THE negative impacts of the ongoing strike by judiciary workers on police detention facilities and alleged criminals getting justice cannot be overemphasised. The workers began a nationwide strike on Tuesday, April 6, when the union directed all its members across the federation to shut down all courts after the expiration of the 21-day ultimatum earlier given to the government to implement the law recognising financial autonomy for the judiciary. Police detention facilities are now overcrowded with suspects due to the closure of the courts. Indeed, some police stations have started recommending that dispute resolution mechanisms should be used in resolving cases to avoid detention of suspects for petty crimes, otherwise the cells would be overfull and this would definitely cause suffocation.
Indisputably, this strike has caused great harm. Crimes increase everyday and police stations keep harbouring criminals. Even in cases of offences that are not bailable, when the cells are overcrowded, won’t the police start granting bails to alleged criminals? The police are supposed to promptly prefer charges against suspects and arraign them before a court of competent jurisdiction. The Nigerian constitution provides that no suspect can be held in custody for more than 48 hours for any reason. Suspects should either be released on bail or arraigned in court within the stipulated period. But now, the reverse is the case as courts are closed down across the nation. According to members of the Administrative of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC) who had toured some detention facilities in police stations, especially in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, most of the detention facilities are overcrowded and are now smelling badly, though the police are not satisfied with this.
Recently, there was a meeting chaired by the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Alhaji Ibrahim Gambari. The meeting was attended by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives. The meeting was to no avail as JUSUN rejected the 36 state governors’ proposed template for the implementation of the financial autonomy being demanded by the workers on May 14. The union insisted that funds meant for the state judiciaries must be deducted directly from the Federation Account, and paid to the heads of courts through the National Judicial Council. Meanwhile, the Federal Government is hopeful that the union would call off its strike for peace to l reign in the states, giving no particular date.
Police cells are congested because suspects cannot be brought to court. The people in detention, though presumed innocent because they have not been tried in the court of law and have not been found guilty of any offence, cannot assert their fundamental human rights. There are litigants who need the court for affidavits and for other important things but cannot get them. This is terrible. The ongoing strike has also made fundamental rights enforcement and settlement of disputes (matrimonial, family, taxation e.t.c.) impossible, thereby shutting down all justice infrastructure provided by law in the country. Many are languishing in custody pending the termination of the strike, while the challenge of congestion in police cells grows worse by the day. Vulnerable members of the society who crave justice in the face of oppression and violation of their rights have no court of law where they can seek redress for the wrongs they have suffered. Whenever the strike is called off, the judicial workers should try to attend to issues, especially criminal cases, with despatch, in order to reduce the congestion in police cells. The Federal Government should do the needful.
- Adagba is a student of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State.
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