PLIGHTS OF INMATES AWAITING TRIAL

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The state of our correctional facilities in the country is very appalling and needs urgent attention. This condition has become a regular screaming headline in media reportage for years now; yet, it seems as if there is no serious commitment on the side of government towards tackling this ugly situation.

Recently, for example, there was a disturbing report that, the Solicitors Scheme Advisory Committee set up by the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, and headed by Kano State Commissioner of Police, Muhammad-Hussaini Gumel, found out that the case of more than 300 inmates awaiting trial in Kurmawa Custodial Center, Kano, were not properly documented.

This was revealed when the committee paid an unscheduled visit to the custodial centres, police formations and juvenile homes with a view to ascertaining the condition of inmates in the wake of congestion.

That is why recently, the House of Representatives called on the Federal Government to deploy power of prerogative of mercy to grant amnesty to inmates who have stayed in custodial facilities for a long time now with a view to decongesting affected correctional centres. This followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by Chinedu Ogah (APC, Ebonyi).

The highlight of the motion was the charge that the Federal Ministry of Justice should come up with a system that can enhance speedy trial of inmates thereby preventing delays in justice dispensation in the country. One other point raised in that motion was the fact that some bail conditions are too difficult for inmates to meet, a situation that has led to indefinite detention. In summary, the House urged governments to commence full implementation of reforms in Nigeria’s correctional system, part of which includes non-custodial measures, rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

Our facilities are heavily congested. Built over decades, many of them accommodate more than 100percent of their accommodation capacity. There are 244 jails nationwide and all of them are congested with over 79,000 inmates. Out of this number, 10 per cent of is federal offence while 90 per cent is state government offenders.

In a recent media interview (not with Nigerian Pilot newspaper), the Minister of Interior, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji Ojo, revealed that over 4,000 inmates remained in custodial facilities nationwide because they are unable to pay fine sentences. In his words, the minister said that, “Immediately I assumed office, the first thing I did was to set up a small committee to be able to review the situation of our correctional centres, vis-à-vis the inmates as they are, and we discovered that over 4,000 of these inmates, as I’ve said before, are still in custody due to inability to pay fines. We looked at how much they owe, the total fine is about five hundred and something million”.

In our candid opinion, the implementation of Administration of Criminal Justice System (ACJS) is too poor, same with the implementation of the correctional service reform. Unless these issues are seriously addressed, the problem of congestion and inherent bad condition of inmates will only get worse.

It is high time, therefore, the federal government expedited action on the issue of implementation of ACJS and correctional service reforms. This is the only way the authorities we can decongest the correctional facilities and ensure that inmates get justice. we are destroying human rights, justice and freedom of the people if this issue is not frontally addressed.