By Alex Enumah
As part of measures to contain the spread of the Coronavirus in Nigeria, the federal government has disclosed plans to further decongest Correctional Services Centers across the country.
The move which is against the backdrop that majority of inmates in various centres were persons awaiting trial is to reduce the spread of the virus among inmates.
Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, made the disclosure in a statement made available to journalists by his media aide, Dr. Umar Gwandu.
“Against the background of the prevailing pandemic COVID-19 health challenges, the federal government has taken bold steps to further decongest Correctional Service formations,” he said.
According to Malami, President Muhamadu Buhari has been mindful of the need to decongest prisons with particular regards to the fact that around 70 per cent of the inmates of the Nigerian Correctional Service Centres are awaiting trial.
To tackle the situation, Malami noted that President Buhari constituted the Presidential Committee for the decongestion of the Correctional Centers across the country.
While noting that the committee which is coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Justice, had recorded great success, Malami disclosed that following the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, the committee has been charged to reconsider what measures could be put in place for decongestion of Correctional Service Centres in view of the present health challenges.
“The Committee recommended that Courts, Federal Ministry of Justice, the Correctional Service
formations, Governors, Attorney-Generals of States, among others be encouraged to intensify actions to ensure that the Correctional Service formations are not further congested taking into consideration the prevailing health challenges associated with Covid- 19.
“The Committee requested that Mr. President may wish to consider his powers of Prerogative of
Mercy in speeding of decongestion, while Governors of States and their CJs be encouraged to visit correctional service formations for the purpose of decongestion.
“The Committee is of the view that the Federal Executive Council and the State Governments be encouraged to consider payment of fines in respect of minor offences for those categories of inmates that could not afford paying of same in respect of offences that attract fines arising from the convictions”, the statement read in part.
It added that part of the resolutions were also that Correctional Service should, as well, consider the possibility of moving inmates from congested Correctional Service Formations to centres that are less congested and have space for accommodation of inmates, among others.
The AGF disclosed that by way of long term measures, the committee would be seeking for a Constitutional amendment that would move the Correctional Service formations from Exclusive to Concurrent Legislative List among others.
The statement noted that the categories of inmates that would be considered mostly were those that stayed in Correctional Service Centres for a period above 10 years, those that stayed as inmate for a longer period without any documentation relating to their detention, those that have the option of fine, those that have been in the Centers on holding charges in respect of offences that the Magistrate that sent them to Correctional Service Formations do not have the jurisdiction to try the cases, among others, but excluding those inmates serving jail terms for capital offences such as murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and treason among others.