Precautionary measures being taken by the federal government to combat the coronavirus pandemic have been extended to the nation’s correctional centres.
In a deft move, the government yesterday directed the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) release all awaiting trial inmates in its custody. They account for 70 per cent of the detainees in the country’s prisons.
The step, according to the minister of interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, is to prevent the ravaging coronavirus from spreading into the correctional centres.
Aregbesola gave the directive during an emergency meeting held in his office in Abuja on how to manage the custodial centres of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS).
After the meeting, the minister issued a press statement through the director, Press and Public Relations, Mohammed Manga, where he said that the directive was informed by the decision of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, to avoid a worst case scenario in the event of the centres being infected by the virus.
He added that the measure is aimed at ensuring the safety of the inmates, members of staff of the Nigeria Correctional Service and other Nigerians.
Aregbesola, who emphasised that the country was in an abnormal situation which requires all hands to be on deck in order to ensure that the pandemic does not go into any of the custodian centres.
He called on the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, states’ chief judges, the governors and other stakeholders in the justice sector to immediately identify measures to be taken for quick decongestion of the country’s custodial centres.
According to him, the number of those in the custodial centres across the country calls for quick response, considering the present situation, as they are more vulnerable to infection. He added that the situation is further compounded by the huge number of awaiting trial persons (ATPs), who account for over 70 per cent of the national inmates’ population in the nation’s holding facilities.
He called for an urgent need to find a way of trying the cases of the ATPs in the country to overcome the challenge of space in order to reduce the possibility of the virus getting into the facilities.
Ja’afaru added that overcrowded facilities posed a serious threat to the inmates at this time of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, if adequate steps are not taken to address the situation.
The AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN), called for proper profiling of all inmates in the various facilities with a view to having a joint arrangement with the governors and the chief judges for the speedy trial of ATIs, who constitute the largest population at the custodial centres in the country.
On his part, the chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Ishaq Bello, called for constitutional amendment to remove the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCos) from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list, for easy administration of criminal justice system and as a necessary measure for the decongestion of custodial facilities.
Part of the resolutions of the meeting was a call on President Muhammadu Buhari to request the state governors to visit the custodial centres in their states with the chief judges and state attorneys- general, to consider and grant amnesty to deserving inmates.