Stop jailing people over petty offence - Group tells FG, judiciary, others

Stop jailing people over petty offence - Group tells FG, judiciary, others

- The Federal Government has been urged to put an end to the criminalisation of petty offences in Nigeria

- A civil rights group called for alternatives punitive measures for petty offenders to be utilised by the judiciary

- According to the group, punitive measure like providing community service should be used to replace custodian measures for these type of offenders

A civil rights group has called on the Federal Government, the judiciary and the lawmakers to put an end to the criminalisation of petty offences in Nigeria.

At media capacity building workshop on penal reform which took place in Abuja, on Thursday, January 23, the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) called alternatives punitive measures for petty offenders should be utilised by the judiciary.

The event which was organised by PRAWA and its partner, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) outlined the need for the decriminalisation of petty offences in Nigeria.

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The legal dictionary defines a petty offence as a minor crime and for which the punishment is usually just a small fine or short term of imprisonment. a minor crime and for which the punishment is usually just a small fine or short term of imprisonment. They are also offences which are created from by-laws including urinating in public places, hawking washing clothes in public places.

Speaking at the event, PRAWA's deputy director, Ogechi Ogu, said most Nigerians arrested and tried for petty offence are the poor and minors.

Ogu said although the Nigerian government has abolished petty offences, it has failed to take time out to amend the laws in line with the abolishment in the criminal codes.

She called on the legislature to take away laws which target people within certain statuses in Nigeria.

Ogu said: "What we want from the legislature is for them to go back and look at our laws and their laws and take away laws that target particular sets of people within the society; laws that criminalise life-sustaining activities people especially the poor in the society."

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Further speaking, Ogu said it is important for the legislature to amend these laws by removing petty offences from the laws.

"But prior to achieving this, something must be done, so that justice should be done or seem to be done no matter your status in the society. "

"And that expectation is that the judiciary should utilise the platform that has been provided by both the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 and the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 to ensure that these people that are alleged to have committed petty offences are diverted and not taken into custodian centres," Ogu said.

Citing life examples, PRAWA's deputy director said there are situations where you go to the correctional facilities and find people who have been arrested for wandering or even hawking and have spend close to years in these places.

She said: "The danger in this is that when they are caught, they are detained and sometimes fined the amount of money they cannot even afford or fees that are way bigger than the ware they were hawking."

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"Sometimes, some of them remain in the correctional facilities because nobody comes for them and when they continue staying there, there is always that possibility of committing a larger crime by mixing with hardened criminals," she added.

She urged that alternative punishment measure be adopted by Nigeria's judiciary in handling or reeling out sentences to petty offenders in line with the provisions of ACJA, 2015.

"By that I mean, they are asked to do other things like providing community service, so that platform of non-custodian measures or alternatives to imprisonment should be utilised by the judiciary."

"Is there already in our laws, we should start utilising that to make sure that these people don't find themselves in correctional centres," she said.

Listing PRAWA's efforts, Ogu said the team have set a project in five states - Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Abia and Abuja in partnership with the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency, the Kano Hisbah Police, Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) among others to ensure that petty offenders are not jailed.

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She said PRAWA also provides pro-bono legal services to petty offenders who are tried in mobile courts across these states.

She said: "Every human being must be accorded his or her due respect and the opportunity for a fair trial within the provisions of the criminal justice system devoid of any form of torture, in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1 &5 and the Anti-Torture Act, 2017, which made it pure criminal issue if any government agency is involved in torture."

Meanwhile, previously reported that the Foundation for Peace Professionals also known as PeacePro, has called on the federal government of Nigeria to free all "unsentenced" prisoners in Nigeria.

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The organization stated that setting free suspects, who have been held in detention without justice, is far more honourable than keeping innocent people perpetually in prison.

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