President Muhammadu Buhari has called for urgent measures towards the speedy trial of cases and decongestion of prisons in the country in view of COVID-19 outbreak.
Buhari in a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, drew his attention to the recent call by the United Nations.
He said: “From available records, the inmates population at various custodial centres across the country presently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs).
“Most of these custodial centres are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose 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 view of the above scenario, it has become imperative for Your Lordship to request State Chief Judges to embark on immediate visit to all custodial/correctional centres within their respective States to identify and release deserving inmates where that has not been done already.”
The President noted that during such visits, the chief judges are to consider conditional or unconditional release of ATPs who have spent six years or more in custody.
He said, “ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged.
“It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without option of fines and inmates who have less than three years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract five years and above.
“Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines.”
Buhari said a report on the proposed visit is expected to be forwarded to the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion Secretariat, Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja, for compilation and onward transmission to his office.