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Prison decongestion, national issues discourse herald Lagos Legal year

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By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Onozure Dania

The release of  233 inmates, majority of whom were awaiting trials inmates from the Kirikiri Prisons, Lagos by the Lagos State Chief Judge, Justice Ayotunde Philips formed part of the activities lined up to mark the celebrations of the 2012/2013 judicial Legal year in Lagos state.

Though, the release of inmates of the prisons by the Chief Judge was not something unusal, but this year’s own, was remarkable because of the CJ’s promise to decongest the prison  when she assumed office in June this year.

Most of the lucky inmates who secured their freedom had stayed for over twelve years in detention without progress in their trial.

Justice Philips, who was accompanied by senior members of the judiciary includs Judges and the Chief Registrar, who  released  the 133 inmates from the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison and 103 from the Medium Security Prison. She however pushed forward the attempt to release inmates from the women prisons, also located in Kirikiri vicinity to another date.

Apart from the on-going legal year programme, the chief judge was empowered to release the inmates in pursuant to the powers conferred on her under Section 1 (1) of the Criminal Justice Custody Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2007.

In her remark, Justice Philips said, “there is a saying in the legal circle that it is better for 10 guilty persons to be free than for one innocent person to be incarcerated. We have gone through the list of those recommended for release. So for those of you who qualified to be released, you are very lucky that your names have come up. So, go and sin no more.”

She urged those who regained their freedom to turn a new leaf and go out to contribute their quota to the society, adding, “I promised during my swearing-in ceremony that I will do my best to decongest the prisons in Lagos State.” She emphasised that she will not limit the exercise only to the legal year activity.

Justice Ayotunde Philips

She said that she intended to pay regular visit to the prisons during her tenure than what obtained  during the previous administrations.

Welcoming the team, the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons of the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Mr. Olu Tinuoye disclosed that it was very unusual for chief judges of Lagos state to visit the prisons.

“By this visit, a lot of them expect freedom. It is a matter of regret that Judges in the state have not been visiting the prison regularly. This is why their (inmates) expectations are very high,” he said.

Tinuoye said a lot of the inmates awaiting trials  have not found life easy behind the bars especially because they are in custody for petty offences.

The week long events which commenced Monday, kicked-off with a  discourse on socio-economic and security challenges facing the nation.

Lagos State governor, Mr. Raji Babatunde Fashola, SAN, set the tone for the discourse, when he called on the legal practitioners to take a cursory look on many challenges facing the country, especially  the issue of security and other social problems confronting the nation.

He said, considering the vital position occupied by lawyers and judges he noted this has put them on the edge of right the wrongs in the country.

According to the governor  the roles of  lawyers, the judiciary and Judges, no doubt, cut across all human endeavor, thereby placing onerous task on their shoulders.

“Our country is at great crossroad, facing enormous challenges that put to test our self governance and democracy. In my own view, lawyers and Judges have very important roles to play.”

He said it is the law that regulates the society, especially when the country is faced with issues of national security and economic development. He said it is law that regulates man and guaranteed his properties.

“Man makes law to cater for the national security, it secures man and protects his property, so our success depends on the success of the judiciary. In Nigeria,  road traffic constitutes challenges to our socio-economic development. If there is traffic problem, a worker will not be able to get to his work timely. If he stays unduly in traffic, he will affect his health.

“We work with the lawmakers to create law for good governance, so we should do justice no matter what it takes, your lordships should give your judgment and do justice and ensure that nobody is unjustly punished.  You are economic engineers, how quickly justice is dispensed with, will definitely lead to several developments. A lot is expected from the judiciary arm of government, “ he said.

He therefore called on them to emulate the great men who have performed excellently in the state judiciary and learn from them and also pass on the great legacy to the incoming generation.

In his sermon, feeling strong about insecurity that pervades the country, the Archbishop of  Ecclesiastical Province of Lagos, The Most Rev. Adebola Ademowo at the church service also decried the rate at which the nation’s values were deteriorating, saying something urgent must be done to arrest the situation.

Bishop Ademowo said lawlessness pervades the country at all levels, stating this may not augur well for the nation.

“Nigeria is deteriorating in standard, there is danger everywhere and there is nowhere that is safe in the country and there is no respect for human lives again. Nigeria was not like this before.”

Beside he charged judicial officers to dispense justice without fear or favour, urging judges to emulate God as legal practitioners also have roles to play in ensuring a just society.

He also threw his weight behind the new Lagos Traffic law, describing it as a welcome development that the society needs to restore sanity on the roads where everyone now does what he wants, calling on Nigerians to address the security challenges and restore the sanctity of lives and safety of property.

He also urged the judicial officers to address the issue of Prison congestion, adding that justice is a quality that originated from God who first ordained judges, citing instances in the bible where God personally appointed judges over his people. the week long programme ends on Friday with a dinner by the chief Judge, justice Ayotunde Philips.

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