Bringing judges and prosecutors together to combat impunity for trafficking in persons in Nigeria

Abuja, 19 March 2021 – In a recent article about the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George stressed the “powerful role of the judge as the driver of criminal justice administration” and emphasized that “unless the judges understand, embrace and proactively apply the provisions of the Act, its lofty vision of restoring the effectiveness of the Nigerian criminal justice system may remain an illusion.” This central role played by the Judiciary is particularly true when it comes to the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons in Nigeria, where the conviction rate for this crime remains low.

Indeed, between 2017 and 2019, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) recorded 2 165 persons suspected of or arrested for trafficking in persons. Yet over these three years, NAPTIP recorded only 101 national convictions related to trafficking in persons.

Judges are eventually the ones deciding to convict – or not – suspects for human trafficking and, as such, they have a major role to play in increasing the number of successful cases. Their interpretation of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act of 2015 and other relevant legislation is crucial when it comes to deciding that the elements of the various trafficking offences are met, the type of evidence that is admissible or the type of sentences that should be given.

In order to tackle these challenges and explore opportunities to improve the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons, UNODC organized on 9 and 10 March a technical retreat with judges and NAPTIP prosecutors under a project funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the United States of America. The event, organized jointly with NAPTIP and the National Judicial Institute, gathered judges from both Federal High Court divisions and State High Courts, prosecutors from NAPTIP headquarters and four zonal commands, and was facilitated by Professor Yemi Akinseye-George and Professor Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan, Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Representatives from the Federal Ministry of Justice and the UK National Crime Agency also participated in the event.

Over two days, participants examined the legal framework and jurisprudence, discussed current practices and opportunities in using electronic evidence, and debated issues pertaining to victim and witness management in trafficking cases. Prosecutors used this opportunity to raise key challenges they face in preparing and presenting their cases, while judges gave insights into recurring shortcomings of evidence presented.

“I found the sessions very enlightening, particularly with regards to the challenges being faced by prosecution in ensuring that both the victims and defendants get justice. The specific topics discussed are relevant to ensure that prosecutors and judges are able to discharge their roles and duties efficiently” said Honourable Justice Nduka M. Obi from the Delta State High Court.

“The retreat was an eye opener. I now have a better understanding on tendering digitally generated evidence in line with the provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act, 2011. I was also able to interact with the judges freely and some of them who did not hitherto understood NAPTIP cases gained understanding and made positive contributions” said Rosemary Emodogo, prosecutor at NAPTIP zonal command in Benin City, Edo State.

Credit: UNODC Nigeria