Inspite of the constitutional framework, which has provided channels of access to justice the state of pre-trial detention is on the increase with detainees suffering so much with its attendant effect on the socio-economic wellbeing of Nigeria. Pre-trial detention serves an important purpose in the judicial process. But in practice its excessive and arbitrary use, have trapped innocent people in a legal limbo. April 25 pre-trial detention day. Yet this has not stopped not reduced pre-trial detention. Infact lack of government transparency even makes it difficult to get reliable date of pre-trial detainees most victims of lengthy pre-trial detention fall within the indigent class in the society. Although most offences are state created states attorneys general do not have oversight of the police and prison and therefore cannot ensure compliance. In cases where detainees get legal aid for bail, the police quickly gets a holding charge against such detainee. But the law envisages that it would not matter whether the offence is a serious one or not, which is why it is said that an application for bail in favour of an accused person cannot be challenged by the prosecutor who has failed to do what ought to be done. This assertion received a judicial applause in the case of Bolake V the state (2000) 1 N W.L.R (Pt 962) 507 when the court reasoned thus;
It is the seriousness of the offence that should spur the prosecution to do or perform its functions timeously and properly because the liberty of a citizen is at stake.
It is when the prosecution has done what it is supposed to have done that it can properly object to the release of the accused person.
It does not lie in the month of the prosecution to say that the accused should not be released on bail when it failed to arraign the accused before a court of competent jurisdiction”.
There is urgent need to checkmate the excesses of the police. This can be achieved if when fundamental enforcement actions are filed and damages awarded against the police, the police now levy the account of the police officer responsible for such detention. In practice, most cases when damages are awarded, victims do not get paid. One of the reasons is that for such payment, the endorsement of the Attorney-General of the Federation is required. And this does not come so easily. Situations where lawyers garnish the police account then victims can get their money. Until police officers are an made to pay for their outright violation of our constitution, we are yet to see the end of pre-trial detention.
In Lufudeju V Johnson (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt 1037) 535, the Supreme Court laid the controversy to rest by upholding the constitutional validity of pre-charge detention of criminal suspects in Nigeria. But I hope this will not add more impunity to the activities of any security agencies in this regard.
Nkechi Bright Ewere
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Author: The Tide