Nigerian Legal Aid & Pretrial Detention Project
Pretrial detainees in Nigeria are vulnerable to numerous abuses of their rights under Nigeria's constitution. State prosecutors, charged with ensuring due process in criminal arraignments, lack mechanisms to monitor or control federal-level police. Police reporting and filing is inadequate and numerous individuals are held in detention without proper records documenting their arrest or charging. Bail is rarely granted, or only under prohibitive conditions. Notably, the power of magistrate courts—state-level courts below the high courts—to place in remand individuals suspected of crimes beyond the court's jurisdiction, while awaiting a decision on prosecution, leads to the unaccountable imprisonment of numerous persons not proved guilty. Cases abound of detainees held longer in pretrial detention than would have been the case had they been convicted of the crime in question.
The Nigerian Legal Aid & Pretrial Detention Project aims to address these problems in four pilot states, by tackling the weakest institutional links in a system that fails to protect the rights of suspects. The project has trained duty solicitors to monitor the communication of cases between the magistrate courts and the office of state Directors of Public Prosecution, to ensure that they are aware of the custodial orders made by magistrates. The duty solicitors follow up cases to check that suspects do not remain in custody awaiting trial for a longer period than is necessary.
The project emphasizes inter-agency cooperation, capacity development, and institutional innovation towards solving the problems affecting pretrial detainees in Nigeria. Collaboration with the agencies administering criminal justice may enable an immediate reduction of the numbers of persons awaiting trial as a proportion of the prison population, while at the same time building the attitudes, skills, and organizational capacities of the concerned agencies for better management of pretrial detention.
The project was launched in Abuja on December 13, 2004, with a national interagency consultation and a follow-up skills training program for duty solicitors and their coordinators between December 14-16, 2004.
National Inter-Agency Consultation
The consultation was held at the Rockview Hotel, Wuse, Abuja, and was organized by the Nigerian Legal Aid Council in collaboration with the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Legal Resources Consortium.