Maxwell Dele, a trader at the Ikorodu Market in Lagos State, has been released from the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kirikiri after 11 years for a crime he did not commit.
He was arrested instead of the known accused and remanded in prison by policemen for 11 years without trial.
If not for the intervention of Avocats Sans Frontières France (Lawyers without Borders France), Dele would have lost more than 11 years of his life.
The Police were on the hunt for James Idem, whom they believed was responsible for an armed robbery operation.
Dele happened to be a shop owner and neighbour to Idem in Ikorodu market, Lagos.
During the search for Idem, Dele was asked by the police officers to provide information on the whereabouts of Idem.
When Dele couldn’t provide those answers, he was arrested for armed robbery.
He was handed over to the Sagamu Road Police Station, from where he was transferred to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Ikeja, Lagos.
There, he was hanged and tortured.
Dele was also forced to sign an already written statement on October 6, 2011, the same day he was charged with armed robbery at the Magistrate Court 17, Ikeja, Lagos.
He remained in the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kirikiri, Lagos and never appeared in court again for the next 11 years.
According to Angela Uwandu Uzoma-Iwuchukwu, Country Director, ASF France Nigeria, following strategic litigation by Avocats Sans Frontières France, a High Court in Lagos ordered the release of Dele, who had been held in the Nigerian prison for over 11 years without trial.
Uzoma-Iwuchukwu said: “The Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) data on the Summary of Inmate Population by Convict and Persons Awaiting Trial as of October 4, 2021, revealed that the facilities hold 37 per cent more inmates than it is designed to and that over 70 per cent of the prison population consists of pretrial detainees.
“The report also revealed that the average period of pre-trial detention in Nigeria was nearly four years.
“The work of ASF France in the field reveals that many detainees are held for much longer, as in the case of Dele who had been arbitrarily detained for over 11 years, reflecting both an overburdened justice system and structural problems between Nigeria’s state and federal justice systems.”
She explained that Avocats Sans Frontières France intervened in this case through the pro-bono legal aid component of its European Union and Agence Française de Développement funded SAFE project: “Strengthening the National Actors Capacities and Advocating for Ending Severe Human Rights Violations in Nigeria project,” targeted at addressing human rights violations of torture, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention.
ASF France tendered an application to the Lagos State High Court on behalf of the detainee, particularly seeking for the unconditional or conditional release, citing the instances of torture, violation of their fundamental human rights, their rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement, provided under the sections 35 and 41 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
The application was successful at the High Court of Lagos State.
Uzoma-Iwuchukwu, speaking after the judgment, said: “Loosing 11 years of one’s life to a systemic irregularity is unimaginable suffering, nothing would ever be able to make up for this loss.
“The practice of routinely charging suspects with serious offenses to have them remanded in prison indefinitely, with little or no effort to prosecute the case needs to stop.”
The SAFE project is being implemented in Nigeria by Avocats Sans Frontières France in partnership with the Nigerian Bar Association and Carmelite Prisoners Interest Organization.