By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA — MOVED by the dehumanizing condition which inmates were subjected to in the nation’s prisons, the Senate has begun the process of putting an end to unlawful detention of persons.
The Lawmakers will also amended Nigeria’s Criminal Justice Act to make it mandatory for the Comptroller General of Prisons to send monthly roaster of prison inmates to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and states Chief Judges.
According to the Senators, when the chief law officer receives the roasters, he will order the release of inmates who have been unnecessarily detained without trials beyond the required two to three months in line with the constitution from the date of arrest.
These were some of the resolutions reached yesterday during discussions by the Senators on the Bill for “An Act to amend Criminal Justice (Release from Custody, Special Provisions Act CAP C40 of the Federation of Nigeria 2004,‘’ sponsored by Senator Babajide Omoworare, ACN, Osun East, scaled through the second reading. It was referred to the Senate Committees on Judiciary, Human and Legal Matters and Internal Affairs with two weeks to report back to the general house.
In the debate, Senator Omoworare noted that if passed, the Bill would arrest the nagging national issue of prison congestion which he said, had defied almost every regime and attendant administrative policies in the country.
Omoworare said: ‘’The disheartening bleak truth is that our prisons host almost 70 per cent of inmates who are awaiting trial. A worrisome fact conceded by Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, and globally echoed and lamented by Amnesty International. The agonizing statistics which the Minister admitted recently revealed that 30,000 or over 65 per cent of over 46,000 inmates of prisons across the country are awaiting trial.
“This disturbing detention of persons is tantamount to an infringement of the fundamental rights as ordained in our constitution. The overpopulation of the prisons have largely been responsible for the incessant jail breaks in Nigeria and with this comes the attendant security risk to our nation as both convicted and awaiting trial inmates disappear into thin air.”
Mark on the poor
Senate President David Mark while noting that the poor and the low class persons in the country suffer unlawful detention, however described the bill as a beautiful one which should be treated as quickly as possible.
Mark said: “This is a beautiful Bill, it should be treated as quickly as possible so that it can be passed on time. It is regrettable that it is only the low levelled people that are affected by this, it is not fair when they are kept for so long, it is even worse and inhuman to keep people in detention for too long.”
‘’Section 35 (4/5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) categorically provides that an accused must be brought before a Court within a reasonable time or be released from custody within two to three months from the date of arrest – a provision that has been largely unimplemented.
Some senators who contributed to the debate, regretted that 70 per cent of persons locked up in Nigerian prisons were awaiting trial, hence the need for the amendment.
Senator Odion Ugbesia, PDP, Edo Central, argued that the bill had financial implication for the senate contrary to the position of the sponsor of the bill.