Prison Decongestion Committee Rejects Freedom for Drug Offenders

Justice Ishaq Bello

By David-Chyddy Eleke

The Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion Thursday turned down requests to free drug offenders serving jail terms in prison facilities in Anambra State.

The team, which was led by Justice Ishaq Bello, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, said it would not release the inmates, who were still in prison for their inability to pay options of fine, because they were not only consuming but selling drugs.

The rejection was despite announcement that the Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, had paid the option of fine for the inmates to ensure they were released.

The team, which was in Awka prison with the Chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Ijeoma Onwuamaegbu, and the state Attorney General, Dr Uju Nwaogu, however released seven inmates of prisons in Awka, Aguata, Nnewi and Onitsha, which he said merited their freedom.

Justice Bello said: “We have only released seven persons who merited it. We refused to release most of the inmates.

“The inmates were mostly young people and their cases are centred on drugs. Some don’t only smoke but they sell it, and releasing them will not be in the best interest of our country.

“We have put our heads together, with the Anambra CJ (Chief Judge), the AG (Attorney General) and the Legal Aid Council to also assign lawyers to some awaiting trial inmates who have been in various prisons in the state for years without legal representation.”

Bello said the team has so far visited 34 prisons in 16 states of the country, and has registered tremendous impact on the decongestion of prisons in the country.

He said: “We have so far released over 4,000 inmates which is a radical departure from what was done by previous administration in the area of prisons decongestion.”