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AG Lagos gives score card of justice ministry, defends alleged arbitrary arrests, detention of children, youths

The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Lagos State, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem over the weekend delivered the score card of his ministry and major projects the ministry accomplished the previous legal year.

He also took the opportunity to correct some misgivings being bandied around by some sections of the media over alleged arrests and detention of children, youths, hawkers, touts, land grabbers and the much reported case of prison congestion among other issues in a media parley he held at his office, at Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos. IBE UWALEKE and PETER FOWOYO were there to capture the event.

On the arrest and detention of youths and under aged persons between the ages of 12 and 15,the A.G. said: “Yes, it is true, last year there was a joint initiative by this office and the judiciary to visit the Badagry Prison.

The Solicitor-General (Mrs Funlola Odunlami) accompanied the Chief Judge (Justice Opeyemi Oke) on that visit. The visit was prompted by a petition received in this office on this same issue.

Immediately, this office contacted the CJ, and we took steps to initiate that joint visit then we released a significant number of young inmates that were there.

One of the fallouts of that visit was that we found out that our magistrates courts unwittingly send people who turned out to be underage to these prisons, convicted them of offences and in some cases impose fines on them which they could not pay, only for us to find out that these children were not of age, so they should not have been sent to adult prisons.

That was a mistake and immediately it was discovered, they were removed from those places to remand homes, where children of that age were supposed to be sent. In dome cases we even paid fines for some of these children so that they could be released.

The issue of our juveniles in conflict with the law, so to speak, is a major issue. Presently, because there are so many of them, the facilities that are supposed to cater for people of this class are completely overstretched.

We have one in Oregun and the other one in Idi-Araba for the girls. So, that’s one of the problems and we have to do a massive development of additional space for these children, because it’s not just about the punishment, it’s about reforming them so that they can be useful people to the society.

This is an issue not only for the Ministry of Justice but also for the Ministry of Youths and Social Development. So, it’s something that we are working very actively on, trying to ensure that these children are taken off the streets, these mistakes about them being wrongly sent to adult prisons does not occur again.

After that visit there was a stakeholders’ meeting between many court judges, people from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Youths and Social Development and others.

We now agreed that there must be a joint effort that this thing must be actively addressed so that it does not recur. I think there’s been some changes since that time, those mistakes have not been met.

The task force on environmental offences is very aggressive on making sure that they deliver on their mandate and in the process they go on the streets and come in contact with a lot of people.

What we have realised is that a more deeper evaluation and assessment of these people that are swept up is done by security services before they are charged to court, so that we can sieve the adult from the young ones”.

Concerning the just completed DNA/Forensics Centre by the MOJ Kazeem has this to say: “If you’ve been following what has been going on regarding the DNA facility, last year even before the facility came on stream, we had a forensic seminar here sometime in November 2016.

That was essentially to set the pace for the DNA forensic lab which was supposed to come on stream. The whole idea is to try and set Lagos as a destination for forensics.

The seminar was targeted at creating a world – class seminar that would attract people from all over Africa and within Nigeria, our security services attended that seminar and it was some form of training too.

But we have consultants which we engaged. The consultant is an American firm. When the forensics centre was being launched, the American Consul-General was there, there were representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the United States, they were all there.

The American Consul-General commended the fact that we were using an American company and which they were very proud of. One of the things the consultant has done is to ensure that a lot of the users of that facility are actively trained.

So, from our emergency responders to the police, judges, all sets of people have all attended one seminar or the other, even prior to the setting up of that centre.

In terms of training, there’s been some major work done there. In terms of personnel, because the consultants are already a functional entity with two labs in the US, International Standards Organisation (ISO) certified, they do work for the department of defence in the US, so they are very, very experienced.

They’ve also engaged three or four Nigerians who have forensics degrees, biochemistry, etc. They are undergoing training in that facility.

They are the forerunners of the local content in that facility because the while essence is that after a consultancy period, the facility is handed over fully to the Lagos State Government to run on its own.

Toxicology is one aspect that we intend to add to that facility because it is critical. This is a facility that is going to help us test the presence of poisons and other similar substances, and this facility is not readily available here.

Typically, when you find a lot of those things are a result of crimes, you have to send those samples abroad for testing. But when we are able to put that capacity there, it makes it much more easier for us to do that.

This has a direct impact on criminal prosecution and investigation for this country. Once that is in place, it is going to enhance our capacity greatly. There have been close to forty cases so far that have been brought there.

Cases range from sexual assault, paternity issues, among others. There have been cases from Ghana and other parts of West Africa. There have been approaches from the German and US embassies to collaborate with the lab.

So, we feel very encouraged by the attention that the lab is getting and that is what has spurred us on to make additional investments.

On the issue of the state’s Task Force on Land grabbers, he stated: “The agberos, who are supposed to be bus conductors, are members of transport unions of some sort, the question would be, can you prescribe them? Can you regulate them?

I would say if they are members of a union that is recognised, you have to try and regulate their activities; it is much better.

That’s a very important point which we’ve taken on, the Ministry of Transport, the Police interface with these people regularly.

Of course, you know that His Excellency has mentioned his transport reform. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has stated that the Danfos (mini buses) on the street presently are not befitting of a city and state like Lagos.

What he has proposed is that this year, he intends to introduce world-class buses that will replace Danfos in Lagos State. The first tranche, I believe, is 850 or 840, but certainly over 800 buses, and that should come towards the end of the year.

With this kinds of buses, there will be better regulation. A lot of these people will find jobs, they will have to be retrained, re-kitted and told how to conduct themselves better in public.

A lot of the places from where these buses are going to operate are going to be regulated and well set up. You’ve seen the Ikeja Bus Terminal? That’s world-class.

That’s the kind of place where these buses will operate from and you can imagine that ruffians and other similar troublemakers will not be allowed in those kinds of places.

We are very hopeful that with these reforms being proposed by His Excellency, things will get better in that area.

Prison reform was also part of the issues that were thrown up at the question and answer session, This is his answer: “We are very passionate about prison reform.

Unfortunately, issues of prisons are on the exclusive legislative list. They are things not within our control but we can’t look away, that is the reality.

The police is not under our control but we have made major interventions in that area because it affects us, and I can tell you for free that almost all the security services that operate here, including the prisons, have received one intervention or the other from the Lagos State Government.

On Ikoyi Prison relocation, Mr. Kazeem said:
“There is an ongoing matter with Ikoyi Prison. Discussions have been ongoing with the Federal Government to relocate the prison to possibly Epe or some other location and free up that space.

The whole idea is that that prison is decongested and is right in the middle of the city. Now what we are going to agree with the Federal Government, (includes to) get the designs and build a world-class prison facility.

In America they call them correctional facility, because you’re supposed to correct the behaviour of people that go in there so that they can come out and become better people in the society. So, that’s one of the things we have to do.

His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi has said that he will intervene, even though it is a federal problem, so to speak, but we have no choice, because it deals with issues in Lagos State.

So, there are issues in (Ikoyi) prison about infrastructure, hygiene, accommodation, food and several others. I’ve visited there, so I know.

I had my Special Assistant on Criminal Prosecution, Dr Babajide Martins, do a major report in conjunction with the Comptroller-General of Prisons of Lagos State to identify a lot of those things.

So I’m sure that once we start work in earnest this year, we’ll begin to look at those things that will also address a lot of these congestion issues.”

Regarding the Reorganisation of DPP’s office he has this to say: “One of the things when I got into this office is that I found out that as it happens in other places too, the office of the DPP has often been used as a tool to settle scores; scores that are not criminal but commercial and civil.

The DPP’s office is dealing with issues that relate to over 22 million people with regards to crime. They are already overburdened and one of the things I said to the DPP is that this office will not be used as an instrument to settle criminal or commercial-related issues.

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If you have commercial-related issues, go to commercial court and go and sort those problems. When there are issues that have already gone to a certain stage, review all the facts and let us take a position so that we can move forward and one of such files is this particular one and after a thorough review by the DPP, we came to the unsalable condition that that matter was not criminal in the opinion of the office of the Attorney-General.

Also, while that so-called matter was attempting to progress through the criminal court, there was already a matter in the civil court instituted by the same people on this matter that is commercially related. Anytime we take a matter to court from this office, our intention is to win. We don’t have time for frivolities.

After the DPP’s review on the matter, we sent the case file together with out report to the AIG Zone 2. While Section 211 of the Constitution empowers this office to withdraw criminal cases, I am aware that such power must be carefully utilised, and ensure that the decision is in the best interest of the State.

The aggrieved party in the case went to court to challenge what we did but the court, after our response, came to the conclusion that the matter had no merit and the case was thrown out.

I understand that they intend to go on appeal which is their constitutional right but I am willing, if the people want, they can come, we can explain the issues to them. This office is an office with a huge burden and you take tough choices.

That choice that we have taken has freed up considerably the DPP to face the major issues such as kidnapping, sexual assault, rape, defilement, armed robbery and so on, and not waste valuable manpower and time on commercial matter when there is a commercial court.

The question of Lagos State Tenancy Law also came up and he explained thus: “The Lagos State Law reform Commission is the agency charged with reforming our laws.

Last year, I wrote to the agency and directed that they conduct an overhaul of that law, because we felt that as things develop, laws must develop alongside.

Last year also, there was a stakeholders’ meeting where different people gave inputs on the proposed law. The next stage is for the draft law to be presented.

It’ll come to my office, we’ll take it to the state executive council, if it is approved, it’ll go the state House of Assembly, who, I’m sure, will do a thorough job on the process and I can assure you that barring any eventualities, we shall get a new law this year.

Street trading in Lagos as a recurring issue was dealt with by the Attorney General by saying that:”There is a law on street trading and yes, street trading is still a major issue.

It has to do with children in school, employment, generally social issues that we want to address. You understand that last year or the year before, Governor Ambode was worried about the environment, worried about street robberies, because investigation reports available to us shower that a lot of the street robberies take place from hawking.

I’m not saying all hawkers are criminals, but a significant percentage of crimes occurred from there; while you are in traffic.

So, government decided to take a very strong stance on it, picking up a lot of these people, but, again, you could see the outcry and being a responsive government, we tried to slow down and said look, some of these issues are not entirely criminal; they are also social issues.

We need to try and address these issues, such as markets where these people are going to sell their wares, and so on and so forth. So, we’re trying to take a holistic view of the issues and provide a solution.

Some people have said that in other countries there are ways that the street furniture architecture is designed to accommodate people that sell on the street, so as not to completely send them away.

So, these are issues that a growing and, frankly, overpopulated city will face. This job is a 24-hour one, the governor never rests. I guess that is just the challenge of governing an important state like this”.

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