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Does Nigeria need special courts for bandits as proposed by Obasanjo, Gumi?

Does Nigeria need special courts for bandits as proposed by Obasanjo, Gumi?
April 06
18:48 2021

In recent times, the spate of banditry, kidnappings, and other violent crimes has increased in many parts of the country. At this moment, no part of the country is spared from insecurity. Every region is battling its own insecurity issues. Several possible solutions to address the country’s hydra-headed insecurity issues have been suggested to the government.

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On Sunday, Ahmad Gumi, a prominent cleric, led a delegation to meet with Olusegun Obasanjo, former president, in Abeokuta, Ogun state.

The meeting was said to have been anchored on the need to find solutions to the general insecurity in the country and particularly to the menace of banditry, kidnapping, and ransom payment.

In a communique after the meeting, Obasanjo and Gumi asked the federal government to rehabilitate bandits who are willing to surrender.

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The duo recommended that special courts should be created to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnapping, ransom demanding, and unlawful carrying of weapons.

“Wean those who are ready to be weaned out of the bushes and crime, settle and rehabilitate them, give them skills, empower them and let them have employment,” the communique reads.

“The hardened criminals must be hard hit with stick. Unlawful carrying of arms should be very seriously punished.

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“Special courts should be created to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnapping, ransom demanding, and unlawful carrying of weapons.”

However, TheCable discovered that Obasanjo and Gumi’s suggestion on the creation of special courts is not new to the Nigerian criminal justice system, as there is a court protocol that gives accelerated hearing to criminal trials relating to offences of terrorism, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, rape, corruption, and money laundering cases.

COURT PRACTICE DIRECTION OF 2013

What is a court practice direction? It is a protocol stipulated by a court to serve as procedures for civil and criminals cases. It is also a set of laid down rules of how a court will function.

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On April 30, 2013, Ibrahim Auta, the former chief judge of the federal high court, made a practice direction that amended the order 48 rule 4 of the federal high court (civil procedure) rule 2009, which took effect on June 3, 2013.

The practice direction was intended to fast-track the criminal trials, relating to offences of terrorism, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, rape, corruption, and money laundering cases, and ensured that delays in criminal trials are largely eliminated.

Under this practice, the court shall ensure that criminal cases are fully ready for trial before hearing dates are agreed to minimise undue adjournments and delays, and parties involved in the trials should focus only on important matters.

“The purpose of this practice direction is to establish, a system of case management that will provide for the fair and impartial administration of criminal cases, and the rules made under this practice direction shall be construed and applied to eliminate unnecessary delay and expense for the parties involved in the court justice system,” the practice direction states.

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For appeals of criminal cases, on May 1, 2013, Zainab Bulkachuwa, the former acting president of the court of appeal, also ruled on the same practice direction for the appeal court.

Equally, on July 15, 2013, Aloma Mukhtar, the former chief justice of Nigeria, made the practice direction applicable to cases brought to the supreme court.

HOW NECESSARY IS A SPECIAL COURT FOR CASES ON BANDITRY AND KIDNAPPING 

A court practice direction has given special recognition to criminal cases, by way of accelerating the trials from the commencement at the federal high court to appeals in the appeal court and subsequently at the supreme court.

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A special court to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnapping, ransom demanding, and unlawful carrying of weapons would be rather superfluous since a court protocol has given the acceleration of trials to criminal cases.

One of the major purposes of the establishment of a special court for a particular crime is to give accelerated hearing in order to minimise unnecessary delays and adjournments.

However, when a practice direction of competent courts in the federation has taken care of the issue of unnecessary delays and adjournments in the trial of certain cases,  the establishment of a special court may be viewed as duplication of efforts.

PROSECUTION OF CRIMINAL CASES

In the administration of the criminal justice system, especially the prosecution of criminal cases in Nigeria, the police remain an important agent; in fact, they are the first to determine how justice will be administered. Hence, if they decide to facilitate the prosecution processes in a criminal case, the suspects may get justice without unnecessary delays and adjournments.

In the past, Nigerians read reports of how relevant evidence was not readily available before crime suspects were taken to the court or how suspects were allegedly shot dead in police custody, with the justification that they were trying to escape from police custody.

In May 2018, John Oladokun, a suspect arrested for the murder of a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Lagos was allegedly shot dead by police while trying to escape from detention at the State Anti-Robbery Squad in Ikeja, the state capital.

SUGGESTION NOT NEW

The suggestion of Obasanjo and Gumi is not new to Nigeria’s criminal justice system, as the 2013 practice decision has taken care of the need for special courts for violent crimes.

However, critics would argue the law seems not too effective because those involved in the prosecution of criminal cases do not tend to obey the provisions of the law.

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