The challenges facing Nigeria’s criminal justice system have continued to task experts on the best approach to fast-track trials, resolve disputes, decongest prisons and reintegrate repentant and erring members of the society.
While some have advocated harsher sanctions or retributive justice for offenders under the criminal justice system, others have solicited for restorative justice approach. The former entails that the offender goes through trial and if found guilty is sentenced to a jail term that involves custodial and some form of labour. The latter entails alternatives to sentencing such as show of repentance, rehabilitation, and rehabilitation. It may also involve non-custodial sentences like community service.
In Nigeria’s judicial process, where millions of litigants queue up for long, to wait for justice, their fate hangs in the grinding legal logjam which has afflicted Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
In the recently presented study by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) in collaboration with the Nigerian Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP), with the title ‘Dealing With the Past: Justice, Reconciliation and Healing in the North East of Nigeria’, it said that 86.3 percent of victims of Boko Haram violence want apprehended insurgents to face criminal punishment, while 13.7 percent would want restorative measures such as amnesty, de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration to be adopted.
The Director General of NIALS, Prof Deji Adekunle, said the aim of the research was to “talk to these people and know their views and perceptions in very sensitive areas in order to elicit views that will guide policy and legislation in these areas.”
In a recent report on the state of the Nigerian criminal justice system, the Executive Director of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), Sylvester Uhaa, criticised the pre-trial detention practices in Nigeria, explaining that countries such as Netherlands and Germany relied more on non-custodial sentencing in their criminal justice system.
He argued that non-custodial measures help to reduce crime, citing the example of Netherlands which is closing five jails for lack of inmates because judges are granting lesser sentences, and there is a decline in more serious crimes.
“Even in the United States, policy makers no longer uniformly believe that being tough on crime is the only or even the best way to achieve public safety,” he added.
Also toeing this position, the Executive Director, Human Rights Monitor, Barr Festus Okoye, stated that “A good, comprehensive and forward looking community rehabilitation centered programme will serve the society better.”
Also contributing to the debate, Abuja-based lawyer, E.M.D. Umukoro supported the restorative justice model so as to re-orient offenders, reform and reintegrate them into the society.
He explained that many persons involved in criminal activities were not brought up that way, adding that the need to reform offenders was on the mind of drafters of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
“This is why the office of parole was created to oversee an offender who in turn can give appropriate advise or records whether the offender has realised his mistake and taking steps towards changing his ways,” he said.
However, human rights lawyer, Hamid Ajibola Jimoh, called for both retributive and restorative justice measures depending on the circumstances as means of improving Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
“This is because, there are occasions when there is nothing to restore, rather, only to punish the offender for the wrong, especially where the offence is against the state and no one is a victim, while in some other circumstances, the offence might be committed against a victim. In such circumstances, damages might be awarded against the offender in favour of the victim rather than leaving him without award. This is restorative,” he said.
It is believed that the ongoing reforms in the country’s justice sector will restore hope of the people that the judiciary is indeed the last hope for the common man.