The new Chief Judge of Lagos State, Adeyoola Phillips, Tuesday, freed 233 inmates awaiting trial at the Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos.
The inmates, who had spent between four and twelve years, were released as part of the week long activities to mark the state’s legal year which began on Monday.
“This year and every year from now on, I hope, we will be visiting the prisons to perform our statutory duties in releasing those inmates who should not really be inmates,” said Mrs. Phillips, who was sworn in last June.
While 130 prison inmates awaiting trial were freed from the Maximum Security Prison, 103 were freed from the Medium Security Prison
“If you don’t deserve to be here, you shouldn’t be here. During my tenure, the visit won’t be confined to the legal year alone,” Mrs. Phillips said.
Accompanying the chief judge on the visit were senior judges and magistrates in the state’s Judiciary, as well as some members of the Nigeria Bar Association.
Earlier, Olumide Tinuoye, the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons, Kirikiri Prisons, appealed to the state government to address the “injustice” of remanding alleged offenders for a protracted period without trial.
“If they have been sentenced, they’ll know they are suffering for the offence which they have committed,” Mr. Tinuoye said.
“I don’t know how easy it will be now to be able to convict somebody who have been in the prison for 12 years,” he added.
Mr. Tinuoye used the opportunity to make a case for the de-congestion in the prison. He said despite the prison being a maximum security prison meant to house high profile criminals, majority of its inmates were petty offenders.
“So, instead of remanding high profile offenders in this place, we tend to have very small offenders, maybe transferred from other prisons,” he said.
At the arrival of the state government’s contingent, the inmates – along with convicted prisoners on death row – marched silently into the reception hall where they sat and listened.
When the chief judge announced that some people would breathe the air of freedom before nightfall, the capacity filled hall erupted with cheers and applause.
“I’ve heard all the complaints and requests and suggestions from the deputy comptroller and it (the visit) is something I hope to do quite regularly.
“I don’t mean I’ll come here every month, that’s not possible, but at least once a quarter or once in six months, I should be here to try and see what I can do,” Mrs. Phillips said.
Inmates on awaiting trial whose names made it to the ‘freedom’ list were full of delight and dance after their names were reeled out.
Chima Ndubuisi was not in the hall when his name was called; his friends dashed out of the hall screaming his name and when they found him, they practically dragged him into the venue.
Mr. Ndubuisi had been on awaiting trial since 2004.
For James Odekunle, it was time to let loose pent up emotions. He dashed out of the hall, fell on the football pitch, rolled on the grass, leapt up, and gave a nearby prison warden a bear hug.
“There is a big feeling in my body today,” said Mr. Odekunle, 29, awaiting trial in prison after he was accused of murder in 2007.
“I thank the Lord for what God has done in my life. The next thing now is I’m going to face my work and my family,” Mr. Odekunle, an electrician, added.
Mrs. Phillips said that the new Criminal Administration Law in the state has put in measures that would help decongest the prisons.
“By the time we clear what we have on ground now, it would be smooth sailing from now on. So those of you who are here today to be released, I can assure you today you will be released,” Mrs. Phillips said.
“And for those of you who have sinned, I say go and sin no more,” she added.