After Nine Years Awaiting Trial, a Man Walks Free

NEW YORK—West Africa's regional human rights court has taken a stand against the undue and excessive use of pretrial detention in Africa, with a landmark order to free a Nigerian man who had been held without trial in a Lagos prison for almost a decade.

The decision in the case, Alade v. Nigeria , before the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was delivered on June 11. It represents an important milestone in the campaign to address the question of excessive pretrial detention, which remains an issue in Nigeria as well as in other African countries.

Sikiru Alade was arrested as a 30 year-old in March 2003 and detained on a holding charge on the orders of a magistrate in Lagos, Nigeria. He was then held in the Kiri-Kiri maximum security prison in Lagos for over nine years without being returned to court, either for a trial or for a review of his detention.

He was finally released this October, after the ECOWAS court ruled on an application filed on his behalf by the Open Society Justice Initiative. During the trial, the Nigerian government denied that Alade was held in Kiri-Kiri prison, an assertion rejected by the court on the basis of the evidence presented by his legal team.

The court concluded that Alade’s prolonged detention was illegal and ordered his release, declaring that his detention represented a violation of his rights under Article 6 (the right to personal liberty) and Article 7 (the right to a fair trial) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The court also ordered Nigeria to pay Alade N2,700,000 ($17,000) in compensatory damages.

Over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s prison population consists of pretrial detainees, and nearly a quarter of them have been held for at least one year, reflecting both an overburdened justice system and structural problems between Nigeria’s state and federal justice systems.

Stanley Ibe of the Open Society Justice initiative’s Abuja office said:

“The Alade judgment is an important addition to the jurisprudence on pretrial detention in Africa. It makes clear that the holding charge should not be used as a tool to perpetually detain criminal suspects without the possibility of a trial or review.”

The Open Society Justice Initiative spearheads the Global Campaign on Pretrial Detention, which is working to reduce, and promoting alternatives to, the arbitrary and excessive use of pretrial detention.