COVID-19: FG decongests prisons, releases 3,751 inmates

The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) said about 3,751 inmates have so far been released during a nationwide decongestion exercise after the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria.

Speaking at a virtual interactive session with Attorneys-General of the 36 states on Tuesday, Malami said the exercise was to stifle the spread of coronavirus in the various correctional centres across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

Malami said the virtual interactive session on the theme, “Implementing Amnesty and Decongestion for Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty during the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond”, is one amongst a spectrum of other strategic events by the Federal Ministry of Justice towards the effective implementation of the Federal Executive Council’s mandate to decongest Correctional Centres as well as the articulation of workable reforms in the Justice sector.

He said the exercise which is not only classified as a mitigation measure for the pandemic but also a fundamental contribution to the ongoing Justice Sector Reform by his Ministry.

According to the minister, his Ministry has articulated plans for the second phase of the Nationwide Custodial Decongestion which will focus on implementing amnesty and decongestion for juveniles deprived of their liberty during the COVID-19 Pandemic and beyond.

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The exercise, he said will entail the collaborative efforts of the State Attorneys-General, Heads of Court of the 36 states and the FCT, the Ministry of Women Affairs, the Nigerian Correctional Service, non-government organizations like the United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) as well as, other relevant cum critical justice sector stakeholders.

He said: “The intervention will serve as an impetus to the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Childs Rights Act, 2003 that promotes the principle of detention as a last resort and use of diversionary alternatives for children in conflict with the law.

“Against this background, I wish to state that the aim for the articulation of this intervention exercise; part of which is the reason we all have converged for this virtual interactive session to promote juvenile justice standards in Nigeria as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by supporting the justice systems to be more child-sensitive especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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In achieving the foregoing, he said, it is expected that participants at the virtual interactive session, consider how to use arrest, detention and imprisonment only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period, how to treat every child deprived of liberty with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person and strictly safeguard their due process rights and procedural guarantees.

Public authorities, including law enforcements agencies, prosecutors and judges he said, should exercise their detention powers cautiously, considering the extreme nature of the detention measures, the heightened vulnerability of the child and upholding the best interest of the child as a primary consideration, particularly during the current pandemic.

He commended the contributions of various justice sector stakeholders including, the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion; the Correctional and Reform Unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Interior, and the Nigerian Correctional Service and other relevant justice sector stakeholders for their consistent support and dedication to national service towards the effective execution of the mandate of the Ministry to fast-track the decongestion of Correctional Centres, nationwide.

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