In this report, Kunle Olasanmi examines the activities of the Presidential Committee on Prisons Reforms and Decongestion since its inauguration in October 2017.
For many years now, Nigeria has been confronted with the problem of prisons congestion across the country. Many administrations have tried to find a lasting solution to the problem but have not been able to make a headway.
Most of the time, it is only the root cause of congestion in prison that is identified, the solution is always very difficult to find.
The policies of successive government to reduce the numbers of inmates have failed to yield meaningful result.
Worried by the increase in the number of Awaiting Trial Inmates, ATM, which has to prisons congestion in the country, the federal government set up a Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion, headed by the Chief Judge of Federal Capital Territory High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello. The committee also has Mrs. Leticia Ayoola-Daniels as the Secretary.
Since its inauguration, one must commend the efforts of the Chairman, the Secretary and other members of the committee to ensure that Nigerian prisons are truly reformed and decongested, unlike what we’ve had in the past.
The committee has been going round the country’s prisons where some inmates with minor offences and others who have been sentenced with options of fines were released.
As part of its effort to reduce the number of inmates in the prisons, the committee has visited, prisons in Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Katsina, Imo Port-Harcourrt, Lagos and Abeokuta, Ogun state.
According to Mrs. Ayoola-Daniels, the committee is still expected to visit Akure prisons, Ondo state.
In all the states that have been visited, some inmates have regained their freedom after those with the option of fines in the sentence have had their fines paid by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
So far, the efforts to decongest the prisons and also reform it have been a success going by the achievement of the committee.
In Kirikiri Maximum Prisons in Lagos, the Committee is expected to recommend one Abu Dennis, 88, from Edo State and two others for clemency on age and health grounds.
Justice Bello said it will write their state governors to grant clemency to the three inmates serving various jail terms in Kirikiri Maximum Prisons.
The inmates are Dennis, Timothy Benson, 67, from Ekitti state and John Otah, 81, from Delta State.
Justice Bello, after going through the warrant of remands of the inmates said the committee will write the state governors of the inmates on the need to grant them clemency.
According to Justice Bello, the committee will write the governors for clemency for he inmates on age and health grounds.
Dennis was convicted for murder and has been serving his jail term.
According to the prisons authorities, Dennis is suffering form an ailment called Stephen Johnson syndrome.
Justice Bello told the inmate, ”we will write your state governor to grant you clemency on health and age grounds”.
Otah was also convicted for murder.
According to the prisons authorities, he is suffering from stroke and has been in detention since 2004 but was convicted in 2007.
He was convicted by a high court in Delta state for murder.
Justice Bello also said the committee will recommend his release to the state governor in the next few days.
Benson was diagnosed of cancer of the muscle and has been operated twice.
The committee is also expected to recommend his release to his state governor.
At the Kirikiri Medium Prisons, some inmates who were unable to meet the conditions set by the court for their freedom were freed, following the payment of their fines by the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice and the Lagos State Government.
Some other civil society organizations (CS0) also came to their aid.
Some of those released by the Chairman of the committee were between the ages of 19 to 63 years.
One of those who regained freedom is Mr Okafor, who is suffering from hernia and a big cancerous lump on his left buttocks.
Justice Bello said his committee did not visit the prison because it found out that they were jailed for dealing in hard drugs.
“We believe that those who deal in hard drugs should not be sent back into the society. We have decided they should serve their full sentence”, he said.
Also, a prison inmate who was sentenced to six years with a N415,000 fine option, missed freedom because he was on anti-retro viral drugs.
“You look healthy, agile and handsome. It is our decision that you should not be sent back to the society so that you don’t pass this disease around”, Justice Bello said.
Earlier, before the inmates were released, Justice Bello met with the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke and the Attorney General of the State, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem at the state high court where he briefed them on the mission of the committee to the state.
He said, “State CEOs don’t like signing execution warrant. In that case nobody will blame the judiciary for not doing their jobs. If they are blaming the judiciary, they should be blamed too because failure to sign execution warrant makes citizens more daring. If they fail to sign the warrant, you make our jobs nugatory.
“If they are looking at political consideration for not signing it, they are doing disservice to the system”.
Speaking, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN said that the Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion was constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari in demonstration to his commitment to prison decongestion nationwide.
Represented by Mr. Pius Oteh, a Director in the Ministry, said that the Committee has made good measure of achievements since its inauguration having gone round the states especially Kano State where lots of inmates were released.
He commended the Committee for its constant making progress even as he called on the Committee to look at ways to sustain the mandate.
The Federal Ministry of Justice paid fine option for 14 inmates, the Lagos state government paid for 41. At the female Medium Kirikiri Prison, 6 inmates who have few months to complete their term were released while three were release based on health condition and old age by the Presidential Committee and the Lagos State Government. One inmate in the Ikoyi Prison was freed on payment of fine by the Committee.
At Abeokuta prisons, Ogun state, inmates with minor offences of stealing were released.
Earlier, Justice Bello met with his counterpart in the state, Justice Olatokunbo Olopade in her office where he intimated her of the committee’s. Mission Abeokuta.
He said, “we brought various stakeholders to bring their experience to bear in the reform of the prisons. We are concerned with the holding charge issue”.
Before now, the committee has gone around some states of the federation where some inmates have been released.
On December 5th, 2017, during the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari, 500 inmates of Kumawa Central Prison in Kano Metropolis were pardoned and regained freedom.
Also on December 28th, 2017, the AGF, alongside the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Mohammed Bello and Justice Bello, freed 126 inmates from Kuje, Suleja and Keffi prisons.
Also in December 2017, a total of 810 inmates from Kaduna and Kano regained freedom. The inmates from Kaduna were released from Bichi, Kiru, Wudil and Tundun Wada Central Prisons.
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