CLO Makes Case For Justice Sector Reforms In Akwa Ibom

Today, Monday, 10th January, 2022, at the Stakeholders Meeting organised by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on a Bill for a Law to make provisions for the Administration of Criminal Justice and other related matters in the Courts of the State (“Akwa Ibom State Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, 2022”), I submitted a memorandum on behalf of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) to the House of Assembly represented at the occasion by the leader of the House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Udo Kyrian Akpan; the deputy House Leader, Rt. Hon. Aniefiok Dennis and the House Committee Chairman on Judiciary, Justice, Public Petitions and Human Rights, Hon. Victor Equere.

The Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Uyo Branch, Barr. Ememobong Nicholas and the State Secretary of CLO, Comrade (Barr.) Christopher Ekpo were among other stakeholders at the meeting. See details of CLO’s memorandum below:

Being a Presentation by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Akwa Ibom Branch at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Stakeholders Meeting on a Bill for a Law to make provisions for the Administration of Criminal Justice and other related matters in the Courts of the State (“Akwa Ibom State Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, 2022”) on Monday 10th January, 2022.

Preamble:
CLO received a copy of the Akwa Ibom State Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, 2022 at about 7:37 p.m. on Saturday, 8th January, 2022 from the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly with an oral invitation to attend the Stakeholders Meeting on the Bill, slated for Monday, 10th January, 2022 at the Office of the Deputy Leader of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and Member representing Etinan State Constituency, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Aniefiok Dennis, by 11:00a.m.

In spite of the shortness of time and considering the importance of the Bill, which primarily deals with the liberties and lives of citizens and residents of Akwa Ibom State, the CLO has carefully studied the Bill.

The Bill has 493 Sections and is divided into 49 Parts with 4 Schedules. The highpoint of the Bill is Section 491, which repeals the Criminal Procedure Law, Cap. 39, Laws of Akwa Ibom State, 2000.

Generally, the Bill adopts, with modifications, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

CLO’s Comments:
CLO is uncomfortable with the use of the phrase “as much as local circumstances shall allow” in Section 1(1) of the Bill. CLO strongly urges that that phrase should be deleted because it fetters the purpose of the Bill. CLO notes that the offensive phrase is not used in a similar provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

CLO observes that copious references are made in the Bill to the Prisons, which term was abrogated in Nigeria way back in 2019 with the enactment of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 (which repealed the Prison Act, Cap. P29, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004).

Some of the Sections of the Bill where the term “Prisons” are erroneously used include: Section 181(a); Section 181(b); Section 293; Section 467(2)(f) and Section 468(2)(d), among several other Sections of the Bill.

CLO, therefore, urges the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to replace the term “Prisons” (wherever found in the Bill) with “Correctional Centres”.

CLO also urges the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to replace the terms “State Comptroller of Prisons” and “Assistant Comptroller of Prisons” with the terms “State Comptroller of Correctional Services” and “Assistant Comptroller of Correctional Services”, respectively, in Section 467(2)(f) of the Bill.

Conclusion:
CLO has noted the chequered history and stunted trajectory of the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill (Law) in Akwa Ibom State. CLO vividly recalls that the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill was passed by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and assented to by Governor Udom Emmanuel on or about 21st March, 2017. The assent to the Bill was brought to the attention of the people of Akwa Ibom State in January 2018 by the then Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, Esq. (now SAN) at the Multipurpose Hall, Akwa Ibom State Judiciary Headquarters, Wellington Bassey Way, Uyo at an occasion co-hosted by the national body of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the MacArthur Foundation and attended by a cross section of the Bench, the Bar, civil society organisations, journalists and justice sector stakeholders in Nigeria. That information by the then Attorney-General was received with applause which echoed across the country, catapulting Akwa Ibom State into an international model in Justice Sector Reforms.

Regrettably, the Law never saw the light of day as it was never circulated. Myths were built around the Law. In the ensuing quagmire, Courts and lawyers in Akwa Ibom State continued to apply, to this day, the Criminal Procedure Law, 2000, which the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2017 had repealed. CLO had made several advocacies, calling on the State to circulate copies of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2017, which was assented to by Governor Udom Emmanuel, to no avail.

It stands to reason that today’s Stakeholders Meeting on the Akwa Ibom State Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, 2022 is the State government’s response, though belated, to CLO’s advocacies on the need to ensure Justice Sector Reforms in line with international best practices.

Even so, CLO commends the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for its courage in once again bringing up the Bill and urges that this Bill should not be allowed to suffer the embarrassing fate of its predecessor when passed by the House of Assembly and assented to by the State Governor.

Signed
Otuekong Franklyn Isong
(State Chairman)

Comrade (Barr.) Christopher Ekpo
(State Secretary

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