Former Federal High Court Chief Judge (CJ) Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati has called for the amendment of the National Drug Law Enforcement (NDLEA) Act.
The former CJ spoke during an advocacy visit by the Legal Advocacy Response to Drugs Initiative (LARDI), a group of pro-bono lawyers who offer free services to indigent drug trafficking suspects.
Justice Abdu-Kafarati received the group at the Abuja headquarters of the Federal High Court alongside Justices Binta Nyako, Ahmed Mohammed, Inyang Ekwo, Ijeoma Ojukwu and the Chief Registrar Mr. Emmanuel Gakko.
According to a statement by LARDI’s Secretary-General/Head of Publicity, Mr. Emeka Nwadioke, Justice Abdu-Kafarati picked holes in the sentencing framework contained in the NDLEA Act.
Nwadioke said many judges agreed that it must be urgently reviewed to ensure that justice is done in drug cases.
He quoted the ex-CJ as saying: “It is difficult to justify sentencing a defendant to minimum 15 years in prison for one gramme of cannabis with a N1,000 street value.”
Section 10 of the NDLEA Act provides that “Any person who, without lawful authority (d) knowingly possesses or uses the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs by smoking, inhaling or rejecting the said drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than 15 years but not exceeding 25 years.”
Justice Abdu-Kafarati said judges experienced “practical challenges” in adjudicating drug cases.
According to the jurist, even where the drug suspect has legal representation, “the defendants often apply to change their pleas (to ‘guilty’) after remand,” adding that the courts are hamstrung under such circumstances.
Justice Abdu-Kafarati commend-ed LARDI for the initiative, noting that it would go a long way to provide legal services to such under-served population and curtail delays in trial of drug cases.
He pledged the support of the court to the group, adding that the court would waive filing charges for LARDI members in pursuing their pro bono drug cases.
He also advised the group to collaborate with other pro bono entities for increased effectiveness, noting however that its mandate “is restrictive.”
According to the statement, LARDI’s National coordinator, Ms. Chinelo Uchendu, said the group was formed to fill the void created by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACoN) Act, which does not include drug arrestees among indigent persons to benefit from free legal services.
The group, she said, was the brainchild of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), adding that LARDI receives technical support and funding from UNODC and the European Union (EU) under the “Response to drugs and related other organised crime in Nigeria” project.
She said the group would support the judiciary in ensuring access to justice, especially for indigent drug trafficking suspects, adding that LARDI has 120 lawyers spread across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Meanwhile, Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II has praised the Federal Government for banning codeine and other drugs that are being abused in the country.
He also lauded LARDI for offering free services to indigent suspects.
Sanusi spoke when its members visited his palace in Kano as part of activities marking the International Day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking.
The Emir was quoted as saying: “I would like to commend the Federal Government for taking the step of banning benelin-with-codeine which would go a long way in reducing the spread of the menace.
“I also commend the State Government for setting up a special task force to deal with drugs.”
Emir Sanusi identified Kano and Jigawa states as the “the centre of gravity” of drug menace in Nigeria, adding that the drug problem is “widespread, with a very large number of young people including married women now abusing not just hard drugs but substances like codeine and benelin among others.”
Sanusi commended LARDI members for offering free legal services to indigent drug arrestees, saying that every suspect deserves fair hearing in our courts.
He said: “Organisations like yours are important for giving legal assistance to those who are under trial because even if you are a suspected criminal you deserve legal representation.
“People can be unfairly or inappropriately convicted because they do not have legal support.
“It is a complex and multi-faceted problem. You are playing a big role. We assure you of our support and goodwill. We wish you happy celebrations as you celebrate the World Drug Day.
“We will continue to do our best. If there are any ideas you have for how we can address this problem we will be very happy to listen to you and to take them on board.”
On how to contain the menace in a sustainable manner, Sanusi said: “We need to go to the root cause of the problem which is go back to our families and our family values, child spacing, focus on education and so on.
“The business community should invest in rehabilitation centres. After rehabilitation, we have to find employment for them otherwise they go back to the very same situation they were before rehabilitation. Parental upbringing, guidance counseling, family structures – all of these have to be looked at.”
Uchendu praised Sanusi for his “strong advocacy” against drug abuse.
She said the organisation was desirous to collaborate with key stakeholders towards fashioning a sustainable framework for a drug-free society.
Uchendu noted that LARDI was established with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and European Union (EU), adding that its 120 members are spread across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement to mark the day, said: “The world drug problem is one of the most challenging issues we face.
“It has wide-ranging impacts on the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities, as well as on the security and sustainable development of nations.
“Therefore, preventing and addressing drug challenges in all their complexity is essential to delivering on a fundamental global pledge, enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals: to leave no one behind.”