By Alex Enumah
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, has written to governors of all the 36 states of the federation, drawing their attention to President Muhamamdu Buhari’s approval and authorisation for urgent measures to be taken towards the speedy decongestion of correctional/custodial centres in the country in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malami, in the letter to the governors dated April 9, 2020 and titled ‘Urgent Need for Speedy Decongestion of Custodial Centres’, lamented the high population of inmates in the various custodial centres across the country.
Malami’s letter which was disclosed in a statement by his media aide, Dr. Umar Gwandu, noted that available records show that 52,226 out of the present 74,127 inmates were Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs), adding that most of these centres were presently housing inmates beyond their capacities.
The minister, according to the statement noted that the development posed a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.
“In light of the above, Mr. President requests all Executive Governors
to request their State Chief Judges to embark on visits to all correctional/custodial centres within their respective States to identify and release deserving inmates where that has not been done already,” the letter reads in part.
He explained that at the requested visit, the Chief Judges were enjoined to consider conditional or unconditional release of ATPs who had spent six years or more in custody requesting that ATPs who had spent six years or more in custody and those who had no confirmed criminal cases against them.
According to the Minister, other inmates to be considered included the aged, those with terminal illness, low risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, convicts of minor offences with or without option of fines and those who had less than three years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their jail term for offences that attract five years and above.
Malami also demanded that “payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who were in custody because of their inability to pay such fines”.
The Minister notified the Governors that President Muhamadu Buhari had approved that “State Governors should at this stage, take measures to facilitate the setting of their respective State Prerogative of Mercy Committees in order to recommend deserving cases for release on grounds of pardon or clemency in line with Constitutional provisions”.