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66,000 prison inmates awaiting trials – Legal Aid Council

Aliyu Bagudu Abubakar, the Director General of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, said out of the total inmate population of 70,000 in Nigeria, approximately…

Aliyu Bagudu Abubakar, the Director General of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, said out of the total inmate population of 70,000 in Nigeria, approximately 66,000, constituting 73 per cent, are awaiting trials in the country’s custodial centres.

He said this on Wednesday in Abuja at the ‘Access to Justice Pro Bono Conference 2024’, 3-day training for pro bono lawyers and law clinicians on the Reforming Pretrial Detention in Nigeria Projects (RPDNII), organised by the Public Private Development Centre (PPDC).

Abubakar said the issue of overcrowding in custodial centres stems from two main factors: inadequate facilities and the remand system’s detention of individuals for minor offences.

He stressed that the correctional centres, designed for a certain capacity, often end up accommodating double their intended capacity, exacerbating the problem of overcrowding.

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Addressing efforts to tackle the issue, Abubakar outlined ongoing initiatives aimed at improving the efficiency of the justice system, including investigations, arrests, and prosecution processes.

He expressed optimism that with sustained efforts, the congestion in the system would be alleviated, gradually reducing the number of awaiting trial inmates.

Our correctional centers are not sufficient. It is not that the number of cases we have is outrageous; the problem is that correctional centers meant for 500 inmates end up housing 1000 inmates, leading to overcrowding.

“As much as we are trying to get it right at the levels of investigation, arrests, and prosecution, I can assure you that the issue of congestion in our system will be a thing of the past. We are aiming to reduce the 60 percent of awaiting trial inmates, and they will eventually find their way out of the correctional centers.

“We are doing our best to reduce the numbers of people by the day. Unfortunately, the more we reduce, the more people are handed over to the centers. You can imagine if you have 90,000 inmates and only manage to reduce less than 60 percent, say 50 out of 90, you would be left with 40 percent, and that 40,000 would be too small for our correctional centers,” he said.

Earlier, the Chief Executive Officer PPDC, Jibril Shittu, noted the need for collaboration among various stakeholders to address the ineffective justice system and reduce the number of awaiting trial inmates.

“So many issues that have to do with inmates languishing in detention has been raised, justice delayed is justice denied. When you have over 76,000 people in the custodial facilities across the country, and of which 70 per cent of these inmates are awaiting trial, it shows how effective the justice system needs to be.

“So what we are here to do really is to contribute in our own way, working together with the various law clinics, with the probono lawyers, with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), with the legal aid council to see how we can reduce these numbers,” Shittu said.

He said that the organisation was also addressing issues beyond pretrial detention such as alternative measures to justice challenges.

He noted that cases like the Nigerian cross-dresser Bobrisky, who was sentenced to six months in prison and many others needed to be revisited.

He, however, commended the efforts of the various justice sector stakeholders at the state levels, adding that the concurrent list was now also addressing the issues of congestion.

He said, “The idea behind this is to ensure that on a regular basis, we are visiting these facilities to look at the state of these facilities. This is because, according to the Nigeria Correctional Service Act 2019, there is the section 38, which specifically looks at some of these issues.”

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