“Look over there,” he pointed at a tree behind the female cell, “under it lies hundreds of unfulfilled dreams,” one of the inmates told me. There’s nothing as painful as a man seeing his death but cannot help himself. I stirred at the sick inmates and was heartbroken that the same fate will meet them if we failed to intervene as quickly as we can.
As I battled to subject my emotion under control, behold the frail looking old man, 102, wobbling towards the clinic with the aid of his walking-stick. I would have evoked thunder if possible when told he’s standing trial for alleged kidnapping.
He was said to have refused to connive with his traditional ruler to pervert justice. In retribution, he was petitioned and accused as an accomplice in the alleged kidnapping of the said traditional ruler.
Then came the shocker of my life when I heard that a woman, 87, her daughter-in-law, an ADP staff, Mr Arua Agwu, 63, and 12 others have been in prison custody since 2009 (10-years) over the kidnap of the late madam, Oyidia Udensi, (Dubic’s mother).
I was startled because I followed this case then, in Lagos, until police claimed that the kidnap kingpin was apprehended and shot dead with the members of his gang. The woman, 87, is the mother of the killed kidnap kingpin and the other lady, his wife. The 13 others used as casemates had not met each other before. They are also standing trials for armed robbery and murder.
One interesting aspect is, a contracted witness comes to court in the company of the complainant to testify how he participated in her abduction and brutal murder with those standing trial. After the court proceeding, he is allowed to go home driven in the same car with the complainant while those arbitrarily apprehended in various locations in Abiriba are languishing in prison for a decade now.
It contradicts the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act of 2015. Its objectives are to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant, and the victim.
One aspect treated by the ACJA is the unlawful arrests and constitutional rights of a suspect. Section 10 (1) of the proscribed Criminal Punishment Act (CPA), gave police the right to arrest, without warrant, persons who cannot give a satisfactory account of themselves.
CPA also provided for the indiscriminate arrest of persons in beer joints, the use of a commercial vehicle to arrest people walking on the road and arrest of relations, friends or close associate of a crime suspect. Administration of Criminal Justice Act prohibits these provisions. Police have no such right any longer.
Section 7 of ACJA prohibits arrest in lieu. It also protects the constitutional rights of an arrested person. For instance, Section 6 provides that a suspect shall be informed of the reason for the arrest and also places a duty on the police officer to notify the suspect of his right to remain silent until his/her lawyer comes.
ACJA, states that a suspect should be arraigned within a reasonable time and released on bail conditionally or unconditionally. It also provides for the humane treatment of the arrested person, that is, the right of the arrested person to the dignity of his person.
ACJA provides that a suspect shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract, thus preventing a situation whereby complainants use law enforcement agencies as a tool to recover debts or enforce contractual agreements.
Now, considering these, how can the police, the DPP and Abia State attorney general, Umeh Kalu SAN, explain the fact that a certain Nkwachukwu and co have spent 15-years (since 2004) awaiting trials for alleged murder?
Why are the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act set aside in Abia State in favour of the proscribed Criminal Punishment Act? Why do suspects spend decades awaiting trials in prison? What happens to these people if at last they are found not guilty, acquitted and discharged?
To be continued…