COVID-19: FG Grants Amnesty to 2,600 Inmates

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*Anthony Enahoro, Ambrose Ali, others get presidential pardon

By Kuni Tyessi

In order to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus, the Federal Government has moved to decongest Nigerian prisons by announcing amnesty for about 2,600 inmates.

Presidential pardon was also granted to the governor of the old Bendel State in the Second Republic, late Prof. Ambrose Ali, foremost nationalist, Late Chief Anthony Enahoro, Ex-Lt. Col. Moses Effiong, Major E.J. Olanrewaju and Ajayi Olusola Babalola.

Also, the sum of N21.4 million is to be paid by the Federal Government as fine in respect of 885 prisoners who have failed to meet up with the condition needed for their release.

The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, who announced this in Abuja, Thursday, said this had become inevitable due to governments’ resolve to maintain the globally practiced social distancing culture in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said about 250 facilities spread across the nation were inadequate to house the over 74,000 inmates in their custody.

He said the amnesty will not apply to inmates sentenced for violent extreme offences such as terrorism, kidnapping, armed banditry, rape, human trafficking and culpable homicide.

“We still have challenges with accommodation. Our about 250 facilities are inadequate to house the over 74,000 inmates in our custody presently. You will recollect that last month we turned the sod for the construction of a 3,000-capacity custodial centre in Abuja.

“A bigger issue that will positively affect accommodation at the correctional centres is the review of criminal justice administration with regards to the inmates. For instance, our last audit shows that a disproportionate number of inmates are awaiting trial persons (ATPs).

“I am pleased to inform you that five ex-convicts recommended for presidential pardon have been so pardoned. They are late Prof Ambrose Ali, Late Chief Anthony Enahoro, Ex Lt. Col. Moses Effiong, Major E.J. Olanrewaju and Ajayi Olusola Babalola. Prof Ali was the governor of the old Bendel State in the Second Republic (1978-1983) and a great progressive while Chief Enahoro was a foremost nationalist who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence.

“This has now become imperative by the outbreak and continued spread of COVID-19. The virus, it should be reiterated, has no known cure. The best advice given by experts is to maintain environmental and personal hygiene, particularly constant washing of hands and maintaining social distance.

“The Nigerian Correctional Service has been taking extra care to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus in the custodial centres by improving the level of hygiene, suspension of social visits and extra-screening of new inmates among others.

“But the most pertinent and accordingly adopted are: Old age: This is for inmates that are 60 years old and above, those suffering from ill-health that are likely to terminate in death, convicts serving three years and above and have less than six months to serve, inmates with mental health issues and Inmates with options of fines not exceeding N50,000 and have no pending case.

“Using these criteria, a total number of 2,600 inmates spread across our various custodial centres qualify to benefit from the amnesty. These include 885 convicts who could not pay their fines totalling N21.4 million which the government will pay on their behalf to enable them get their freedom. From this number, 41 inmates are federal convicts, two of which have been granted pardon” he said.

He added that beyond the exegesis of COVID19, the government was exercising the prerogative of mercy in the firm belief that humans have innate capacity for goodness, even when they make mistakes which are precipitated by uncontrolled impulse, bad human companies, making bad personal choices and judgements and environmental pressures.