By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, has written to Governors of all the 36 states of the federation to draw their attention to President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval and authorization for urgent measures to be taken towards the speedy decongestion of correctional/custodial centres in the country in view of the COVID–19 pandemic.
The AGF, in a statement that was signed by his media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu, and made available to newsmen on Friday, said the letters, dated April 9, enjoined all the Governors to direct Chief Judges in their states to identify and release deserving inmates.
Malami said he had in the letters titled “Urgent need for speedy decongestion of Custodial Centres”, decried that from available records, the inmate population at the various custodial centres across the country, presently stood at 74,127, out of which 52,226 inmates are awaiting trial persons (ATPs).
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He noted that most of Custodial Centers are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities.
Malami said the development posed a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.
“In light of the above, Mr President requests all Executive Governors to request their State Chief Judges to embark on visits to all correctional/custodial centres within their respective States to identify and release deserving inmates where that has not been done already,” the letter read in part.
Besides, the AGF explained that at the requested visit, the Chief Judges are enjoined to consider the conditional or unconditional release of ATPs who have spent 6 years or more in custody, as well as those that have no confirmed criminal cases against them.
According to the Minister, other considerable inmates would include the aged, those with a terminal illness, low-risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, convicts of minor offences with or without the option of fines and those who have less than 3 years term left to serve, having served a substantial term of their jail term for offences that attract 5 years and above.
Malami also demanded that “payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines”.
He notified the Governors that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved that “State Governors should at this stage, take measures to facilitate the setting of their respective State Prerogative of Mercy Committees in order to recommend deserving cases for release on grounds of pardon or clemency in line with Constitutional provisions”.