The Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) has called on well-meaning Nigerians to help the service decongest prison yards across the country by assisting indigent inmates awaiting trial, who can’t afford legal representation in the court, with pro bono legal representation.
This call was made by the spokesman of NPS, Francis Enobore, at a seminar on training and retraining of paralegal officers as well as provision of Pro Bono services for easy access to legal representation for indigent persons organised in collaboration with the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), and the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, (LACON) with support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British Government in Abuja.
Enobore revealed that over 80 per cent of awaiting trial prison inmates across the country languish in prison custody across the country because they can’t afford legal representation in the court, noting that out of the total prison population of about 73, 000, findings revealed that 48, 798 are inmates, adding that 70, 123 are male while 1, 399 are female.
“Convicted male inmates number stands at 22, 388 while the number of convicted female inmates is 336 bringing the total of convicted inmates to 22, 724,” he added.
Enobore, who was represented by Samaila Bulus of the service public relations unit, said: “However, it is important that we put fellow Nigerians behind these fingers in order to appreciate the pains and mental torture they pass through daily. While it is beyond the scope of this discussion to X-ray the reason for this unfortunate development, it suffices to mention that quite a number of persons languish in prison custody as Awaiting Trial detainees because they can’t afford legal representation. It therefore behoves on us as a people to assist these indigent citizens with pro bono legal representation in order to salvage their unfortunate situation.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to drive the course of prison decongestion through the National Stakeholders Committee on prison Reform and decongestion under the able leadership of his lordship, the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) Chief Judge Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello.
“As the committee visits prisons, several prisoners are being released while cutting down the bureaucracies impeding quick justice dispensation. Significantly, this singular approach also helps to reduce tension in the yard as inmates now have a sense of belonging that they have not been totally abandoned by the government.”
Executive director of PRAWA, Mrs. Uju Agomoh said there is also a strong need for new legislation targeted at mentally ill person to replace what he described as grossly outdated and regressive Lunacy Act of 1956.
Other areas for development, according to Agomoh, included the establishment of a database management system and a gender policy for the prisons service.