PRAWA Task Govt Repeal laws that ‘Criminalize Poverty’
Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) has tasked the federal government to urgently repeal lingering laws that criminalise poverty in the country.
This is just as the organisation applauded the opinion ruling of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which declared that vagrancy laws are inconsistent and inconsonant with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Children’s Rights Charter and Women Rights Protocol.
Dr. Uju Agomoh, Executive Director and Founder, PRAWA, in a statement on Wednesday, said the judgement is a major boost to the campaign to decriminalize and declassify petty offences in Africa.
Agomoh, however described the ruling of the African Court as the icing on the cake as it has provided the much needed platform to further push for the amendment of and removal from law books provisions that criminalize the poor and homeless especially when there is no proof of their criminal conduct.
“We therefore call on the government of Nigeria to take immediate action on this by repealing laws that are in breach of Articles 2,3,5 and 6 of the African Charter”, she said
“Sadly, Nigeria is one of the countries that still retain some aspects of colonial laws that criminalize poverty, in their lawbooks.
“These disproportionate laws are targeted at the uneducated and disadvantaged poor people (hawkers, street beggars, sex workers etc.) whose means of livelihoods are criminalized without any alternatives”, she added.
While acknowledging the steps already taken by Nigeria to abolish Petty Offences, Agomoh, however said more is expected from the legislature at all levels to ensure that there is follow up amendment of laws such as the criminal and Penal codes/ laws of the Southern and Northern parts of Nigeria to capture this abolition.
“We therefore appeal to the Nigerian government to take the lead in implementing this opinion judgement by repealing laws that are in breach of the African Charter.
“It is in the interest of the nation to decriminalize petty offences which has led to arbitrary incarceration of minor offenders and overpopulation of custodial centers”, Agomoh said.
She noted that, by declassifying and decriminalizing petty offences, government will be helping to make society safe by keeping petty offenders away from custody where they may be contaminated by criminals.
“There will be a reduction in the policing system that clamps down on this group of people if government repeals these obnoxious laws. It will also substantially reduce the allegation of human rights violations by the Police, which led to the #ENDSARS protest”, she said.
The executive director therfore, pledged the support and readiness of PRAWA to work with the Nigerian government in the provision of technical assistance where necessary towards the implementation of this opinion judgement.