By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
The Attorney – General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, yesterday, revealed that awaiting trial inmates in the Nigerian Prisons represent 70 percent of the prisons population in the country.
The Minister made this known in Birnin-Kebbi Prisons during the visit of the Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion.
He said it is worthwhile to highlight that the activities of decongesting the prisons by the committee represent the continuation of long standing effort by the federal government to reduce the numbers of inmates in prisons across the country.
While saying that the country cannot continue to overlook the need for non-custodial measures in our judicial system, Malami maintained that earlier prisons visit revealed that many inmates released were convicted for minor offences but were unable to pay their fines despite being low.
Speaking at the prison decongestion visit, the AGF assured that the committee will in addition to payment of fines also conduct a review of cases of inmates awaiting trials for more than five years in the select priority prisons.
“It was distressing to note that many of the released inmates were aged between 18 – 25 and were convicted of crimes including hose of stealing onions to stealing mobile/television sets.
“Despite some fines being as low as between N4,000 and 20,000, these young men could not afford to pay same and therefore languished in prison where they mixed with violent offenders.
“Indeed, it has already become stark clear from deliberations during the previous prisons visit that we, as a nation, cannot continue to overlook the need for non-custodial measures,” he said.
Going further, Malami said, “Such measures, including community service orders and probation, are clearly provided for in the administration of criminal Justice Act, 2015 and it is heartwarming to note that Kebbi State Justice Reform Team is working towards adoption of the Act in the state.
”Now, given that awaiting trial inmates represent 70percent of our prisons population, of cause, any discussion on prison decongestion that does not include working awaiting trial persons would be futile.
“I am pleased to announce that the committee will in addition to ensuring the payment of fines, will also conduct a review of cases of inmates awaiting trial for more than 5 years in the select priority prisons,” he concluded.
On his part, the Chairman of the Committee and Chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, also said some inmates with minor offences who have spent more than five years will be released.
Therefore, he advised magistrates to be careful with the kind of remand orders they issue.
“As head of courts, we must know what those under us are doing because a lot of inmates in prisons have no reason being there. We must make Nigeria’s Judiciary one of the best in the world”
“You can’t sentence someone without any offence. We were in one of the states and the offence written on the remand warrant was ‘intention to commit crime,” Justice Bello cautioned.