Top federal government officials and other stakeholders have called for the repositioning of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) for Nigerians to have easy access to justice.
Among them are the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), the inspector-general of police (IGP), Mr. Kayode Egbetokun, chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Solomon Arase, director-general of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Aliyu Abubakar, and project manager, Criminal Justice Reform, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC Phase II) Programme, Dr. Oluwatoyin Badejogbin among others.
They spoke at a stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja to commemorate the International Human Rights Day where they called for renewed understanding among police officers on how the PDSS supports the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) from investigation to court appearance.
The event marked the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2023, which was organised by the European Union-funded Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme (RoLAC II) of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in collaboration with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON), the NPF, Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Rights Enforcement and Public Law Centre (REPLACE).
Fagbemi, who was represented by the director of Solicitor Department, Federal Ministry of Justice, Gladys Odigbaro, said the enforcement of Force Order 20 and other relevant provisions of Administration and Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) are commendable milestones in the concerted efforts to address the crisis of arbitrary, irrational and interminable pretrial (awaiting trial) detentions in the country.
The minister said the scheme also comes with the advantage of preventing undue congestion of inmates in correctional facilities with the consequential benefit of saving the government the resources required to maintain a large population of inmates or detainees.
On his part, Egbetokun, who was represented by AIG Shehu Gwarzo, said the PDDS, as captured by Force Order 20, aims to contribute to the realisation of the ongoing reform programme of his administration.
He said, “Force Order 20 addresses ‘free legal services for arrested and/or detained persons in police formations’ and institutes the PDSS as a country-wide mechanism for its delivery.
“It expands the provision of legal services in police stations by ensuring prompt access to duty solicitors for suspects. It implements the constitutional promise of access to counsel in police stations in Nigeria.”
In his keynote address, Arase said the introduction of the PDSS, in response to the imperative outlined in ACJA, was a watershed moment in our commitment to safeguarding the rights of individuals in police custody.
He called for a more comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses systemic issues within the country’s criminal justice system.
He said, “Historically, detainees faced prolonged periods in police facilities without access to legal representation, leading to routine violations of their rights. The PDSS, driven by a commitment to justice, has become a mechanism through which lawyers provide free legal services to detainees across Nigeria, ensuring that their rights are not only protected on paper but upheld in practice.
“While the success of the PDSS is evident in specific regions, there is a need for widespread replication and adoption. The lessons learned in Anambra, Edo, FCT, and Lagos should serve as a blueprint for other states, fostering a culture of legal responsibility and collaboration that transcends regional boundaries,” Arase said.
Abubakar (DG of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria) highlighted the benefits of the scheme to include: fostering community policing and strengthening service delivery by the police; increased protection and promotion of the legal and human rights of suspects and detainees; improved accountability and transparency in the Police Force; and access to justice for the poor; vulnerable and marginalized persons; among others. He called for cooperation from the police hierarchy ahead of rolling out of the Scheme nationwide.
Police spokespersons from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were among the participants at the event.
The event marks the conclusion of a series of activities contributing to the global effort to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) 2023, an annual international campaign launched on November 25, aimed at amplifying advocacy against all forms of violence, discrimination, and human rights abuses, particularly sexual violence against women and girls.