COVID-19: NGO backs FG on prison decongestion

• asks Comptrollers to exercise constitutional powers

As a measure to check the spread of COVID-19, state Governors in the country have been called upon to as a matter of necessity prevail on the Comptrollers of Correctional Centres in their various states and the FCT to exercise their powers of the prerogative of mercy under the Correctional Service Act 2019, section 12 (8) to decongest the centres and save the inmates.

The call was made by a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Prison Inmate Development Initiative (PIDI-Nigeria), with the recent directives by the Federal Government that state governments should release 70 per cent of all awaiting trial inmates under the custody of Correctional Centres in their various states.

Executive Director of the NGO, Mr Mbami Iliya Sabka stated this while reacting to the decision of the Federal Government which he described as a welcome development, noting that reports indicated that the awaiting trial inmates account for 70 per cent of the detainees in Nigeria’s Correctional Centres.

He said that “Following the directive, PIDI-Nigeria is compelled to call on all state Controllers of Nigeria Correctional Centres to exercise their powers as enshrined in the correctional act, section 12 (8) to decongest the facilities by notifying the State Attorney General (AG) to curtail any possibility of COVID-19 outbreak in such centres”,

The Executive Director also said that “It was also reported that Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who gave the directive on behalf of the President said the move is to prevent the ravaging coronavirus from spreading into the correctional centres”.

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According to the rights group, “the law, in section 12(8) has already empowered the Comptroller of Correctional Service to reject additional inmates above the facility under their watch. So, we will be forced to seek redress in the court’s if the comptrollers who have been given the constitutional powers to do the needful fail to exercise such powers”.

According to the NGO, “for instance, proper audit had revealed that nearly, if not, more than half of Bauchi Correctional Center’s population ought not to be in prison in the first place and therefore, ought to be released”.

The Executive Director who said that about 75% of Bauchi Correctional facilities population are persons awaiting trial – for very Petty or minor offences or even no offence at all often ended up in prison after they were arbitrarily arrested and maliciously charged simply for being unable to pay their way out of Police custody, and remanded in prison.

Mbami Sabka said that “Some may have been granted bail by a Magistrate’s Court but others dont know what to do or are unable to fulfil their bail conditions, or can’t afford legal representation. Reports after reports every year by local and international organisations and governments revealed these facts, yet the problems persist”.

He pointed out that, “At this perilous times when humanity faces the threat of extermination by this novel virus that has created a public health crisis, the impact can be mitigated in Nigeria by decongesting our correctional centres (prisons)”.

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