By Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called on security agencies in the country to bring to an end pre-trial detention, saying it is an affront to human dignity and fundamental human rights.
The Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, who stated this as part of activities to mark the African Day of Pre-Trial Detention in Abuja, called on security agencies in the country to strictly observe the nation’s constitution and Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-trial Detention in Africa (GCAPCPDA) as well as other relevant international protocols, treaties and conventions in handling criminal suspects.
Angwe cited Part 2 Section 7(b) (ii) of the (GCAPCPDA) which states that, “The maximum duration of police custody, prior to the obligation to bring the arrested person before a judge, shall be set out in national law that prescribes time limits of not more than 48 hours extendable in certain circumstances by a competent judicial authority, consistent with international law and standards.”
He said it was therefore worrisome to note that a good number of people were put behind bars for a period of five to 15 years or more without diligent prosecution and in the process some become ill or even died in detention despite the possibility of being innocent of the allegations made against them.
The commission boss commended the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Solomon Arase, for his efforts in decongesting police cells across the nation, adding that the commission was ever ready to collaborate with the police and other security agencies to ensure that all detention facilities comply with the International Minimum Standard for treating criminal suspects.
Angwe disclosed that recent prison audit conducted by the commission revealed than about 70 per cent of the inmates were awaiting trial without the required minimum standard of living, which according to him, constituted a grievous human rights abuse.
“Out of 50,645 lockups, the number of convicts was 13, 901 compared to awaiting trial detainees of 35, 889” which indicates that “there is a problem in the criminal justice system”.
In an effort to decongest prison and detention centres across the country, the commission has embarked on routine visits to prisons across the country to inspect their compliance with human rights standards.
The reports of these exercises are usually sent to the appropriate authorities for necessary action and this has led to the release of some awaiting trial inmates. The Africa pre-trial detention day is commemorated every April 25.