The Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and De-congestion, led by the Chairman and Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello, has effected the release of a total number of 30 inmates from Enugu Prisons.
This was made known by Justice Ishaq Bello, when he led members of the Committee to pay a courtesy call on the Enugu State Governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi at the Government House during the weekend.
He stated that, Enugu is the 15th State visited so far, and had about 4,000 inmates released across the country. Speaking, he said “For me, it is heart warming that your Excellency, the Governor of Enugu State, has adopted the Administration of Criminal Justice in the State.”
Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello, speaking further commended the President’s foresight in inaugurating the Committee to reform and fast track the De-congestion of prisons nationwide. He said that the Committee was inaugurated with the sole mandate to release inmates with an option of fine and review cases of inmates that have spent more than five years, awaiting trial.
He expressed delight that the effort of the Federal Government to ensure the passage of Administration of Criminal Justice Act into law had also been adopted by the State.
Speaking on the issue of inmates who have managed to develop themselves with skills and education while in prison, Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello, urged the Nigerian Government to articulate ways to absorb them back into the society, noting that failure to do so would be precarious, because the inmates would be more sophisticated in committing heinous crimes against the society.
Furthermore, the Chairman buttressed on the need for some reforms, such as, christening the Nigerian Prisons with new names that symbolizes them as Correctional institutions. He advised that the inmates be given a level playing ground in the job market, in order for discrimination against convicts to be eradicated.
Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello called on the Governor to intervene in the provision of Skill acquisition programs for the inmates while expressing dissatisfaction regarding some anomalies in the judgments given by some courts that further congested the prisons, such as convicting a suspect for “an intention to commit an offence”.
Responding, the Executive Governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi commended the Chairman on his contribution to the Reforms of the Justice System in Nigeria, stating he believed that, the adherence to established laws, would help to ensure the reform of the Criminal Justice Sector.
At the Enugu Prison, three convicts of minor offenses, with options of fine, where released; twenty-five persons were released on the basis of age, sickness and mental retardation alongside two female convicts. Amongst the inmates also released, was a paralyzed sixty- year old man, who had been imprisoned for thirty-one years. Two persons who were presented for consideration on the grounds of ill-health, were refused pardon due to the enormity of their crime and the fact that they had not served up to fourteen years in prison, which is the mandate of the Committee. The Committee Chairman reiterated that inmates who are convicted for offenses that inflict grievous harm to others, would not attract the sympathy of the Committee.
A total of thirty inmates were released from the prison. Inmates whose sentences were commuted to life imprisonment were released based on the fact that, they had met the required criteria for which a person can be considered for pardon. A father, son and nephew who were sentenced to life imprisonment, were released after the Committee reviewed their case and found them worthy of pardon after spending 15 years in prison. It is worthy of note that the son who at the time of the offence was nineteen (19) years old is currently a 300 level undergraduate of the National Open University. The Chairman advised that his grades be transferred for him to continue his studies after release and they should all be of good behaviour. An 88-year-old inmate and his son sentenced to life imprisonment, who had served for 15 years were also pardoned.
The Climax of the visit was the release of two female convicts on death row. The inmates through their testimonies were lured by their boyfriends (who are currently on death row) to commit the heinous crimes. One of them, Miss Nkiru (29-year-old) who was convicted at the age of 19 and had spent ten (10) years in prison, stated that she had enrolled in National Open University, where she’s currently studying Education. The Committee noted that she was very remorseful and even though on death row didn’t give up on life, but still had hope by enrolling in school and believing that one day she would use it to better the future of millions of Nigerians.
The other female convict Miss Anita (26-year-old) single parent, who is presently a final year student of National Open University, was praised to be the best in her class by the school’s desk officer. The Committee reviewed her case and saw that she was remorseful. Hence, she was released on the grounds that she was lured by her boyfriend to commit the crime and also has a 5-year-old son who at this stage of his life needs the love and the care of a mother.
In addition, seven inmates awaiting trial from Nsukka prison, who had spent 5 years and above without legal representation, received dates for their next court hearing from the Chief Judge of the State. The Chairman of the Committee urged the Legal Aid Council representative to ensure that the inmates be assigned lawyers. The Chairman in his statement frowned at the practice of arraigning suspects of capital offences before a magistrate court that lacks jurisdiction to try such cases. He further noted that due to the court’s lack of jurisdiction, the magistrates usually adjourns sine die
Honourable Justice Ishaq Bello, warned all released to stay away from crime while emphasizing that there might not be a second chance, if they are caught committing crime again.
The Federal Ministry of Justice and Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) extended monetary assistance to the released inmates for their transportation and medical expenses.