By Innocent Anaba
Kogi State Ministry of Justice has put together a two-day workshop for lawyers aimed at enhancing their capacity in providing legal representation and legal advisory services to the vulnerable in the state.Court
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The two-day workshop organised in conjunction with PUNUKA Attorney & Solicitors and Conference of Western Attorneys-General, CWAG/African Alliance Partnership, AAP, was sequel to the recently signed into law a bill to establish the office of the Public Defender and Citizens Rights Commission by Governor Yahaya Bello on June 4, 2019.
With the signing, Kogi State becomes the 6th state in the country to have legislated the establishment of the office.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the two-day workshop tagged: Providing Legal Representation and Legal Advisory to the Vulnerable – Roles, Responsibilities and Functions, the Attorney- General of Kogi State, Mohammed Ibrahim SAN, said that the training was imperative to ensure fair and speedy dispensation of justice as well as the promotion of human rights, access to justice for all, especially the poor, weak and vulnerable. He said: “It is the utmost consideration of ensuring law and order, security of lives and property and protection of the rights of citizens that informed the determination of the government of Yahaya Bello to treat Justice Sector reforms as a priority.”
Speaking on The journey to the establishment of the Kogi State Office of the Public Defender and Citizens’ Rights Commission, Ibrahim disclosed that the strategic demography of Kogi State makes it prone to unbridled rates of criminalities and challenges which directly compel the state to device a responsive, effective and robust system of justice administration.
“This constitutes a big pressure on the key components of the criminal justice institutions in the state. The courts, the police and other law enforcement agencies, the Ministry of Justice and the Prisons are overstretched and at the same time, contending with challenges of inadequate manpower and funding,” he said.
To this extent, the Attorney General said the government is demonstrating its commitment to the viability of the justice sector in the state is partnering with relevant stakeholders and institutions both within and outside the country.
Apart from the above-listed challenges, Ibrahim identified the issue of inadequate representation particularly of the vulnerable as a major impediment to the achievement of effective justice delivery system in the state, hence the establishment of the OPD.
“On the side of the defense, legal representation for suspects is a huge challenge. It is a big clog in the wheel of administration of criminal justice system.” Ibrahim, on behalf of the government and people of Kogi State, commended CWAG/AAP for organising and sponsoring the programme which he said is “specifically tailored to provide capacity-building for the Ministry of Justice in its task of setting up of the Office of the Public Defender that meets international best practices.”
In his remarks, a Board member, Conference of Western Attorneys-General- African Alliance Partnership, Markus Green said it was extremely important to provide representation for citizens in order to achieve effective justice administration system.
He commended the government of Kogi State for the bold step in establishing the OPD, adding that the move has “corrected the notion that justice only belongs to a select few.
“With the creation of OPD, we are taking steps to ensure that everyone is represented. If we are going to have an effective justice system, we need to have a strong defense, we need to have a strong prosecution and then a strong Judiciary.”
Also speaking, Senior Partner, PUNUKA Attorneys and Solicitors, Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN, said the right to fair hearing was a fundamental human right, and government has a duty to invest in protecting that right by allocating resources to it.
“It is our own responsibility to recognise that just like provision of water is the responsibility of government, provision of defence for the vulnerable is also the responsibility of government. Having access to defence is a fundamental human right,” Chief Idigbe said.