases, 600 petitions out of which 245 have been concluded. Equally, 141 judgments were obtained while over 30 children were rescued and a total compensation of N8, 103,567.09 was received on behalf of clients by the OPD.
Similarly, the Public Advisory Centre, received monetary claims of N3, 684.666 on behalf of claimants, whilst the Directorate of Citizen’s Rights instituted cases in the National Industrial Court where 7 Claimants were awarded N21, 352,319 as terminal benefits from their various organizations.
Furthermore, two new offices of the Citizens’ Mediation Centre, a directorate under the Ministry of Justice, were commissioned early this year. The major goal behind this is to expand the number of outlets across all the 20 Local Governments and 37 Local Council Development Areas for easier access to justice.
Also, in the last five months, the Directorate of Public Prosecution received 212 duplicate files for Legal Advice out of which 164 have been issued and dispatched. The remaining 48 could not be treated because of request for further investigation by the Police.
In same vein, towards the end of December last year, 94 Plea Bargain applications were treated. It needs to be stressed that the introduction and utilization of the Plea Bargain has reduced the time spent on criminal cases towards achieving Prison and Court decongestion, as well as saved, in no small measure, the amount of tax payers money expended in the prosecution of matters in court.
Currently, more emphasis is being placed on the fight against Domestic and Sexual violence through the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, which is dedicated to pursuing justice for survivors and deterring perpetrators. On the 26th November, 2019 there was a Walk to commit and act against domestic and sexual violence. The Walk represents a clear message that the Lagos State Government will not tolerate any form of domestic or sexual violence. In order to really drive this point home, the symbolic walk was led by no other person than Mr Governor himself.
Presently, the opening of a dedicated Sex Offenders Register with data extracted from the Lagos Criminal Information System and the DSVRT is being contemplated. The major aim of the monitoring programme and the mandated reporting policy is to reduce repeat cases by providing names and personal details of convicted sex offenders in a central database.
In the current year, particular attention will be focused on Law and Order and Legislative Reforms. There are a whole lot of Laws in the pipeline. The importance of Laws in a Society cannot be overemphasized as it keeps the society running.
Plato and Aristotle were Greek philosophers who both developed important ideas about the rule of law. According to them, chaos occurs when people are allowed to become lawless in a given society. It is, therefore, in order to guide against chaos in Lagos, that the Sanwo-Olu administration has initiated decisive reforms in the State’s judicial sector.
-Oyekanmi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Alausa Ikeja