Gov. tasks lawyers on reforms in Nigeria’s prison system

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Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta on Wednesday tasked the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the exigency of making Nigerian prisons a corrective and reformatory system.

The governor gave the charge at the Fifth Criminal Justice Reforms Conference organised by the NBA with the theme:”Criminal Justice Reforms in Nigeria, The Journey So Far”, holding in Asaba.

He said that the participants must objectively, dispassionately and rigorously proffer solutions that would ensure that the prison system only takes away the freedom of offenders and not their lives.

“It is exigent that we devise a template for the prison system that focuses on correction and reformation as against punishment and stigmatisation.

“Therefore, we must objectively, dispassionately and rigorously proffer solutions that will ensure the prison system only takes away the freedom of offenders not their lives.”

He said that the state had enacted the administration of Criminal Justice Law on Sept. 19, 2017, noting that the law had far reaching innovations and had been implemented in the state.

According to him, though the law is still work in progress, there are strong indications that it will go a long way to enhance speedy trials and prison decongestion.

“In addition, we have made great efforts to expand and deepen the course of justice by bringing it closer to the people by creating five new judicial divisions in the state.

“And in March 2017, we established an Advisory Council on Prerogative of Mercy and based on the recommendation of the council, I recently granted pardon to five inmates and commuted the death sentence of 30 others to life imprisonment.”

The governor said that the world was changing very fast and the growth of technology had altered the way the people live, interact and do businesses.

“In this year’s conference, it is gratifying to note that you have chosen to asses the progress made so far, with particular reference to the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a by-product of previous conference.

“The judiciary must respond to this new paradigm by continually upgrading the skills and knowledge of its officers to meet the needs of the legal profession and ensure that the public continues to be served by competent courts of law,” he said.

In a goodwill message, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, represented by Justice Roseline Bozimo, Director, National Judicial Institute, said that the theme of the conference was apt.

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He said that energy must be exerted to ensure that justice was done, adding that there were numerous challenges confronting the criminal justice system in the country.

Onnoghen advised states to designate special courts to handle criminal cases, adding that efforts were on to ensure the reform of the processes of filing cases in the courts.

The CJN said that by July 16, all court processes would be filed electronically as against the manual system operated in the past.

Onnoghen, however, noted that lack of financial autonomy of states judiciary, had hindered progress in the Criminal Justice System in the country.

He called for the financial independence of the judiciary in the states, adding that it would go a long way to address the challenges in the administration of criminal justice.

He tasked that delegates to make useful contributions to the conference and come up with solutions.

Earlier, in an address of welcome, the NBA President, Mr Abubakar Mahmodu (SAN), decried the huge number of prison inmates in the country, adding that the reforms had become necessary to decongest the prisons.

He charged all stakeholders to support the reforms.

to stem the rising wave of criminality in the country, Mahmodu underscored the need for more radical reforms, adding that the spate of killings in the country had become more worrisome.

Similarly, the Chairman, NBA Criminal Justice Reform Committee, Mr Arthur Obi-Okafor, had commended Gov. Okowa for his support to the committee.

Obi-Okafor noted that the conference was important to strengthen the criminal justice system.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Senate President Bukola Saraki, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, among others, delivered their goodwill messages through various representatives at the conference.