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APPRAISING REFORMS IN THE LAGOS’ JUSTICE SECTOR

Tayo Ogunbiyi  

For any government to achieve a safer, secured, nonviolent and more prosperous society, a functioning justice sector that guarantees human rights and freedom, protects investments and encourages economic development is a necessity.

In view of this reality, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, under the watch of the current Attorney General and Honourable Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Kazeem Adeniji, SAN, has embarked on significant reforms that have greatly helped in enhancing the administration of justice in the state. One of such is the establishment of Mobile Courts through which quick dispensation of justice is being ensured. The courts summarily try traffic as well as environmental offenders and mete out immediate punishments to those convicted. This has helped in decongesting the courts, thereby reducing occurrence of indecisive cases.

Also, an online platform where the Laws of the State could be easily accessed was created. Investors and prospective investors have tremendously benefitted from this as it enables them to make informed decisions about investing in the State. Aside this, it has also helped them to appreciate the various legal protections available for their persons and investment. This is particularly a reflection of a strong desire to drive the administration of justice through innovation and technology.

As part of the drive to embrace technology in combating criminal tendencies in the State, a Crime Data Register (CDR) was created. CDR is an electronic repository of information about suspects and offenders who pass through any of the prisons in Lagos State.  It 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.

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 has been enforcing 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.

Similarly, in line with the commitment of the state government to provide adequate support to the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) on its mission to ensure that tax payers comply with tax laws and ensure full tax compliance through prosecution of defaulters, the Rapid Tax Prosecution Unit was set up at the Ministry of justice. This has ensured some level of compliance with tax defaulters approaching LIRS to offset their outstanding tax liabilities.

In an effort to eliminate cases where criminals escape justice due to non-availability of facilities to conduct necessary forensic tests and keeps records of evidences. The state government inaugurated the Lagos State DNA& Forensic Centre which has aided and assisted law enforcement in the investigation of crimes. The Center has equally helped in training security agencies on methods to secure the crime scene; document same with photography, video and diagrams to ensure the appropriate collection, identification, handling and packaging of forensic evidence. It is important to mention that in the first six months of operation, the LSD&FC received over 350 applications covering different cases and has resolved over 50 of such cases as at December 2018.

Other laudable reforms in the state justice sector include the establishment of a Sexual Offences and Child Justice at the State’s Ministry of Justice to monitor the prosecution of Sexual Offences in the State, the introduction of Lagos State Real Estate Litigation Electronic System, the promulgation of new laws such as the Anti-Kidnapping Law, the Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion Law, Lagos State Electric Power Reform Law, among others.

While the state has not really reached Eldorado in terms of adherence to law and order, it is, however, crucial to stress that much has been done to accelerate the dispensation of justice. Perhaps, a major reason why the Lagos success story has not been told from the justice sector’s perspective is because, in our clime, the yardstick for measuring government’s achievements is largely based on physical development

Ironically, the actual engine that oils the wheel of socio-economic development and growth in the State is at the Ministry of Justice. People pay tax, which is the golden key to economic development; because the law demands they do so. Equally, physical and social infrastructure development, environment, health, business investment, education and tourism development all have a significant input from the justice sector. Herein lies the significance of far reaching reforms in the state judicial sector.

Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.

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