How Federal High Courts are Responsible for Prison Congestion in Nigeria

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Interrogating The Cumbersome Bail Process In The Federal High Court Of Nigeria

By: Douglas Ogbankwa Esq

The Federal High Court all around Nigeria plays a prominent role in the Justice Delivery System in Nigeria. It also occupies a premium place in the Administration of Criminal Justice. There is, however, a big snag in the Court System, which cuts across almost all divisions of the Court.

Firstly, the conditions for Bail imposed by Judges of the Federal High Court are mostly excessive. Why should almost every Defendant in the Court be asked to bring a Senior Civil Servant or a House Owner with a Certificate of Occupancy and sometimes both, when the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, places a premium on blood relatives to be Sureties to Defendants, who in the real sense are the ones that can secure the attendance of Defendants in Court?

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This encourages professional sureties and costs the Defendants so much, some of whom are even victims themselves and could even be innocent. Many people have been wallowing in jail because of this avoidable scenario. We call for a Change on all the issues highlighted above.

Another very curious procedure of the Court is to ask the Prosecution to verify the sureties. This is injustice, as it offends the Principle of Nemo Judex In Caus ua Sua: No Man shall be a Judge in his Own Cause.

Why should the person who was the investigator, arrester and a Party in a Matter be doing the job of the COURT? This situation defiles logic, common sense, and even the Law. It offends Section 36 of the Constitution.

We implore that the Court Registry should do Verifications of Sureties from now. If the registry is the repository of Court Records, why should they not verify sureties? The Court can also ask Lawyers for the accused to verify the Prosecution's witnesses.

The Bail Process is a Process of Court. This is even made worse as some Prosecuting Agencies frustrate the Process if a Defence Lawyer has been too assertive on the rights of the Defendant at their Station.

They now assume a godlike posture, which is deliberate, to keep the presumed innocent in prison. This is one of the reasons there is a large scale of Defendants undergoing trials and jumping bail, and the Federal High Court is the biggest culprit in the congestion of prisons in Nigeria.

When Bail is granted at the Federal High Court, that is where the nightmare of the Defendant commences.

A cumbersome nature of the verification of Sureties commences that sometimes takes weeks.
The Registry of the Court will write to the Employers of the Civil Servant or the Land Registry and will await a reply that takes days, and it goes on and on.

Some of the procedures are even unnecessary and unwieldy. The Defendant wallows in Prison now called, (now called Correctional Centre), and some have even died owing to the deplorable conditions there; which death would have been avoided if we had a system that works.

At the Edo State High Courts, for example, a Defendant who has been granted Bail could go home the same day because the Registry activates the process of verification immediately, go to the places of verification themselves and write a report there and then which is then attached to the File, after which the Defendant is released after the post verification process. All these usually take place in one day!

The Cumbersome Bail Process of the Federal High Court throws up a Constitutional Dilemma.
Whether the excessive Bail Conditions mostly imposed by Judges of the Federal High Court and the cumbersome process of processing same that keeps the Defendant, who is a Citizen of Nigeria, in Prison (now called Correctional Centre) avoidably, is not a violation of the Right to Liberty, Right to freedom of movement, right to freedom from torture and degradation and access to justice of Citizens of Nigeria as Guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999, (As Amended).

The Federal High Court is the major Court that interprets Fundamental Human rights in Nigeria. Its modus operandi should be seen to protect the Human Rights of Citizens of this Country.

Justice delayed is Justice denied, as Justice delayed is Justice turned upside down or put injustice.

We owe to generations yet unborn to make a change, which is a challenge to the adventurous and a threat to the obscure and insecure.

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