Customary courts: Lagos Assembly set to give criminal jurisdiction


    By Lanre Adesanya

    The Lagos State House of Assembly, in it resolve to create sane template for the judiciary at the grassroots, is set to give criminal jurisdiction to the Customary Court with respect to bye-laws passed by local governments in the state.

    This was sequel to a stakeholders parley at a Public Hearing on A Bill for a Law to Amend the Lagos State Customary Court Law, 2011 and for Connected Purposes.

    The public hearing was organised by the House Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, Petitions and Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) headed by Mrs Funmilayo Tejuosho.

    The executive member bill seeks to empower Customary Courts to try criminal cases at the grassroots, with a bid to reducing the cheer impunity exhibited by offenders at the grassroots level,who most exploit the erstwhile court’s pronounced civil status to perpetrate heinous acts with little or no commensurate consequence.

    Representing the Speaker of the House Rt. Hon Mudashiru Obasa at the bill endorsement forum was the Deputy Majority Leader Olumuyiwa Jimoh, who noted that the Ministry Justice who were the prime initiator of the bill were not well represented at parley,harps on the need for the customary court to be given the bite, so as to forestall the flagrant manner of highly placed individuals in the community, who most time fall short of good conducts.

    The stakeholders took turns to applaud the House for such bill aimed at bringing sanity to the grassroots.

    Mrs Abisola Balogun from Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria, who applauded the bill described it as apt and timely.

    Balogun, however, said that N20, 000 fine stipulated in the proposed law would not really deter offenders, adding that community service would work better.

    According to him, public ridicule will dissuade the rich from flouting bye- law.

    “The bill is apt this time. Expansion and advancement in the state makes this important. The monetary penalty attached will not really serve as deterrence,the community service for a highly placed person will serve better.”

    Also speaking, Mrs Ayodele Odugbesan, the Executive Secretary, Lagos State Judicial Service Commission, said, “This bill is preferable if it is non- custodial.

    “The fine of N20, 000,and community service will do, our prisons are congested already. So, this makes custodial option not workable in this bill.”

    Meanwhile, Mr Adeola Ilori, a Human Rights lawyer counseled that the bill needed to address the right of offenders to appeal.

    “If the bill is not critically viewed with respect to criminal jurisdiction, it could run foul of the same fault that made the environmental law of the state unconstitutional.

    “Fair hearing is important just as the section 36 subsection (1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria makes freedom of movement an alienable right of every Nigerians, the  2011 law has not yet accommodated the jurisdiction this bill intends to afford the customary courts”.

    Mr Ahmed Kazeem a member Odorangunshe Eredo Community Development Association calls for education of the Baales and  community elders on the bill.

    Mrs Ladi Jacob, a resident of Alimosho Area, who lauded the bill, decried lack of enforcement of many environmental laws.

    Also, Babafemi Asunmo, Director, Ministry Local Government and Community Affairs said the law would go a long way to assist environmental and health officers.

    According to Mr Abiodun Ayegbe, Director, Lagos State Environmental Health Services, who commended the initiators of the bill, said the prosecutors from the agency were well trained to give offenders fair hearing.

    “As we are working towards a mega-city, sanitations should not be compromised, what we are doing here is very important.

    Speaking with newsmen at the end of the public hearing, Tejuoso said that the bill should be welcome and appreciated for both environmental and health benefits.

    “In the olden day, Customary Courts have jurisdiction on criminal cases. We are in a civilised society, we have to make sure that our environment is clean.

    “We have to make sure that  people follow law and order so that we continue to be a centre of excellence. We have the sanitation laws in place , the reason is not for aesthetic satisfaction of a clean environment but for health reason as well.

    “We don’t want epidemics in Lagos State or in Nigeria. The bill is giving criminal jurisdictions to the Customary Court so as to deter people from those offences.”

    According to her, if those who break bye-laws are arrested, prosecuted,  convicted and becomes an ex-convict, this will deter many rather than just imposing fines.

    Earlier, the Majority Leader of the House, Mr Sanai  Agunbiade, who gave the general overview said that the bill provided that the Customary Court shall have jurisdiction for summary trial of offences created under any byr-law of a local government.

    Agunbiade said that on conviction, the bill provided that the Customary Court mat impose in respect of any offence shall not exceeding N20, 000 and the term of imprisonment shall not exceed one month or community service.