BY BODE GBADEBO, Abuja
A civil society organisation, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) Nigeria, has revealed that no fewer than 7,996 persons were prosecuted by various Mobile Courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja within two months during the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
LEADERSHIP reports that the mobile courts were inaugurated by the Chief Judge of the FCT, Justice Ishaq Bello, in April, 2020.
Programme Manager, NULAI Nigeria, Mr Mahmud Yusuf, made the revelation on Tuesday at a media launch/presentation of study on COVID-19 pandemic held in Abuja.
The report of the study focused on “Human Rights And Access to Justice in Nigeria.”
LEADERSHIP also reports that the COVID-19 study was conceptualised by Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), in partnership with NULAI Nigeria to research and reflect on the impact of the pandemic on criminal justice system.
According to Yusuf, the data collected by NULAI Nigeria in the FCT covering the period of April 23 to June 1 shows that there are 216 mobile court sittings with 7996 persons prosecuted.
“Out of these number, 2593 were discharged, 544 were acquitted, 37 were transferred and 5284 were sentenced.”
He said that to facilitate the protection of human rights and access to justice, the organisation supported FCT residents brought before the courts with legal services.
Yusuf said that NULAI Nigeria provided pro bono legal presentation at the 13 mobile courts locations for defendants unable to afford legal representation.
“Pro bono lawyers provided legal representation for 2,119 defendants consisting of 27 per cent of those prosecuted before the mobile courts. Called for review of the state of COVID-19 pandemic preparedness by all sectors to check the abuse of power of recorded at the onset of the pandemic.”
He further said that the research set out to review what the Quarantine Act and attendant regulations have taught the society in the promotion and sustenance of rule of law, human rights and public health.
“The enforcement of COVID-19 lock-down regulations and other measures enacted had a considerable impact on the rate of human rights violation across the federation.”
He further said that the study revealed that the discretionary powers vested in the President and Governors by the Quarantine Act to make emergency regulations for the safety and protections of citizens in cases of infectious and or contagious diseases resulted in the arbitrary abuse of these powers.
According to Yusuf, the group recommends greater attention to be given to educate or sensitise members of the public on public health guidelines.
Chief Judge of the FCT, Justice Ishaq Bello said that the purpose of the mobile courts was to ensure and deal with clients based on the Quarantine Act that had been adopted by the government.
Bello who was represented by Deputy Chief Registrar, Magistrates, Sharon Ishaya, said that the courts were set up to have a sense of protection for the citizenry in terms of maintaining justice, law and order in the society.
While commending NULAI Nigeria on the project, Bello said that the collation of data was important because it helped in understanding what had been done.
“It helps us to understand what we have done right, what we need to improve, and that is what this data has actually done for us within the FCT Judiciary.
“We will look at it and we will look at those issues we need to adequately improve, we cannot over emphasise the importance of data,” he said.
Other agencies who attended the launch included the Nigeria Correctional Service, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), among others.