Under the guise of combating crime, security agents conduct frequent ruthless raids in the informal communities—popularly known as slums—arresting and detaining its young population in a fruitless search for weapons. Several of such raids conducted over the years in Badia East, Ijora in Lagos failed to turn up a single weapon despite many arrests. Following another raid in Badia East, S4C’s legal team secured the release of 49 others arrested sometime in March, 2021 on the charges of murder, unlawful assembly, and acts likely to cause breach of peace under the Criminal Law of Lagos State. They were neither arraigned nor tried, but remained incarcerated for 7 months!
Police prosecutors brought them before a Magistrate Court sitting in Yaba magisterial district of Lagos State on the 2nd day of April, 2021, a month after their arrest, in flagrant disregard of their constitutional right to be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction within a “reasonable time” as guaranteed under Section 35(5) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. The constitution defines “reasonable time” to mean a period of 24 hours when a court of competent jurisdiction is within a radius of 40 kilometres to the police station or a period of two days in any other case. The defendants’ trial was further delayed by an industrial action by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), a body consisting of all court officials in Nigeria, which led to the closure of all courts in the country from April,2021 to June 2021.
S4C provided free legal representation to two of the arrested persons from Badia East. After repeated adjournments, police prosecutors failed to arraign them nor obtain the Legal Advice from the Department of Public Prosecution needed to establish the guilt of the accused persons. Frustrated by the want of diligent of prosecution, S4C’s legal team invoked the provisions of Section 35 (4) (a) of the Constitution and relevant provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos and the Police Act which entitle accused persons to bail where arraignment is not done within a reasonable time. On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, the Magistrate Court upheld S4C’s application and granted bail to the two accused persons. Applying S4C’s motion to the remaining defendants, all 49 persons were granted bail and released from prison custody. The accused persons have since been released from Ikoyi Prisons in Lagos.
It is important to mention that the residents of Badia East, an informal community located in Apapa Local Government Area of Lagos, have faced recurrent evictions and forced displacement by Lagos State authorities and collaborating private actors. The defendants are double victims of an unjust system – a system that has failed to recognize and protect the housing rights of persons living in informal communities and again, failed to respect a citizen’ right to presumption of innocence pending the determination of his or her guilt. It is for this reason that S4C’s pro bono legal center opens its doors to marginalized populations who need but would not otherwise be able to afford legal representation.