By Bukar Bolori
Lagos State, the Centre of Excellence may put in place structures to work against the decriminalization of petty offences as the State House of Assembly has assured of legislative supports in the pilot implementation of the scheme.
A statement on Thursday by the Deputy Director Pubic Affairs of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mrs. Fatimah Mohammed said the Lagos State House of Assembly has assured of legislative support in the pilot implementation of decriminalization of petty offences project in the state.
She said the Assembly’s assurance was communicated through the Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly’s committee on judiciary, human rights and public petition, Mr Victor Akande.
Akande while given the assurance in his goodwill message at the consultative workshop on development of action plan for decriminalization of petty offences in South-West pilot States (Lagos and Oyo) which was held in Ikeja, Lagos. said petty offences do not constitute a threat to the safety of the public, law and order in the state.
The two-day workshop was organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), with support from the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI).
Participants were drawn from various Agencies such as NHRC, Ministry of Justice in Lagos and Oyo, Houses of Assembly in Lagos and Oyo, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Correctional Services, Legal Aid Council as well as Civil Society Organisations.
Speaking on the theme, Akande said that the decision to develop an action plan for decriminalization of petty offences in Lagos State was a step in the right direction, stressing that such was long over due.
He said that the state legislature has a huge role to play in the decriminalization of petty offences through law reform.
Akande said : “There is, therefore, a need to decriminalize these offences, in order to eliminate the marginalization and discrimination of the poor in society, reduce congestion of the prisons, create a sense of inclusion in the state for the vulnerable population.”
He added that: “Decriminalization of petty offences in Lagos State is a prerequisite for further strengthening of the criminal justice system.”
Akande commended the NHRC for being in forefront of the affairs in creating positive societal impact, particularly the development of an action plan for the decriminalization of petty offences.
Earlier, the Executive Secretary of NHRC, Mr Tony Ojukwu said that the objectives of the consultative forum were to increase dialogue on the importance of decriminalization of petty offences, enhance partnership with state actors in the criminal Justice system and Civil Society and determine actionable strategies to realize the project.
Represented by the commission’s Deputy Director Investigation, Mr Iheme Richmond, Ojukwu said the forum also seeks to underscore the economic, social and cultural implications of petty offences with the aim of addressing challenges of social security in the country.
He noted with sadness that a good number of awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria’s Correctional centres were petty offenders – Hawking, loitering, failure to pay debt, begging amongst others, stressing that these offences have strong link with poverty.
The Executive Secretary hopes that the pilot consultative engagement for Lagos and Oyo states will be repricated in other zones of the country.
Mr David Barissa, Senior Programme Officer of NANHRI, said that the forum should be able to right the wrongs created by Colonia masters who introduced punishment for petty offences, stressing the need to implement recommendations from the forum.