The Nigeria Police Force has lamented the strike embarked on by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria even as it continues to battle overcrowding at its detention facilities.
Judiciary workers had last Tuesday embarked on the indefinite nationwide strike in protest against the denial of the judiciary its constitutionally-guaranteed financial autonomy which was also affirmed by a Federal High Court in January 2014.
The strike has prevented the police and other law enforcement agencies from arraigning suspects in courts, which have remained shut since last week.
Consequently, suspects who ordinarily should not spend more than 48 hours in custody are being detained indefinitely.
Speaking with The PUNCH on Monday, the Force Public Relations Officer, CP Frank Mba, said the acting Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, had ordered commissioners of police to ensure that unnecessary arrests were avoided.
Mba, who described the strike as unfortunate, said the IGP ordered that alternative dispute resolution should be explored in certain cases while administrative bail should be given where possible.
He said, “Whenever the court system is paused, the police investigations processes suffer greatly. Our investigation processes also suffer based on the fact that certain orders, authorisations that are supposed to be processed from the court are either delayed or impossible to obtain.
“Consequently, the IG has already issued an internal directive to police commissioners and those heading specialised units to ensure that persons who are qualified to go on bail are granted administrative bail without delay.
“The IG also encouraged officers to explore the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to deal with cases that can be resolved using ADR without infringing on any law. He has also given express directive that conscious efforts should be made to decongest cells and avoid making frivolous arrests or arrests that are not very important in the advancement of the course of justice.”
Also, the Spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service, Mr. Frank Enobore, prayed the strike would end in time as prolonged detention of inmates could increase tension and spark a prison riot.
Enobore said 95 per cent of the time, prison riots were caused by persons awaiting trial or condemned inmates. He, however, said the strike had also made sure that new inmates were not coming in since courts were shut.
The NCoS spokesman said, “In a way we are not too affected because we are not seeing an influx of persons coming into the correctional centres but the irony is that we get more concerned when people are not leaving our facilities than when they are coming in.
“This is because if those who are to go to court cannot go, it will create tension. It means those who have the hope of leaving the correctional centre will have to remain there till courts resume duty. It creates tension for us, it creates concern because when the yard is tensed up, anything can happen.
“If you look at the history of internal insurrection in our facilities all this while, I can say close to 95 per cent of them are engineered by either those awaiting trial or those that are condemned to death. So, these are the areas we getting pressure. So, the courts being shut are of concern to us.”
A human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), called on the government to meet the demands of the striking workers.
Falana said it was unfortunate that last year, courts were shut for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic which affected several cases.
He said courts had been shut again, it would mean that certain cases would be adjourned indefinitely and this would mean that persons would be unjustly detained for longer than expected.
The senior advocate said, “The courts were on break for almost a year because of COVID-19 challenge. Now that the courts should resume in earnest and the strike, ordinary people are affected. For those who are in prison, their case would have to be adjourned sine die which is not good.
“So, we appeal to the state and federal government to address the demands of these workers.”
The Spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, told one of our correspondents that the EFCC was not having any problem of overcrowding.
“The EFCC has no cell congestion. Operatives are conscious that courts are shut. Perhaps, the area of impact is in respect of ongoing trials. Unfortunately, cases scheduled for hearing cannot proceed because courts are not open,” the EFCC boss stated.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has assured Nigerians that the strike will soon be called off.
Malami, who stated this on Monday in Sokoto while inaugurating state high court, explained that Federal Government had set up a committee with Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State as a member to resolve the crisis.
The minister commended Tambuwal for renovating the state high court which made the judiciary workers and judges to operate effectively.
On his part the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Muhammad Tanko, urged public officers to shun corruption.
Represented by the Justice of Supreme Court, Justice Amina Augi, Tanko said if public officers harnessed the resources at their disposal the country would be a good place .
Also, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, implored judges to render justice with the fear of God,
Tambuwal said the gesture was to create conducive environment for judicial workers and judges to operate.
He added that the same structure was also replicated in Tambuwal, Isa and Gwadabawa with same facilities.
He further stated that during his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives, financial autonomy bill was passed by the National Assembly.