In a bid to ensure speedy dispensation of justice, Lagos State Government on Thursday inaugurated four special courts solely for the prosecution of sexual offences and corruption cases.
The Sexual Offences Court is the first of its kind in Nigeria.
Mr Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) was among dignitaries who attended the inauguration.
Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode, while inaugurating the courts, lauded the Chief Justice of Nigeria for initiating it at the federal level.
He noted that the establishment of the courts would facilitate expeditious hearing and trial of sexual and financial related crimes.
Ambode, who was represented by the Deputy Governor, Dr Oluranti Adebule, said Lagos was collaborating with the British Council under the Rule of Law Anti-Corruption Programme to provide technical support for the anti-corruption fight.
“The state collaborates with such agencies charged with the investigation and prosecution of corruption offences by providing an enabling environment in terms of responding to inquiries and providing information to anti-graft agencies.
“I am particularly glad about the designation of two courts to handle sexual related offences as it complements our fight against sexual abuse.
“These sexual offences courts will have trained and experienced prosecutors to interact with survivors, provide support and ensure timely prosecution of the cases,” he said.
Ambode, who reeled out statistics of the sexual crimes handled by the DSVRT and Mirabel Centre in Lagos, announced that the state government had awarded a contract for the expansion of the DNA and Forensic Centre.
“Between 2015 and now, the DSVRT and Mirabel Centre have handled over 400 cases of sexual offences while 376 cases are being prosecuted in the various courts.
“With a dedicated court now in place to handle these cases, l am sure that these cases will get the attention they deserve.
“We have awarded the contract for the expansion of the operations of the DNA and Forensic Centre and Chemistry Section.
“This will automatically place Lagos as one of the leading centres for forensics in Africa,” Ambode said.
The wife of the Vice-President, Mrs Oludolapo Osinbajo, in her speech, commended the Lagos State Government for establishing the Sexual Offences Court.
She said: `The statistics quoted by the Chief Justice of Lagos is very frightening, it only speaks of half of the true picture.
“Behind the figures are the faces of the affected women and girls as well as the men and boys.”
Giving examples of real life scenarios of sexual violence, Osinbajo said the victims of such offences should never be ignored.
“We should not ignore the trauma and nightmare that sexual offences bring, let us not forget the girls not only in Nigeria but all over the world.”
In an address of welcome, the Chief Judge of Lagos , Justice Opeyemi Oke, recalled that the journey toward the establishment of the Special Courts started in June 2017 in line with the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“In the speech marking the second anniversary of President Muhammad Buhari’s administration, His Excellency, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo announced plans by the Federal Government to designate specific courts to handle corruption cases.
“He said that the courts would be part of a general judicial reform to make the judiciary more efficient and to facilitate the determination of corruption and financial crime cases.
“Soon thereafter, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen during the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria to 29 senior lawyers in Abuja in September 2017, announced major reforms in the criminal justice system.
“He said to effectively monitor and enforce the new policy, an Anti-corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee will be set up by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria stated that the Committee would among other responsibilities, ensure that both the trial and appellate courts handling corruption and financial cases key into and abide by the renewing effort of ridding our country of the cankerworm,” she said.
Oke said Onnoghen had directed that all Heads of Court should clampdown on lawyers who deploy delay tactics in criminal matters before them and soclicited the help of the public in the anti-corruption war.
She said:“Presently, there are over 500 cases of financial crimes pending before the High Court, the bulk of which have now been assigned to the Special Offences Courts.
“We are enthusiastic about the designation of the new courts as we see the development as a step in the right direction.
“We therefore commend the Hon.Chief Justice of Nigeria’s initiative in this regard.
“In the Lagos State Judiciary, we have commenced a campaign against corruption in our courts and among supporting staff.
“All hands are on deck to see an end to this cankerworm that has eaten deeply into the fabric of our justice delivery system.
“We believe strongly that the special courts shall fast track the trial of these types of cases and encourage the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other relevant bodies to expedite the investigation and prosecution of such cases.”
On sexual offences, the Oke said the Senate had on May 23, 2017, passed a motion to investigate increased cases of rape and sexual assaults across the country.
“They (the Senate) urged the judges and magistrates to revisit courts sentencing people in violent sexual offences to reflect the very serious nature of the crimes.
“In 2014, Lagos State Government recognised the magnitude of the problems in respect of domestic and sexual violence and pioneered the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT).
“The DSVRT is to assist victims and survivors in need of financial and emotional support and empowerment.”
Oke, citing an article entitled, “A Five Year Analysis of Police Record on Sexual Related Offences in Lagos State”, by Gbemileke O. Oladipo, gave out statistics of sexual offences in Lagos from 1999 to 2014.
“A total of 691 sexual offences were reported during the period, rape accounted for 40.1 percent of the offences, 44 percent of the crimes were committed at the perpetrators houses.
“Virtually in all, 98.4 percent were female whose ages ranged from four to 56 years, 42 percent of victims were mostly neighbours to the perpetrators.
“Most of the cases (76.6 percent) were withdrawn, 12.8 percent were under investigation while the status of 8.5 percent were unknown since 2004.”
Mrs Funlola Odunlami, the Solicitor-General of Lagos lauded the state government for being the first state to implement the initiative of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Lagos leads and other states follow, Governor Ambode is very passionate about issues relating to domestic and sexual violence; he led the walk `Say No to Domestic and Sexual Violence’ and he is passionate about the work of the DSVRT.
“We have to make sure that in Lagos State perpetrators of sexual crimes no longer exists.
“Members of the public can dial #6280*, text ABUSE to 6280 either on MTN or Airtel or call the DSVRT on 0813796004, individuals can dial 112 which is a toll free line.
“Laboratories and Forensic Centers were created to audition victims of sexual violence.
““In the Ministry of Justice, there is a particular department with lawyers which is set aside to handle sexual crimes and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice,” Odunlami said.