PROCEEDINGS OF WORKSHOP FACILITATED BY THE EXECUTIVE-DIRECTOR OF PRISONERS’ RIGHTS ADVOCACY INITIATIVE, AHMED ADETOLA-KAZEEM AT THE 2ND COURT CENTERED DUTY SOLICITORS TRAINING WORKSHOP

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]INTRODUCTION

Lawyers across Nigeria with interest in Court Duty Solicitors Scheme had an enlightening and interactive workshop with Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem on Justice for Awaiting Trial Inmates on the 7th of May 2020 via Court Centered Probono Whatsapp Platform.

Court Duty Solicitors are Probono Lawyers working to decongest the Court and Prisons through a court centered mechanism.

So instead of going to the correctional facilities, duty solicitors simply sit in their designated courts and appear for inmates who do not have legal representation.

Bayo Akinlade:  Give us a brief overview about PRAI

Adetola-Kazeem: Thank you very much Mr Akinlade for the invite. I will be sharing my experience and also hope to learn from this esteemed group.

Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI) was registered in 2012 to contribute its quota towards ensuring true reforms of the Criminal Justice Administration in Nigeria and also ensuring Nigeria’s Correctional Centres (Formerly Prisons) are truly reformatory. PRAI uses Advocacy, Legal Defence, Reformation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration as the tools to achieving its aims

PRAI has secured the release of over 250 inmates with more than 1000 inmates benefitting from its vocational skills training and educational interventions over the years. About 20 ex-inmates have been successfully integrated into the society through provision of Jobs, Equipment and Funds to start businesses by PRAI.

PRAI’s major focus areas at the moment is ensuring that the provisions of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act (NCSA) 2019 are given full effect to in order to combat the endemic overcrowding in our Custodial Centres as well as the inhumane treatment of inmates. PRAI recently sued the Federal Government and other stakeholders in the Criminal Justice Sector, on behalf of inmates of Ikoyi Custodial Centre at the Federal High Court in order for the court to make pronouncement on the innovative provisions of section 12 of the NSCA 2019. We are awaiting Judgment in the matter which is before Honourable Justice Liman.

Bayo Akinlade: How do we effectively fight for the rights of awaiting trial inmates

Adetola-Kazeem: We must first understand that the rights is beyond Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATIs), Convicts also have rights that should be protected. That said, we can only fight for the rights of ATIs if we know what their rights entails and the ramifications.

We can fight for the rights of ATIs through the following ways:

  1. KNOWLEDGE OF RELEVANT LAWS:

The first thing is to know the relevant provisions of the Constitution; the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules,2009; Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015; the ACJ Laws of relevant States; and the Nigeria Correctional Service Act 2019. This will open your eyes to different approaches for your interventions.

Familiarize yourself with substantive laws such as the Criminal Code Act, Criminal Code Law of the relevant state, the EFCC Act etc. to know what offence your client has been charged with, sometimes they would have spent more than the time required under the law awaiting trial. I have successfully used this on at least four different occasions.

  1. WEIGH YOUR APPROACH

Secondly, weigh your approach. It is not everytime you rush to court, sometimes a simple letter to the appropriate authorities could get you what you want. I have used this approach severally which have ensured the release of hundreds of inmates during the tenure of Mr. Ade Ipaye as AG of Lagos.

At PRAI we have used Fundamental Rights; Habeas Corpus; Letter; Class Actions; Media Advocacy; and Trial successfully in the interest of Awaiting Trial Inmates.

  1. GET THE BUY-IN OF STAKEHOLDERS

Make friends with Journalist and Bloggers. They will ensure your interventions get faster attention. This helped me a lot as a new wig to gain traction and still helps me at the moment. But let it be a relationship of value. I have added value to all the Journalists that I have worked with by consciously working with them to write award winning stories from the work I do.

In 2012 a journalist with Punch Newspapers did a beautiful story titled “One day in Court, Life In Jail” , the story chronicles the misery of ATIs using my first 3 Fundamental Rights cases against the Police and Lagos State as case studies. The story won him his very first award at the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME). He also won the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) the next year for a story on underage children sent to prison by Special offences Court, which was then in Alausa. The story was titled “Court where Alleged offenders are rushed to Jail”.

Last year alone two Journalists from Punch and the Nation Newspaper won Awards at the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and the DAME Awards respectively- I practically forced them to do the stories. PRAI also gave them Plaques in recognition of their support early this year.

Apply this to other stakeholders too. Have friends in the Police, Ministry of Justice, Courts, the Nigeria Correctional Service etc. This will ensure you are able to navigate the system easily and it will assist you achieve results faster. In all these do not compromise your integrity. You might want no read about Social Intelligence to understand the point I am trying to make here.

The list in endless but is suffices to stop here for now

Bayo Akinlade: How do we help resolve the issues around prison congestion?

Adetola-Kazeem: We can help by volunteering with NGOs and Initiatives like the Lagos Public Interest Law Partnership (LPILP) and the Court Duty Solicitor Scheme of the NBA to offer Pro Bono Services to Inmates.

We should also keep creating awareness about their issues, it helps a lot.

We can raise funds or donate to NGOs in the frontline of the defence of awaiting trial inmates.

Bayo Akinlade: What is our specific role as legal practitioners in ensuring that the wrong people are not remanded in prison custody.

Adetola-Kazeem: Our role is to keep mounting pressure on the government as individuals and in groups such as NBA and coalition of CSOs to reform the Police. We can’t curb the problem or arbitrary remand without curbing arbitrary arrests. The Police needs total overhauling in terms of discipline, remuneration, coordination and mindset shift.

 

I think the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme and the innovation by the Ministry of Justice to place staff in court to properly vet charges in court at the point of entry into the court is a welcomed idea that will stem the tide of imprisoning those who have no business there.

QUESTIONS FROM PARTICIPANTS

Questioner: It does seem that PRAI is only available in Lagos state, is this correct? If yes, are there plans of expanding to the South-East soon?

Adetola-Kazeem: PRAI activities cuts across, Lagos, Ogun, Kwara and Kaduna States at the moment

You can join the Network of ProBono Lawyers which I co-founded via https://netprolaw.com/. We have presence in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Benue and Abia states.

Questioner:  Is there limit to the extent of court for pro bono services e.g Magistrate and or High court; or it could go as far as Supreme Court?

Adetola-Kazeem: Pro Bono Services could go as far as the Supreme Court, you can act for clients at the regional courts like the ECOWAS Court etc

Questioner: How can you engage Lawyers in states where Court Duty Solicitors Scheme (CDSS) has not been introduced?

Adetola-Kazeem: Lawyers in states where there is no CDSS should volunteer for NGOs in those state or take cases on their own and eventually register their NGOs to scale. This was the way I started.

Questioner:  My question bothers on pro-bono issue, I am in NBA Ikorodu Branch Pro-bono Committee, please can I really and truly survive the rigour of moving out of jurisdiction on pro-bono matters as a Young Lawyer still struggling for survival, how do I cope, since all the expenses are all on me, where is the encouragement.

Adetola-Kazeem: Everyone should know his or her limits, do only what your finances and time can allow. You could mess up your client and yourself if you bite more than you can chew.

Questioner: Lawyers that are paid abandon their criminal matters and pro bono lawyers are forced to take it up.

Adetola-Kazeem: That is professional misconduct. I think the NBA should take it up against such lawyers to set examples.

Questioner:

The part that resonates with me is the Prison Vocational/ Entrepreneurial/Educational Empowerment.

  1. How do you go about this?
  2. Is the education like distant-learning? Are they attached to any school within the jurisdiction?
  3. What steps do your organization take to reintegrate them into society.
  4. Are they provided with tools of trade upon release?(in the cases of vocational Empowerment)
  5. Who teaches them these vocations?
  6. Who are the recipients of the vocational Empowerment? I mean do you concentrate more on those who have 6 months or less to stay?
  7. Do you have a kind of mentorship program among inmates where inmates with some kind of skills can teach others interested in learning? Like Prison Apprenticeship Program, which could sow seeds of leadership in their minds.

 

ADETOLA-KAZEEM:

  1. How do you go about this?

*You need proper planning, permission from those in charge of the facility, your team and financial resources to carry out the activities. At PRAI, we make use of volunteer teachers and we pay them stipends for transportation to ensure consistency. We established the first school at the Ijebu-Ode Custodial Centre and provided the furniture and stationary for takeoff.

We currently run the Career, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Character Training (C-LECT) at Juvenile Correctional Centres in Lagos, we shall be expanding to other states after COVID-19 by God’s grace.

  1. Is the education like distant-learning? Are they attached to any school within the jurisdiction?

The tertiary education is distant-learning. Inmates attend the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) many have bagged Degrees, Masters and we have the first set of PhD students.

For Primary and Secondary, they have schools established for this in the facilities. The Primary Schools are ran as adult literacy classes.

  1. What steps do your organization take to reintegrate them into society?

We only deal with those we have known while they were in custody, either those we represented or those who took part in any of our trainings. When they are released we either raise funds to set up their desired business or we get them a job. In the past 3 years about 15 inmates have benefited from our interventions.

 

We also provide psychosocial support to help them stabilize. Last year we organized a post-prison assessment programme which had about 20 ex-inmates in attendance.

  1. Are they provided with tools of trade upon release?(in the cases of vocational Empowerment)

The Nigeria Correctional Service has an Aftercare department that provides this, but only ex-convicts are catered for, unfortunately this intervention is not regular. PRAI tries to fill the gap by supporting ATIs, we have supported about two ex-convicts in this regard. Some of the participants were provided with tool.

  1. Who teaches them these vocations?

The Correctional Service Officers, Inmates and Volunteers from various organizations.

  1. Who are the recipients of the vocational Empowerment? I mean do you concentrate more on those who have 6 months or less to stay?

In 2018 we organized a Pre-release assessment programme and our focus was on inmates due for release in the next succeeding three months. We were able to capture and support some of them.

  1. Do you have a kind of mentorship program among inmates where inmates with some kind of skills can teach others interested in learning? Like Prison Apprenticeship Program, which could sow seeds of leadership in their minds.

Yes, that is the standard in the Prison workshops. They have a skilled staff who is the overall head, and they have Inmates who form the bulk of those impacting the skills on apprentice inmates.

 

_ END _

 

To know about what we do at PRAI visit:

www.prai.org.ng

Facebook: @PRAInitiative

Twitter: @PRAInigeria

Instagram: @PRAInigeria[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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