Analysis: Main features of Nigeria’s Administration of Criminal Justice Act (Part 1)

Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen
Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen

Before the introduction of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), Nigeria’s formal compliance to human rights issues was low.

The interests of accused persons not yet convicted was also poorly regarded while the previous laws had significant provisions that discriminated against the rights of women, among other defects in the nation’s criminal justice system.

Following the introduction of the law, however, a number of innovations emerged which not only improved the human rights in Nigeria, by virtue of its laws, but also served as major breakthroughs to the problems of prolonged trials in federal courts.

Prior to the promulgation of the ACJA 2015, Nigerian states were governed by two principal legislations traceable to the British colonial administration, namely the Criminal Procedure Act, (CPA) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) depending on whether such a state was created out of the former northern or southern region.

While the CPC was used for states across the north, the CPA was effective in the southern parts of the country.

Based on the prolonged use of these laws, without reform, the former CPC and CPA were mastered by lawyers who took advantage of its lapses to prolong trials.

As a response to these defects, the ACJA was introduced to ensure that the criminal justice system becomes more efficient as well as responsive to the rights of the people.

But the ACJA did not completely erode the provisions of the CPC and CPA.

The main provisions of the laws were merged into a principal federal act intended to apply uniformly in federal courts, as well as High Courts of the Federal Capital territory.

Following the provisions of section 2 (2) of the act, however, the ACJA is not applicable to court martials.

Also the emergence of ACJA marked the eradication of unlawful arrests especially where security operatives arrest a suspect without providing an arrest warrant.

The law also terminated the season of arrests of suspects’ relatives or friends, where the said suspect is said to be at large. Specifically section 7 of the act provides that “a person shall not be arrested in place of a suspect.”

The ACJA also prohibits the arrest of persons for contract-related offences. Section 8 (2) of the act provides that “a person shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract”.

Regarding possible arrest of accused persons, the ACJA provides that a suspect shall not be arrested, unless he is first informed of the reason for the arrest.

The security officer arresting the suspect is also under the obligation to inform the suspect of their rights to remain silent or avoid answering any questions or signing any documents until they have consulted a lawyer of their choice.

The officer shall also specifically inform the suspect of his right to consult a lawyer of his choice, as well as the rights to free legal services, where applicable.

The authority detaining the suspect also has a legal obligation to inform relatives about the arrest of the suspect and to desist from charging the suspect for this responsibility.

Section 8 of the ACJA also prohibits any form of torture or inhumane treatment of the suspect. Statements made by suspects are also to be recorded, as provided by section 17 of the ACJA.

Section 296 of the act also provides that a suspect shall not be remanded for more than 14 days at first instance and, renewable for another 14 days, where “good cause” is shown.

At the expiration of the second term of 14 days and the suspect has still not been arraigned before the relevant court, the judge may grant bail to the suspect, upon a request for such.

If the detaining authorities fail to grant the said bail and still do not arraign the suspect, the court shall summon the Inspector-General of Police to explain the reason for the continued detention.

If a good reason is provided, the court shall extend the remand period for another 14 days. If, however, a reason is not provided, the court shall discharge the suspect and order his immediate release.

Section 167 of the act also ended the restriction on the use of women as sureties. The section provides that, “a person shall not be denied, prevented or restricted from entering into a recognisance as a surety for any defendant or applicant on the ground that the person is a woman”.

Only 11 states in Nigeria have already passed the ACJA in their various jurisdictions. They are: Kaduna, Ondo, Ekiti, Lagos, Oyo, Rivers, Anambra, Enugu, Cross-River, Abuja and Akwa-Ibom.

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