Lagos State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Mr Adeniji Kazeem in this interview with FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE speaks on underage in Lagos prisons, Forensic Centre, street trading, land grabbing and sundry issues
Last year, Lagos was awash with news of over 1000 underage detained in prisons across the state. What is your ministry doing to ensure underage will no longer be sent to adult prisons?
Last year, there was a joint initiative of this office (Ministry of Justice) and the Judiciary to pay particular visit to Badagry. In that visit, the Solicitor-General accompanied the Chief Judge of Lagos State. The visit was prompted by a petition received in this office about issue of putting underage in the prison. Immediately this office contacted the Chief Judge and we took steps to initiate that visit. We released a significant number of young children that were there.
One of the fallouts of that meeting is that we found out that some of our magistrate’s courts, I would say, unwittingly, had sent people who turned out to be underage to these prisons. They convicted them for offences, and in some cases put fines on them which they could not pay. We later found out that these children were not of age. In the first place they should not have been sent to adult prisons, so, that was the mistake. Immediately that was discovered, they had to be removed from those places to remand homes, where ordinarily, children of that age are supposed to be. In some cases, I believe, we even paid fines for some of these children so that they could be released and put in proper places.
Why would magistrate’s court opt for adult prisons instead of remand homes? I mean, are the facilities in remand homes overstretched?
The issue about Juvenile in conflict with the Law is a major issue. Presently because there are so many of them, the facilities that are supposed to cater for people of this class are completely overstretched. We have one in Oregun, the other one in Idiaraba for the girls, we have to do massive development of additional place for these children. This is because, it is not just about the punishment;
it is about reforming them, so that they can be useful again in the society. This is an issue, not only for the Ministry of Justice but Ministry of Youth and Social Development. It is something we are working very actively on, to try to ensure these children are taken off the street as was mentioned, these mistake about their being sent wrongly to adult prisons, does not occur again.
After that visit, there was a stakeholders’ meeting among between families, court judges, people from the Ministry of Justice, people from Ministry of Youth and Social Development and other stakeholders with a joint effort to resolve that this thing must be actively addressed so that this mistake does not occur. I believe there have been some changes since that time as those mistakes have not been repeated again.
The task force on environmental offences is very aggressive in making sure they deliver on their mandate. In the process, they go on the streets, and swept on a lot of people, maybe what we have realized is that a cheaper evaluation and assessment of these people that are swept on, is done by security services before they are charged to court, so that it can save the adult away from the young ones.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode recently commissioned Forensic centre in the state. Is the centre already playing adjutant role in criminal matters?
If you’ve been following what has been going on regarding the DNA facilities, last year, even before the facilities came in, we had a forensic seminar; I think that was sometimes in November, 2016. It was essentially to set the pace for the DNA Forensic Lab that was supposed to come on the stream.
The whole idea was to try and set Lagos as the destination for forensics which was meant to create Class Seminar to attract people from all over Africa to come in and within Nigeria as security services. That took off and it was a form of training. But we have a consultant which we engaged from America. You would see when the forensic sector was being launched the American Consular General was there.
There were representatives of FBI, DEA, that is, the drug enforcement agency of the US. They were all there. One of the things that Consular General commended was that we were using American consultant, which they were very proud of. One of the things the consultant has done is to ensure that users are actively trained. From our emergencies respondents to the police, including judges attended one seminar or the other even prior to setting up of that forensic centre. So, in terms of training, yes, a major work is being done there. In terms of personnel, because the consultants are already a functional entity in the U.S., they work for department of defence.
They also engaged young Nigerians, who have forensic degrees, Bio-Chemistry, and others. These are Nigerians under training in those facilities. These are the forerunners of the local content to those facilities.
The whole essence is that after the consultancy period, the thing is handed over fully to the Lagos State Government to run as facilities of its own.
This is very important technology. It is about trust; it’s about confidence in the products that come out of there. The facility is intended to be a very secure facility. If you go for testing there and there is a belief that the result can be contaminated in any way, then it distorts credibility on the institution. But I can assure you it’s a world class as nobody has gone there without attesting to the quality of the establishment.
Toxicology is one part we intend to add to that facility. It’s very critical because this is a facility that would help us test poisons and other things in like manner. This facility is not readily available here, typically when you find a lot of things that are as a result of crime, you have to send those samples abroad for testing and once we have those capacities, it would make it much easier for us to do that.
There have been 40 cases so far that have been brought there. The cases range from sexual assault, paternity issues, etc. We will be having a press conference in the next two weeks, when we shall give you a very interesting detail, cases from West African countries, such as Ghana – cases of people coming from there. There have been approaches from German Embassy to collaborate with us; even US Embassy to collaborate with us in the Lab. So, we are very much encouraged by the attention that has been given to those facilities. That is what has spurred us on to make additional investment.
Like other institutions of government, how affordable is DNA?
Where a criminal investigation is ongoing, ordinarily, that process is supposed to be free to members of the public. Anything connected to that process where the police are investigating the crime, but don’t forget it is a crime against the state; the state must bear the cost of that investigation. One of the things we are also trying to do with this DNA Forensic Centre include all the technology that we are trying to infuse into the criminal investigation, prosecution and adjudication process is to save time and money. In normal jurisdiction, the cost of prosecuting crimes is a major issue, because it involves tax-payers’ money.
If you have an issue that the police are investigating and they have cause to it to DNA Forensic Lab for testing in order to determine people culpability and all that, that cost is borne by the state. It is not your cost; nobody is going to give you a bill. If anybody tries to give you a bill, then send your complain to this office.
However, people have approached the DNA Forensic Centre in their private capacity. There are paternity issues and related issues that have been taken there. There are a lot of issues of people trying to identify the remains of their loved ones that have been taken there. So, those issues you would need to pay; you would be given a bill for testing.
How is your ministry addressing menace of land grabbing, Agberos, Area boys and other social malaise in Lagos state?
Interestingly, the Agberos or bus conductors are members of unions of some sort. So, the question would be, can you proscribe them or can you regulate them? I would say well, if they are members of recognized unions, we can try and regulate their activities much better. That’s a very important point which we take on. The Ministry of Transport, the police interface with these people regularly, and let me mention something else, of course, you know that his Excellency has mentioned transport reform. He said the Danfos on the street, presently are not befitting for a city like Lagos, so what he is proposing is that this year, he intends to introduce world class buses that would gradually replace those Danfos in Lagos State.
The first set, I believe is supposed to be 840 or 850 buses, and should come towards the end of the year. Its impact would redress the Agberos and the bus conductors people are complaining about as they would be better regulated. A lot of these people would find jobs, but they would have to be retrained, retreated and learn how to conduct themselves better in the public.
A lot of places where these buses are to be operated from would be regulated and well set-up. You must have seen the Ikeja bus terminal, that’s world class. That’s the kind of places these buses are to operate from. You can imagine that ruffians and people who would wake up in the morning and drink Paraga or small gin, or whatever would not be allowed in those kind of places. We are very hopeful that with these reforms being proposed by His Excellency, things would get better in that area.
Our prisons are no longer for the purpose they are meant for. What is the Lagos state doing to key into the federal government’s prison reform?
We are very passionate about that. Unfortunately, issues about prisons, as you know, are in the Exclusive Legislative List; they are things not within our control, but we can’t look away. That is the reality. The Nigeria Police is not under our control but we have made major intervention in that area.
This is because it affects us. I can tell you for free, that almost all the security services that operate here, the Lagos State government have made one intervention or another, including the prisons. Now, I tell you something, there is an on-going matter with the Ikoyi prison. There is an on-going discussion with the federal government to relocate the
prison possibly to Epe or some other locations. What we are going to agree with the federal government to get the design, build world class prison facility. In America and I believe some other places, they call prisons, correctional centres because you are supposed to correct the behavior of people that are sent to that prison, so that they can come out and become better people in the society. So, that’s one of the things we have to do.
One thing the governor has said is that he would intervene, even though it is federal government’s problem, so to speak, but we have no choice because it deals with issues in Lagos State. There is issue about infrastructure, hygiene, accommodation, so we have to take it in piece meal. I asked my S.A. on criminal prosecution to do a major report in conjunction with the Controller of Prison in Lagos State to identify a lot of those things. I know that when we start working in earnest this year we would begin to look at those things that would also address a lot of these congestion issues.
How are you handling some obsolete laws in the state including Lagos Tenancy Law?
The Lagos State Law Reform Commission, an agency charged with reforming our laws, last year, I believe, I’ve written to the agency, directing that they conduct an overhaul of that law. This is because as things continue to develop, laws must also develop on that side. Last year there was a stakeholders’ meeting, where different people were called and gave their input into that proposed law.
Next stage is for the draft law to be presented. When it comes to my office, we would take it to the Executive Council, which would approve it and pass it on to the House of Assembly, which as usual, would do a thorough job on that process. I can assure you, barring any eventuality we should get the new law this year.
Street trading and hawking now back on Lagos roads despite law barring street trading. How can this be addressed?
There is a law on street trading and hawking. This has to do with employment issues and general social issues that we must address. You will understand that I think about last year or the year before, His Excellency was worried about the environment, street robberies.
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