The Chairman, Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB), and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana SAN at the weekend advised the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo to shelve his plan of paying fines from court judgments amounting to N500 million on convicts in Nigerian prisons as a means of decongesting correctional centers across the country. Rather, such a huge amount, according to Falana, should be used to improve the welfare of inmates while Federal and State governments should grant pardon to the more than 4000 convicts.
Falana statement reads:
The Minister of Interior, Honourable Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has announced his immediate plan to decongest the correctional centres in the country by ensuring the payment of the fines imposed on not less than 4,000 convicts by various courts in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. Having concluded the arrangement, the Minister disclosed that the total fines of N500 million would be paid within the next four weeks.
While the Interior Minister deserves commendation for the initiative we are compelled to call for a review of the plan.The N500 million earmarked for payment of fines should be spent on the welfare of inmates in the correctional centres while alternative decongestion policies are considered. Specifically, the Minister should request the President and the various state Governors to exercise their prerogative of mercy by granting pardon to the 4,000 convicts on grounds of impecuniosity to facilitate their immediate release from custody.
It is on record that the federal government had released 7,813 inmates from the Nigeria Correctional Centres across the country during the outbreak of COVID-19 to curb the spread of the virus among inmates. The convicts and awaiting trial inmates were granted amnesty and released on the orders of former President Muhammadu Buhari as part of the prison decongestion policy of the Federal Government.
The Minister may also wish to request the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chief Judges of all the States and the Federal Capital Territory to visit the correctional centres and exercise their powers under the Criminal Justice (Release from Custody) (Special Provisions) Act by ordering the release of all inmates whose detention is either manifestly unlawful; or who have been in custody, whether on remand or otherwise, for periods longer than the maximum period of imprisonment which they could have served had they been convicted of the offences in respect of which they are detained.
However, it is pertinent to draw the attention of the Interior Minister to the plight of the scores of inmates who are languishing in the Ikoyi Correctional Centre as their case files were destroyed when the Magistrate Court and High Court buildings were burnt during the #endsars protests in October 2020. As the nation marks the third year anniversary of the #endsars protests, we urge the Interior Minister to ensure the immediate release of such inmates since the State can no longer prosecute them as their cases have been burnt.
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