By Bashir Bello

A non-governmental organisation, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, (PRAWA) has on Tuesday advocated that minor or petty offences be decriminalized and the offenders are punished through engaging them in community services and not imprisonment or kept in custodial centres.

This was as it calls for the amendment of the penal code to allow for community service against petty offenders instead of imprisonment.

The Head of PRAWA in Kano, Katumi Mohammed Oboirien Esq. made the call while briefing newsmen in the state on it project “declassification and decriminalization of petty offences in Nigeria” with support from Open Society Initiative of West Africa, OSIWA.

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Oboirien who said the group had earlier carried out a visit to the correctional centre across Kano State, however, decried the high rate of persons with minor or petty offences languishing in the custodial centres.

She itemized the minor or petty offences that are criminalized in the penal code to include public nuisance, vagabond, failure to pay the debt, wandering around to mention but a few.

According to her, “the penal code is long overdue. It was imposed on the people of this state the time of our independence more than half a century ago came into operation on the 30th of September, 1960 and was alien to the values, traditions and beliefs of the Northern society. That same penal code, has, however, remained the principal penal statue in Kano State which PRAWA with support from OSIWA is trying to make modest efforts to advocate for the decriminalization and declassification of some the sections of the code that criminalize petty offences, to enact laws reflecting the values and norms of our society.

“In this regard, therefore, it is inexorable that a new penal code rectifying the aforementioned gaps be put in place.

“Those who committed some certain offence that is minor in nature should not find themselves in the custodial centres but should be in the non-custodial aspect of the Nigeria Correctional Service act and equally the Administration Criminal Justice Law, ACJL, Kano State can be applicable to them.

“We have visited the Kano Correctional Center and saw many offenders languishing in the facilities due to the fact they cannot pay the fine that was given to them. Most of these offenders of minor cases are poor and cannot afford the fine. They end up languishing in the custody.

“An instance, is a debtor that agreed that he is owing someone a debt but cannot pay at that particular point in time, should be given some time to pay but if you end up putting that person in custodial centres then how do you expect such person to pay, you kept him in custody, it will be difficult.

“We are calling on the legislature to amend some of this sections of the code while we call on the judiciary to be creative when such person with minor offence come before them, they can assign that person to the non-custodial section where they would be asked to do community service but not put in the custody,” Oboirien however stated.

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