State Govts Criminalise Petty Offenders for Money Making Purposes–PRAWA

The Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) has accused various state governments in Nigeria of exploiting the petty offenders in Nigeria for money making purposes.

This was the highlight of the Media Capacity Building Workshop on Penal Reform in Abuja by PRAWA in partnership with the Open Society Initiative West Africa (OSIWA) with the fact that these people who are mostly the poor in the country are criminalised for Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) resource.

Speaking at the weekend, the Deputy Director PRAWA, Ms. Ogechi Ogu, bemoaned the fact that various law enforcement agents acting on behalf of their respective State governments have exploited the vulnerabilities of petty offenders in the country.

“State governments as we have seen, have turned the criminalization of these petty trading activities as money making ventures. The actual people that are making millions and billions are not paying taxes but the poor are being discriminated and squeezed,” she said.

Ogu wondered by the Petty Offenders are being discriminated against despite the fact the Court judgements, Sections 32 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution, Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, Anti-Torture Law of 2017 and Correctional Service Act (2019) as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) have decriminalised their activities.

According to her, one of the dangers of continued criminalization of petty offenders is that because of their poor financial status of them are not able to pay the fines imposed on them and would eventually be imprisoned and turned into criminals.

Ogu further disclosed that based on findings from key states that has established presence including Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Abia and Enugu States, most petty offenders are scared of being forced to court like in Kano where Hisbah holds away using extrajudicial means.

She said that offences are often fabricated, summary trial like in Enugu state and in Lagos where people are being arrested in their workplace and charged for stealing their own working tools.

To this end, Ogu said that PRAWA embarked on advocacy activities towards decriminalisation of petty offenders through engagement with stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System, Civil Society Organisations and the media.

The idea, she noted, is to enlighten them on the enabling laws and how it could be also implemented with a human face.

“From both the Federal and State, I will not only add the Judiciary but also the Legislature to go back and look at our laws that targets certain set of people in the society. The law that takes away the living and economic activities of certain people by criminalizing them. The Judiciary is to ensure that the system applies the ACJA 2015 and Correctional Service Act 2019,” she said.

Speaking further, PRAWA Deputy Director noted that the ACHPR in 14.2 of the Principles on the Decriminalisation of Petty Offences on Africa called on states to provide alternative to custodial sentencing for petty offences which have not been removed from the statute books.

Such alternatives, she said include: “making use of community service, community-based treatment programmes, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation, as well as the utilisation of recognised and effective alternatives that respect regional and international human rights standards, and the declaration of certain offences as non-arrestable offences”.

Ogu also stressed that the ACHPR Principles are supported by the Correctional Service Act in that it provides an institutional framework for the treatment of petty offenders away from custody in the form of Non-Custodial Service.

By PRNigeria