Nigeria’s Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 – What Is It And How Can We Make It Work For Us As Citizens?

The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 was enacted by the Nigerian government for the benefits of all Nigerians. It was introduced to make our criminal justice system work better and faster, removing all the delays in the trial of criminal cases. Gone are the days when a criminal case would go on for years in court. For instance, it took the Lagos State Government 15 years to conclude the trial of Major Al-Mustapha, the former Chief Security Officer to the late Nigerian ruler, General Abacha, for the murder of Kudirat Abiola. 

It is generally acceptable that justice delayed is justice denied. What makes Major Al-Mustapha case noteworthy is that the court process was grossly abused. That is, the proceeding was deliberately but unnecessarily prolonged with the intention to frustrate the prosecution of the case. It is common knowledge that the rich and powerful are known to have used delay tactics to evade justice – much to the annoyance of good citizens. Well, ACJA was enacted to make abuse of our criminal justice system a thing of the past.

ACJA aims to facilitate efficient and effective administration of criminal justice in the country by preventing police rights abuse and brutalities against citizens. Unlike the old days, ACJA also aims to ensure that while those who commit serious crime are sent to prison, less serious offenders are not put behind bars to clog up the prison system when can be better rehabilitated within the society. For these and other reasons that I’ll state later in this article, it is in our best interest to adequately understand and take steps that promote ACJA rather than entrusting it only to the police and the lawyers.       

Yes, it is known that it is for the law-makers to make laws, the police and other law enforcement agents to implement the laws, and the lawyers to see to it that the law enforcement agents operate within the ambits of law. As citizens, whose rights the law aims to protect, it is our responsibility to ensure that all those who work within our criminal justice system perform their roles in accordance with ACJA. In doing so, we are participating in transforming our country into a just, fair and better place.  

Civil societies that campaign for fair justice and fundamental rights protection also have a role to play in promoting ACJA and facilitating its effective implementation by those empowered to do so. To this end, CLEEN Foundation, a reputable Nigerian non-governmental organisation, inaugurated, on the 10th August 2017 at Abuja (Nigeria), a ten-member Civil Society Observatory Group on the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria. The Group’s objectives are to monitor whether all public authorities that constitute ‘Nigerian Criminal Justice System’ are conducting their duties in accordance with ACJA and to report identified breaches of this law by the police, judiciary, the prisons and ministries of justice. The Group also has to observe and report what constitutes challenges and obstacles to the effective implementation of the law.

Basically, the law introduces a lot of innovative provisions. Under the old laws, that is, the Criminal Procedure Act and Criminal Procedure Code, a criminal case may go on in court till ‘thy kingdom come’ before it gets concluded on account of endless and frivolous adjournments. Under ACJA, a court now has to hear a criminal case on a day-to-day basis and can only give a maximum of five adjournments while such a case lasts. Again, the law aims to put a stop to a practice, commonly seen among the law enforcement agents in Nigeria, of arresting an innocent family member in lieu of a suspect who cannot be found. Every citizen who is asked by the police to make a statement at a police station now has the right to enjoy the presence of his or her lawyer while doing so.

These are just a tip of the goodies offered by ACJA. The point being made here is that nobody can afford to neglect this very important legislation. As a matter of fact, it's in the interest of all Nigerians to get familiar with its provisions.

The question at this point is – how can we, as citizens, make this law work?

Please, note the points highlighted below and make a commitment to any or some of them and you'll realise how kind you're to yourself and the society.

1. Get a copy of the Act from a bookshop or download it for free online.

2. Identify and get familiar with ACJA provisions that set out  your rights and criminal justice processes and procedures.

3.  If you are private a citizen, assert those rights responsibly should event/circumstances require you to do so.

4. If you are a law enforcement agent, prosecutor, adjudicator, defence lawyer, prison official, court staff, civil society player, and others, make sure you are familiar with the provision of the law that governs your authority and conduct your duty in accordance with the law.

5. Tell others about this law.

6. Join other voices to call for the adoption of ACJA (the Act) in your state, if your state has not already done so. Only about 15 states have Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) in Nigeria today.

7. Try to understand that this law is meant to make our society crime-free by bringing perpetrators of crimes to justice in accordance with the due process of law and also to eradicate delay usually experienced in our criminal justice system.

8. Note that even though ACJA is only applicable in federal courts and FCT, Abuja, it's binding on all federal institutions such as the police force. 

9. Don't encourage any breach of this law or cover up anyone who does otherwise.

10. Realise that a commitment on your part to make this law work is a commitment to make Nigeria better.

Nigeria is not a country bereft of good laws but implementation is often the problem. ACJA is another promising piece of legislation; let's collectively pledge to make it work.

Thanks for reading!

Written by Kehinde Adegbite Esq.

Kehinde Adegbite Esq is a private legal practitioner based in Ibadan and a member of the Civil Society Observatory Group on the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria.

In case you have any report or experience you wish to share in relation to the implementation of ACJA, contact Kehinde on +234803-855-6525 or Blessing Abiri (CLEEN Foundation) on +234803-346-3309.