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5000 awaiting trials without lawyers in Lagos- Prison Fellowship
...seeks Establishment of Restorative Justice Unit

By Ayodele Samuel

Executive Director, Prison Fellowship of Nigeria and Project Coordinator of Lagos State Restorative Justice, Barrister Benson Iwuagwu has called for the establishment of a unit within the prison commands, to facilitate the referral of Awaiting Trial inmates to Restorative Justice Centre, saying more than 6,000 inmates awaiting trial in Lagos lacks legal representation.

Iwuagwu spoke during a technical meeting of the Lagos State Restorative Justice Steering Committee, an initiative of Prison Fellowship Nigeria in partnership with Lagos State Government, supported by European Union and Nigeria United Nation’s Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC).

Iwuagwu said the criminal justice system in the country is currently struggling with crippling challenges of delay, over-use of custodial measures and consequent overcrowding in prison.

"Over 70% of Nigeria’s Prison population is currently awaiting trial in overcrowded detention centres, with 90% of them lacking legal representation" Iwuagwu said in a communique issued after the meeting.

He said the current challenges of delay and congestion are directly linked to the fact that Nigeria Criminal Justice System has remained largely retributive, despite the transformative provisions in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) among others, all of which provide for restorative justice pathways.

According to Iwuagwu, Restorative Justice can be applied at every stage of the Criminal Justice process, from pre-charge to post conviction, has the capacity to transform the criminal justice system.

"This is because Restorative Justice gives the victim and community, voice, in the Criminal Justice System, whilst enabling the offenders to face the consequences of their actions and inspire rehabilitation and reconciliation."

Deputy Controller Welfare, Nigeria Prison Service, Lagos Olasanya Musili said the restorative system will be a backbone and address the issue of classification of prisoners and delayed trial.

“We have over 7000 inmates , 1000 are convicted, over 6000 are awaiting trials only about 1000 of those on trial has lawyers to represent them in court but through the alternative justices system majority of inmate in the prison today will be out there.

‎Co-ordinator, UNODC Support for Justice Sector Reform Programme, Nigeria , Dr. Uju Agomo in her keynote address said Restorative Justice is embedded in the African traditional system that is rooted in communalism; hence, it could be easily adapted to Lagos State and Nigeria’s Criminal Justice system.

She said there's an urgent need to strengthen the Legislative and Administrative footing for Restorative Justice through an Executive Bill for the Establishment of Lagos State Restorative Justice Centre.

She stressed the need to enhance understanding and capacity of all the Criminal Justice Agencies, police, courts and prison on the role, process and outcome of Restorative Justice.

Iwuagwu however commended the Lagos State Government, the Prison Fellowship, Nigeria, the European Union and UNODC for its unflinching support to Restorative Justice initiative.

Ayodele Samuel
Media Volunteer
Barr. Benson Iwuagwu,
Executive Director, Prison fellowship of Nigeria
LSRJSC Co- ordinator.

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