A non-governmental organization, Good Leadership and Peace Advocates of Nigeria (GOLEPAN) has blamed the Federal Government and the Nigeria Police Force for prison congestion across the country.
GOLEPAN noted that the inability of the Nigeria Police to exercise discretion as to which case should be charged to court and limited sponsorship of Pro Bono lawyers by the Federal government were some of the factors responsible for Prisons congestion in the country.
While decrying the low access to justice in Nigeria especially among the indigent citizens, the NGO added that most prison inmates are individuals who cannot afford legal fees and representation in court.
Barr. Adaeze Nwaji, the founder of the group and Principal partner of ZEADA Attorneys, who expressed concerns over the situation said justice in Nigeria is now basically reserved for the rich.
Speaking at a workshop on pro bono legal service delivery organized by Ebonyi State University Law Clinic in partnership with GOLEPAN, ZEADA Attorneys and Lead Trust as well as Network of University Legal Aid Institutions. With the theme: “the role of pro bono Lawyers in our criminal legal system, legal aid council guidelines for pro bono lawyers professional ethics and skills needed for effective pro bono service delivery”, Barr. Nwaji advocated for funding of pro bono lawyers to offer legal services to indigent citizens.
According to her, due to limited lawyers willing to undertake pro bono services for indigent citizens, the issue of congestion in Nigeria prisons has continued to persist.
She, however, noted that the police have a big role to play in prisons decongestion by exercising its discretion in determining whether a case is serious for prosecution or not.
“ But there supposed to be legal aids from the ministry of Justice for the indigents citizens. Regrettably, to get Justice in Nigeria, you must have money to get lawyers to represent you which supposed not to be so. Nigeria Police said bail is free but is never free.
“Some of these inmates have been there for years and they have not been tried. And because we have limited lawyers that are ready to represent these people they are not getting representation; because they don’t have money,” she lamented.