The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, on Tuesday, said he was worried over the rising number of persons in detention across the country, saying there was need for all the Correctional Service Centers to be fully and systematically decongested.
Addressing newsmen at the Federal Ministry of Justice headquarters in Abuja, Malami, revealed that the Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion has so far released a total of 3,768 inmates that were held in custody for minor offences.
According to Malami, the freed inmates were freed after the Committee “appraised about thirty-four prisons in sixteen states”.
The AGF said the Presidential Committee which is headed by the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, further wrote letter of appeal to several State Government Executives to act on some special cases, as well as to exercise their powers of clemency in deserving cases or commute to life sentence those condemned to death.
He said: “On assumption of office, President Buhari was alarmed over the deplorable state of prisons nationwide, noting that it is a national disaster and that many of the prisons are about 90% overcrowded. He stressed the need to put in place urgent measures to speedily decongest the prisons.
“The Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in October 2017, constituted a Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion Chaired by the Honourable Chief Judge, High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Honourable Justice I.U Bello to fast-track the Decongestion of prisons.
“The Committee has since its inauguration visited and appraised about thirty-four (34) prisons in sixteen (16) states. A total number of Three Thousand, Seven Hundred and Sixty-Eight (3,768), have been so far released during these visits via payment of fines for convicts for minor offences with the option of fine who are unable to pay the fines, general review of peculiar cases and advocacy overtures to relevant authorities.
“The Committee has written letters of appeal to several State Government Executives to act on some special cases encountered during the visits to various prisons in some states as well as to exercise their powers of clemency in deserving cases or commute to life sentence those condemned to death.
“The Committee also carried out prison’s inspection exercises wherein a number of facilities were discovered to be in dire need of urgent rehabilitation and has made recommendations as a matter of urgency to the relevant authorities for the renovation/construction of prison facilities.
“The Committee during its visits, also conducts the review of cases of inmates awaiting trial for upwards of five (5) years, and of inmates eligible for Prerogative of Mercy with relevant authorities and looks into cases of condemned convicts on death row for over ten (10) years with the view to getting relevant authorities to commute the sentences to life imprisonment”.
Malami said his office was instrumental to the speedy passage of the Nigerian Correctional Services Bill that was signed into law by President Buhari on August 14, 2019.
“This is a major turning point in Prisons Reform and Justice Sector delivery in Nigeria. The recently passed Act has some innovative provisions which addresses some major issues that have been of concern to stakeholders in the Justice sector. This marks another milestone in our national Strategies deployed towards urgently decongesting the prisons.
“The guiding principles that ran across the Act took clue from the objectives of the Act as stated under section 2 (1) of the Act which are; To ensure compliance with international human rights standards and good correctional practices;
“To provide enabling platform for implementation of non-custodial measures;
“To enhance the focus on corrections and promotion of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders; and
“To establish institutional, systemic and sustainable mechanisms to address the high number of persons awaiting trial”.
He said the Federal Executive Council had in April, granted approval for the award of a contract for the installation of Virtual Automated Case Management System to fast track the decongestion of prisons in Nigeria.
“This system will integrate with the existing Prisons Information Management System (PIMS) with the ultimate aim of effecting a holistic improvement of the efficiency of the entire Justice Sector.
“In this regard, it is my hope that in no distant time, the Prisons, now Correctional Service Centres will be fully and systematically decongested.
“The first step towards attaining the objective of the Act is the establishment of a standard Skill Acquisition Centre at Keffi Correctional Centre in December which will be replicated in Correctional Centres across the Federation.
“This will enhance the focus on corrections and promotion of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders as provided by the Act”, Malami added.
On his part, Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion, Justice Bello, said there was need for the country to embrace the non-custodial sentencing system.
Justice Bello disclosed that a batch of Magistrates that recently inspected various detention facilities in the country in line with provision of section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, found out that in a particular center, over 250 suspects were locked-up in one cell.
Decrying that security operatives initially denied the team of Magistrates access to the detention facility, Justice Bello said he promptly intervened and ensured that they were transferred to the Correctional Service Center in Kuje.