Lawyers in Ebonyi State under the aegis of Good Leadership and Peace Advocates of Nigeria (GOLEPAN) have blamed Nigeria Police for the increase in the congestion of prisons in the country.
The leader of the group, Barr. Adaeze Nwaji, a Brithish-trained lawyer, made this known at a one-day workshop on pro bono legal service delivery, organized by Ebonyi State University Law Clinic in partnership with GOLEPAN, ZEADA Attorneys & Lead Trust as well as Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, held at EBSU law auditorium.
With the theme: “The Role of Pro Bono Lawyers in our Criminal Legal System, Legal Aid Council Guidelines for Pro Bono Lawyers Professional Ethics and Skills Needed for Effective Pro Bono Service Delivery”, expressed concern that justice in Nigeria is now basically reserved for the rich.
She explained that due to limited lawyers willing to undertake pro bono services for indigent citizens, the issue of congestion in Nigeria prisons has continued to persist.
She added that the police have a big role to play in prisons decongestion by exercising its discretion in determining whether a case is serious for prosecution or not.
“Justice in Nigeria is basically reserved for the rich. But there supposed to be legal aids from ministry of Justice for the indigents citizens. Regrettably, to get Justice in Nigeria, you must have money to get lawyers to represent you which supposed not to be so. Nigeria Police said bail is free but is never free.
“One of the ways to actually decongest our prisons is to get Nigeria Police to know that they have the powers to determine whether a case is a serious one that requires prosecution or not as it is done in other countries.
“So, if police will begin to exercise the discretion they have, it will decongest the prisons. And if we have more legal aid lawyers and they are funded there will be better representation for every citizen.
“It should not be when you have money before you can get one. And because some of the lawyers don’t have money and they are busy with other things they cannot afford to do free work” she added.
Also speaking, the representative of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Barr. Nwokpoku Nathaniel, while alluding to the problem of prisons congestion in Nigeria, noted that the council was doing its best to offer pro bono services to indigent citizens in Nigeria
According to him, Federal government approves some fund to assist pro bono lawyers; adding that “for us, Legal Aid Council, which is federal government establishment. We are civil servants and our work is to represent indigent citizens”.
“In Ebonyi, we have made serious impacts. Of course, if you go to Abakaliki maximum prisons, you will discover that a placement for about 500 persons or so, is being occupied by over 1000 persons and daily, that is how they churn in people.
“The number of people that come out are not usually the number that go in every day. What we do is to make sure we decongest the prisons both here in Abakaliki and Afikpo prisons.
“Some persons are not usually in prison. They come from their homes to tell us the nature of cases they have and we file processes on their behalf. We represent 300 persons and above every year.
“The constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria stipulates that any body suspected to have committed a crime should be arraigned in court within 48 hours but is no longer so,” he said.