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FG frees 3,789 inmates to avert COVID-19 spread



THE federal government has facilitated the release of 3,789 inmates in prisons nationwide as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus since the discovery of COVID-19 in the country.

  The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami made this public yesterday while speaking at an event meant to highlight the achievements of the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion (formerly, Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion).

  “As part of measures to decongest the custodial centres nationwide in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dangers posed to the centres, my office, the Ministry of Interior in collaboration with Presidential Committee on Correctional Service and Decongestion, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy and State Executives and other relevant stakeholders were galvanised to develop measures to overcome the challenges.

  “The initiatives adopted have so far led to the release of about 3,789 inmates, while simultaneously reducing the instances of unnecessary test and we intend to sustain this momentum.”

  Malami noted that the Presidential Committee has since its establishment in October, 2017, aided the release of a total of 7,713 from 39 prisons in 18 states that it has visited and appraised.

  The AGF said the Presidential Committee, headed by the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Ishaq Bello has also identified many challenges in the nation’s correctional centres and is working ways to address them.

  He noted that the inadequacy of the nation’s correctional facilities now compels them to currently operate at over 150 per cent of their capacity.

  He said part of measures to address the inadequacy in the correctional centres was the ongoing construction of 3000-capacity maximum security custodial centres in Karshi, Abuja and Janguza in Kano State.

  The AGF said, “undoubtedly, the COVID19 pandemic has posed its own peculiar challenges in the light of the worrisome and dilapidated state of our correctional centres nationwide.”

  He said his office will work with the Ministry of Interior and other relevant agencies “to urgently decongest the correctional centres of awaiting trial inmates.

  “Also, to be revisited is the issue of condemned convicts on death row for over 10 years with a view of getting relevant authorities to commute the sentence to life imprisonment.

  “This is based on the provisions of Section 12 (2) (c) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019. A review of cases of inmates awaiting trial for upwards of five (5) years will also be considered.

“We are very mindful of the increasing number of sexual assault and kidnapping; and with respect to the public interest, those who are charged or convicted for such offences will not be considered for release during the proposed exercise.”

  Justice Bello said his committee, during its visits to correctional centres, found that a number of facilities were in dire need of urgent rehabilitation and made recommendations as a matter of urgency to the relevant authorities for the renovation/construction of these facilities.

  He said his committee, after a review of cases of inmates eligible for prerogative of mercy and condemned convicts on death row for over 10 years, wrote to several state governments to act on some special cases identified and to exercise their powers of clemency in deserving cases or commute to life sentence those condemned to death.

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