The Attorney General and Solicitor General of Lagos state, Moyosore Onigbanjo, on Thursday, led a high-powered team from the Ministry of Justice to the Maximum Correctional Centre at Kirikiri for a Plea and sentence bargain session.
The initiative described as a milestone in the administration of criminal justice in Lagos is a welcome alternative to long court trials and will ultimately decongest correctional centres in the state.
With crime one of the major challenges facing a cosmopolitan state as Lagos, curbing the menace through the existing law enforcement and criminal justice mechanisms, has led to the five correctional centres in Lagos, now in dire need of decongestion.
The Kirikiri maximum correctional centre, where this initiative took off, has a capacity of 1076 inmates, but now accomodates 1,830 persons.
16 males and 11 females are the beneficiaries of this plea bargaining session at the KiriKiri facility. With advice from their counsel, they own up to their crimes, plead guilty to a lesser criminal charge, the government then drafts up an agreement which is signed by all and presented to the judges who joined the proceedings virtually and if it meets the justice of the case, the agreement is adopted as a court judgment.
According to the Commissioner of Justice and Attorney-General of the state, Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, the process which is in collaboration with the Lagos State Command of the National Correctional Centre, the State Judiciary and the Nigerian Police Force will assist in efforts geared towards reducing the population of inmates awaiting trials in Correctional facilities in the State.
He noted that the Plea Bargain option is not a ploy to compel inmates to plead guilty to lesser Charges. He added that the severity of the offence, length of sentences and adoption by the Judge are major determinants in a Plea Bargain process.
The Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Titilayo Shitta-Bey also explained that the initiative is in compliance with the Lagos State Justice Law of 2015 and a testament to the State Government’s commitment to a robust Administration of Criminal Justice in the State.
“We are here to correct the impression, that Plea Bargain is for the rich alone. It is for everyone whether they are literate or illiterate, rich or poor,” She said.
The Controller of Lagos State Command, Nigeria Correctional Centre, Adewale Adebisi said, inmate congestion is the major challenge in all Correctional facilities in the state. According to him; the Centres are struggling to cope with the congestion caused by 6,000 inmates standing trials, some of whom have been in custody for 10 to 12 years without trial or conviction.
He urged inmates who have been standing trial for a long time to consider the Plea Bargain option.
At the hearing, Justice Sedotan Ogunsanya sentenced one Opeyemi Adejuyigbe to seven years’ imprisonment following his guilty plea to illegal possession of firearms.
His sentence would take effect from 2015, the date he has been in detention.
Another inmate, Hamzat Moruf who also pleaded guilty to defiling a minor in 2013 also entered into a similar agreement and was sentenced to 21 years, in which the time he has already spent in custody will be deducted.
The Legal Aid Council also partnered in the project, while members of the Nigerian Bar Association, as well as the International Federation of Women Lawyers and the African Women Lawyers Association other bodies were on the ground to offer free services.
Advocates believe the plea bargain initiative will not only decongest the facilities but the case dockets of judges and save the time of the courts. Also the inmates or students as they are called get a chance to be free again and live reformed lives.