Lawyers in Nigeria under the aegis of Lawyers Alert have expressed concern over the slow pace and low implementation of the Federal Government policy to decongest correctional centers across the country.
The group expressed worry that state governments are moving at an “unbelievably slow pace” with less than ten out of the 36 states complying by releasing prisoners 8 weeks after the initiative was announced.
President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier approved the decongestion of Nigeria Correctional Service Centres, NCoS, to aid in curbing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
This prompted civil society groups including Lawyers Alert to set up monitoring teams to ensure that the policy was implemented objectively to achieve the desired goal.
The legal director of Lawyers Alert, who is also the head of its Prisons Decongestion Monitoring Team, Bamidele Jacobs, in a statement noted that the Federal Government’s pace concerning the implementation of the policy did not match the urgency of the situation.
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Bamidele said “Our monitors are engaging the various state governments through the Attorney Generals. In show of transparency, some state governments have invited Lawyers Alert to join teams set up to decongest the prisons as an observer.
According to the statement: “The releases of those inmates, though commendable, still leave a lot to be desired. Indeed, what has been achieved so far can be described as an appearance of addressing the issue and certainly not any genuine effort towards solving the problem?”
“In a country with over 52, 000 Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATIs) in centres across the country, and with a number of total inmates that is about three times their original capacity, the need to genuinely and drastically decongest our custodial centres cannot be overemphasized, given COVID-19 pandemic.”
“State governments appear to be making a caricature of the whole exercise in view of the numbers released. Ebonyi state, for example released 33, Zamfara state 18 and Osun State 34.”
“This can hardly be said to be decongestion, where about 52,000 are innocently in jail, awaiting trial, with 70% of these being for petty offenses.”
“Lawyers Alert is concerned that the noble act of decongesting prisons owing to COVID-19 is gradually losing its objective and maybe seen as scoring political points.”
Daily Trust had reported that the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, had disclosed at a World Press Conference at the NCoS on Thursday 9th, April, 2020 that Buhari’s gesture is part of the recommendations of 2020 Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy (PACPM).
He said; “a total number of 2,600 inmates spread across our various custodial centres qualify to benefit from the amnesty.
These include 885 convicts who could not pay their fines totaling N21.4 million which the government will pay on their behalf to enable them get their freedom.