Criminal Justice Reform

Judiciary: Since 2000 UNODC has promoted the development of international standards aimed to strengthen justice sector integrity and capacity. UNODC also provides technical assistance aimed at improving access to justice, enhancing the quality and timeliness of justice delivery, strengthening public trust in the judiciary, establishing safeguards for professional ethics, and facilitating coordination across justice sector institutions.

In this context, UNODC has been cooperating with the Nigerian Judiciary since 2001 through two projects aiming to strengthen judicial integrity and capacity (phase one 2001-2003 and phase two 2006-2010). Initially the project was launched in Borno, Delta and Lagos states and later joined by Anambra, Benue, Enugu, Kaduna, Katsina, Rivers, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Most recently UNODC has launched a new project cooperating with the Bayelsa State Judiciary.

This work has recorded significant improvements in all aspects of justice delivery resulting in an increase of public confidence in the justice system. E.g. court users who indicated that they would use the courts again based on their experience, increased from 58% in 2002 to 69% in 2007. However, despite this progress, data also shows that further advancements remain a must. Still the percentage of prisoners awaiting trial in remand remains high, adjournments (even if less frequent) unnecessarily prolong disputes, political interference with judicial appointments and judicial decision-making remain an issue, both in the eyes of judicial officers and the bar, coordination among the various justice sector institutions poses continuous challenges, and while the judiciary was able to significantly reduce the vulnerability of courts to corrupt practices, the problem is not to be considered under control..

With economic growth and social changes the demands on the justice system by citizens and businesses are on the increase. Thus, improvements might turn out to be insufficient and unsustainable. The need for a functioning court system capable of supporting a rapidly growing economy, guaranteeing basic human and political rights of individuals and providing security and justice to all, makes continuing reforms an imperative.


Prisons: The Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) has authority over 144 prisons and an estimated 83 satellite prisons.  Prison capacity is at about 42,000 detainees, slightly above the (about) 40,000 registered prisoners. One endemic problem is that of overcrowding, particularly in urban prisons, which results from high percentages (60% and higher, depending on prison/state) of inmates awaiting trial. Other challenges include the poor infrastructure in most prisons, inadequate data due to inadequate record keeping and file management preventing the development of sound policies based on accurate information. Prison conditions are poor, especially for pre-trial prisoners. Hygiene and sanitation in most prisons are impacting on the health of prisoners. Medical services are inadequate, the spread of HIV/AID and tuberculosis (TB) pose a potential challenge, though steps are being taken to address these challenges. Vocational training and educational facilities are inadequate. There is a shortage of welfare and aftercare staff, instructors and trainers, and rehabilitation and aftercare services are limited.

The Nigeria Prison system runs contrary to several benchmarks set within the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Juveniles are not separated from hardened criminals, women prisoners are jailed in overcrowded rooms with their children, and the mentally ill prisoners remain incarcerated, rather than receiving psychiatric treatment.  Service delivery in the areas of drug use (out of 143 prisoners in five prisons, 25 percent tested positive for cannabis use) and HIV-AIDS are basic to non-existent.

In 2009-2011 UNODC with the support of the UK Government implemented in partnership with the Nigeria Prisons Service a project to enhance the adherence to International Standards in the Treatment of Prisoners through Human Resource Development. Under this project the NPS leadership implemented new, pro-human rights prison approaches and the NPS training institutions adopted new training curriculum which complies with United Nations Standards and Norms for Prison Management and Treatment of Prisoners. A Knowledge Attitude and Performance (KAP) assessment was conducted covering three  prisons providing the baseline to further chart the course for a new, pro-human rights prison management in Nigeria as well as the development and implementation of further technical assistance interventions.