Through CAPIO’s legal advocacy programme, indigent prisoners who cannot afford the services of defence attorneys are provided with free legal representation in court. The case of Mr. Ekenechukwu Ani is just one of numerous pathetic cases encountered in the course of CAPIO’s legal advocacy. Mr. Ekene, the sole bread winner of his family, resides with family in a family home which also accommodates his uncle and his family. On a faithful day, while Mr. Ekene was admonishing his younger sibling, his aunt intervened, raining verbal abuses on him and asking him to vacate the family home. Mr. Ekene traded words with his aunt over her outbursts, which prompted his uncle to hit him with a stick, in a bid to defend his wife’s honour. Mr. Ekene retaliated and a fight ensued between him and his uncle. In a bid to defend her husband, Mr. Ekene’s aunt hit him on the head with a stick. Mr. Ekene proceeded to return the gesture but his uncle interposed himself between his wife and Mr. Ekene, and in the process the stick lodged into his stomach. The uncle fell in a convulsive state and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Mr. Ekene, the accused, was subsequently arraigned in October 2005, on a charge of murder, and remanded in prison pending the institution of a case in the State high court. The case was instituted at the high court in 2006 and the accused’s trial commenced. The accused was initially represented by an external attorney, who subsequently seized to represent him further. As a result, the accused continued to languish in prison without trial for 12 years, until CAPIO intervened in his matter. On the 15th of March 2018, CAPIO’s legal team applied for the case to be struck out and the accused discharged, on grounds of lack of diligent prosecution of the criminal case by the State. The court granted the application and the accused was released from prison after 13 years.
To highlight the importance of CAPIO’s fight to improve criminal justice delivery in Enugu State, it is important to note that the 1999 constitution of Nigeria provides that a person accused of an offence should be tried within a reasonable time, failing which he shall be released unconditionally or released pending his trial in court. The constitution also provides that a person charged with an offence is entitled to fair hearing in court within a reasonable time. Trial within a reasonable time having been interpreted by the courts to mean commencement of trial within 2-3 months after the arrest of a suspect. Notwithstanding the above position of the law, majority of inmates in prison have been awaiting trial for several years, and in some cases, with little hope of having their cases tried in courts. This is not only contrary to the provisions of the constitution as highlighted above, but is also contrary to their fundamental right to liberty. It is necessary to state at this juncture that the Administration of Criminal Justice law has provided strictly for the period of time within which an accused person must be tried before a court and the trial duration for different categories of offence. Implementation of the ACJ Law will significantly curb this age long practice of dumping indigent offenders in prison, without trial.