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PROGRESSIVE TREND IN LAGOS’ JUSTICE SECTOR

Kayode Oyekanmi

Lagos State is widely renowned in the country as a pace setting state, always coming up with breathtaking innovative concepts and reforms that have transformed governance into an art. One sector that has tremendously benefitted from the novel and creative approach to governance in the state is administration of justice. From 1999, when the current democratic dispensation evolved, administration of justice in Lagos has undergone progressive and significant transformation.

It is in an attempt to further consolidate on successes recorded so far in the sector that the Ambode administration recently held a two-day stakeholder’s summit with the theme: “Contemporary Trends: Catalysts for Justice Sector Reform in Lagos State.”

At the event, in which the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was the Guest Speaker, it was generally established that the administrators of the nation’s justice system must begin to critically look into the damage being done to the economy by undue delay of justice. This is in view of the fact that effective judicial system is critical to economic growth and development of any nation. According to Osinbajo, who was the key speaker at the event, adjournment of cases has become a major challenge that must be jointly tackled by stakeholders in the justice sector.

The Vice President, who was represented by Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice,  challenged the actors in the system to embrace day-to-day   trials and to place heavy sanctions on person(s) who deliberately drag down the wheel of justice. Osinbajo said it was also important for the judiciary to introduce significant costs for delay occasioned, especially by lateness, ill-preparedness or deliberate tactics.

On his part, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode affirmed that for any nation to experience economic growth, it must first and foremost have a functional judicial system that would not only encourage local and foreign investors to invest in, but also guarantee conducive environment for such businesses to thrive. Ambode said experience over the years has shown that societies with equal and unhindered access to justice have a better environment for economic growth and poverty alleviation than those that do not. This, he said, prompted his administration to prioritise justice and security reforms, not only to maintain law and order, but basically to carry out the various developmental projects that would make Lagos safer and more prosperous.

Without a doubt, the administration of justice is a vital component in a virile democracy.  For any government to achieve socio-economic goals of a safer, secured, nonviolent and more prosperous society, a functioning justice sector that guarantees not only the maintenance of law and order, the enforcement of human rights and freedom, protects investments and encourages economic development, is a necessity.

This explains why the Ambode administration has continued to embark on decisive reforms in the sector.  The establishment of mobile courts is one of the novel means through which the Ambode administration hopes to ensure quick dispensation of justice in the state. The courts were inaugurated to summarily try traffic as well as environmental offenders and mete out immediate punishments to those convicted. This is also a way to decongest the courts and not add to inconclusive cases that have been in courts for years.

Also, the state government has created an online platform where the Laws of Lagos State could be easily accessed. This will be of a great service and benefit to investors and would-be investors in the State. Not only will such a platform enable investors to make informed decisions about investing in the State, but it will also help them to appreciate the various legal protections available for their persons and investment. This is particularly a reflection of the commitment of the Honourable Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, to drive the administration of justice in the state through innovation and technology.

Having the Lagos State Laws accessible online presents everyone access to search, view and download the Laws anywhere in the world by just the click of a button. The online platform is set to fulfil the obligation of the State Government to create easy access to the Laws, thereby promoting accountability and responsibility, and to enable investors to make informed decisions about their investments in the State.

As part of commitment to use technology to combat criminal tendencies, the state government now has a Crime Data Register (CDR).CDR is an electronic repository of information about suspects and offenders who pass through any of the prisons in Lagos State. The CDR involves the participation of Stakeholders in the criminal justice process, namely; the Lagos State Judiciary, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, the Lagos State Command of the Nigeria Police and the Lagos State Command of the Nigeria Prison Service. Any convicted offender in the State will thus have his/her details electronically registered. We are strengthening this initiative and we will reveal the capabilities of this powerful tool for fighting and analyzing crime.

Furthermore, the inauguration of the Lagos State Law Reform Commission is a major step towards deepening democracy and the Rule of Law in the state as well as the country. This Commission has the statutory mandate to facilitate the process of reviewing our laws with a view to making appropriate recommendations for the repeal or amendment of such laws or provisions that have become obsolete and bring them in tune with current realities.

Similarly, the state’s Anti Land Grabbing Law reflects the thinking of the state government in using the instrumentality of the law to reduce the stress that Lagos residents pass through in the hand of land speculators. Interestingly, the state government is poised to enforce the anti-land grabbing law against anyone found wanting, no matter how highly placed in the society. This, no doubt, is good for the society.

In spite of the success of reforms introduced in the justice sector thus far, the state government is not in any way resting on its oars. There is already an advance plan to establish a DNA forensic centre, which will be the first of its kind in the country and will be located in a public health facility on Lagos Island, has been unveiled. The centre, which is to address the urbane nature of crimes in the state is equally meant to fulfil an unmet need for DNA profiling, a forensic technique that is now used worldwide.

A democracy cannot thrive without an excellent judicial system. To guarantee freedom, which is the trademark of democracy, the existence of a free and fair judiciary is a must. This is why the Lagos state government must be commended for its various reforms in the justice sector.

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