Who Knows If There Is ACJA In Nigeria?

If an average Nigerian doesn’t know anything called ACJA or doesn’t know what it’s all about, such Nigerian may be excused. But how would you excuse a Nigerian police officer who is ignorant of this law? 

ACJA is the short form of “the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015”. 

It was signed into law by the immediate past president of our country, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, in May, 2015. The law came at a very crucial moment even in world history. It came at a time when the international community unanimously agreed that for all the countries of the world to achieve sustainable development, Law has a critical role to play. Therefore, when the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, was adopted in September, 2015, rule of law and access to justice takes the place of Goal 16 unlike the erstwhile Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which made no provision for law. ACJA is meant to achieve this purpose, that is, to ensure that human rights of suspects are respected and that criminal cases are decided expeditiously.

While it’s agreed that the ACJA does not only affect the Police, the fact is that about 40% (if not more) of what is in the law has to do with how the Nigeria Police perform their duties. Yet disappointingly, many police officers still go about their official duties as if no ACJA has been passed in Nigeria. Anyone who thinks this is not the case should pay a visit to a police station and will be faced with the stark reality of what I’m talking about.

From 2015 to 2030, every country of the world will be assessed based on how much of the seventeen goals that make up the SDGs it has achieved. In the area of law and justice, Nigeria has passed ACJA which aims to reform our administration of criminal justice system. No doubt, ACJA remains one of the best laws to be passed in Nigeria in recent times but passing a law is one thing, implementing it is another. Nigeria will not be adjudged as a country fulfilling its SDGs mandate, if it doesn’t move beyond the point of passing a good law like the ACJA. 

ACJA must be allowed to work! Therefore, no efforts must be spared to see that it’s implemented.

The Police remain the Number One law enforcement agent that Nigerians come across on a daily basis and a positive change in their attitude and performance of their duties will go a long way to shape how law enforcement agents are publicly perceived across board and how the rule of law and administration of justice generally improve in our country.

How does the ACJA affect the Police? 

This is an important question that must be answered as clearly as possible so as to enable every police officer understand his or her role very well under the law and also to enable the citizens know how to hold them (i.e. police officers) accountable in line with the standards set by the law and demand their rights appropriately.

In order to judge whether ACJA is working in Nigeria or not, the following are what the Police must be seeing to be doing:

1. When persons are arrested, they must be informed promptly the basis of the arrest – Sections 3 – 6 of the ACJA.

2. No person must be arrested in place of another person who cannot be found by the Police – Section 7 of the ACJA.

3. No person must be arrested by the Police in relation to a civil wrong (e.g. indebtedness) – Section 8 (2) of the ACJA.

4. When a suspect’s statement is to be taken at a police station, such suspect is entitled to enjoy the presence of a lawyer, or a Justice of the Peace, or an officer of the Legal Aid Scheme – Section 17 (2) of the ACJA.

5. Persons arrested without warrant for offences not punishable with death should be given bail, if it’s not practicable to bring them to court within 24 hours of arrest – Section 30 (1) of the ACJA.

6. Women should be allowed to stand as sureties, if they want to – Section 167 (3).

7. Police are to send case files to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation in situations where a magistrate court has no power to try an offence that has been brought before it – Section 376 (1) of the ACJA.

8. Every police station must keep a register of arrested persons – Section 29 (4).

9. Police are to submit monthly reports of persons arrested, with or without warrant, to the nearest magistrate – Section 33 (1) of the ACJA.

10. The process of recording a suspect’s statement must be concluded within 48 hours of arrest – Section 15 (2) of the ACJA.

11. Police officers who are not trained lawyers are barred from further prosecution of criminal cases before any court, whether magistrates or High Courts – Section 106 of the ACJA.

12. The Nigeria Police are mandated to create a Central Criminal Records Registry so as to keep record of all court decisions on criminal cases within 30 days when such judgments are delivered – Section 16 of the ACJA. 

It’s now more than two years that the ACJA came into force in Nigeria and therefore, it’s not out of place if all officers of the Nigeria Police have a copy of the law and are familiar with its provisions especially those that affect their official duties. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. Many officers, as said earlier, don’t even know the law exists.

While this write-up focuses on the Police for obvious reasons, in Part 2 of the article I’ll be discussing the roles of the courts under the ACJA and in subsequent parts, other actors too will be spotlighted.

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 Implementation of 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.