A University don, Prof. Nnamdi Obiaraeri, has described Sections 484 and 485 of the Imo State’s new Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) as draconian, ambiguous and unconstitutional and should be revisited by the State House of Assembly
Obiaraeri stated this in a paper he presented at the Assizes for judges and stakeholders in the states’ justice sector.
Governor Hope Uzodimma recently assented to the Imo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2020, which has elicited a lot of controversy across the country, especially the provisions of Sections 484 and 485.
Section 484 states: “Where any person is ordered to be detained during the Governor’s pleasure he shall notwithstanding anything in this Law or in any other written law contained be liable to be detained in such place and under such conditions as the Governor may direct and whilst so detained shall be deemed to be in legal custody.”
Section 485 provides: “(1) A person detained during the Governor’s pleasure may at any time be discharged by the Governor on license.
(2) A license under subsection (1) of this section may be in such form and may contain such conditions as the Governor may direct.
(3) A licence under this section may at any time be revoked or varied by the Governor and where license has been revoked the person to whom the license relates shall proceed to such place as the Governor may direct and if he fails to do so, may be arrested without warrant and taken to such place.”
In his paper, Obiaraeri said: “No doubt these provisions of Section 484 of ISACJL, 2020 are not only draconian but also scandalous as they vest too much farcical and absolute powers on the governor contrary to the express provisions of the International Bill of Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended.
“It is left to see how these kinds of monstrous provisions that do not deserve any pride of place in a democratic society and rule of law setting will survive the long standing decisions of the courts, especially the apex Supreme Court of Nigeria, that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizen guaranteed in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution as amended are sacrosanct, inalienable, inderogable and imprescriptible.”
He argued that the law should not be ambiguous; it must be specific and apply to specific persons and if there is any form of ambiguity, the courts will strike such laws down.
Obiaraeri urged the Imo State House of Assembly to have a second look at the law to tighten the loose ends.
The Acting Chief Judge of Imo State Justice Ijeoma Ogugua said: “On my resumption of office in March, this year, I met a sordid state of magistrates daily sharing court halls and chambers, with time allocated to each.
“This arrangement not only gave rise to strife, when a magistrate could not rise on the dot of the stipulated time, but it also reduced the dignity of the office of a magistrate.
“And that the affected magistrates sit on alternate days, affording them the opportunity of a whole day in chambers and court halls unhampered by time constraint, to conduct their cases freely.”
She stated that no fewer than 225,240 cases were pending in the state High Court, as at September 1.
Justice Ogugua said while 209,406 cases were pending as at October 1, last year, and 16,254 fresh cases were filed. Four hundred and twenty cases were disposed in the High Court, from October 1, 2019, to September 1, 2020.
She said: “What emerges from the data is that the number of cases pending in both the High Court and the Customary Court of Appeal, is on the high side. The people of Imo State are litigious people, the number of judges and magistrates, manning these courts have increased since the last Legal Year.”
Also, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Imo State, Sir C. O. C. Akaolisa, stated that there was the need for a paradigm shift in the administration of justice through the deployment of appropriate technologies, to drive the administration of justice in the state.”
He called on judicial officers to be cautious in granting remand orders, except in exceptional cases, subject to the guidelines to be put in place by the Ministry of Justice and the Nigerian Correctional Service.
“Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR) or out of court settlements should be encouraged in the state in non-contentious civil cases.
“There is need to give greater attention to plea bargaining option, within the context of Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015,” Akaolisa stated.
Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), who spoke for his colleagues, mentioned the non-payment of pension and gratuity, as one of the critical areas where the Constitution is flouted without qualms.