Majority of the inmates were not allowed to talk to the press.
As he faced the cameras and was almost mobbed by rampaging journalists on Wednesday afternoon, Caleb Audu’s sweaty face beamed with smiles.
His two years, two months, and two weeks stay at the Kirikiri Medium Security Prisons has come to an abrupt end.
“I’m very happy because I didn’t expect this. I did not believe that a day like this will come,” said Mr. Audu, 28.
Mr. Audu was among the 119 prison inmates, who were either awaiting trial or had not been charged to court, set free by Ayotunde Philips, the Chief Judge of Lagos State.
While 99 inmates were released from the Kirikiri Medium Security Prison, 20 were freed from the Maximum Security Prison.
The release is part of activities marking the commencement of the 2013 legal year of the Lagos State Judiciary.
81 of the 99 inmates of the Medium Security Prison allegedly committed major offences while 18 were minor offences.
Out of the 99 freed inmates, 54 had already been released following advice by the Director of Public Prosecution, prison authorities said.
“I hope the (freed) inmates will know that it is the grace of God. And secondly, that they know they have a second chance to turn around,” said Catherine Onoye, Controller of Prisons, Lagos State.
“It would be painful to set you free, and then see you again,” she added.
The Medium Security Prison has a capacity to house 835 inmates, but it is currently home to 2,554 inmates – over 2100 of them still on the awaiting trial list.
Mrs. Onoye described the chief justice’s release of the inmates as “very necessary and essential.”
“The prison is made for prisoners, not for those awaiting trial,” she added.
Unlike in previous years when journalists were allowed to have a field day with the freed inmates, the class of 2013 were barred from speaking to reporters.
Mr. Audu and Innocent Nwokoro, another freed inmate, were allowed to have a brief chat with the journalists under the stern watch of prison warders.
Mr. Nwokoro, 33, who had spent one year and eight months at the Medium Security Prison, maintained that he did “not commit any offence.”
“I feel so happy and so bad. I feel bad because some people here did not commit any crime,” Mr. Nwokoro, who said he was a businessman at the Lagos Trade Fair Complex, added.
AWAITING TRIAL INMATES
There were drama presentations by the inmates to the visible delight of Mrs. Philips, who was accompanied by half a dozen judges and magistrates.
While MC No-be-me (real name: Michael Osibanjo), the in-house stand-up comedian, got his audience laughing hard, he also used the opportunity to plead for his freedom.
He was not among the 119.
There was also the presentation of a refrigerator by the prison authorities to the chief judge – later, the former told journalists to “edit out that part” from their reports.
In her speech, Mrs. Philips, who was sworn-in last year, expressed displeasure that her efforts to decongest the prisons had not yielded visible results.
“I am very disappointed that the figures (of inmates) keep rising despite my visits,” she said.
Since she was appointed as the Chief Judge of Lagos State in June 2012, Mrs. Philips has visited the Kirikiri Prisons thrice.
“We don’t expect you to come back here again. Say bye bye to Kirikiri, never again will I come back here again,” Mrs. Philips told the freed inmates.
“You have to prove yourselves that what I and other judges are doing are not in vain.
“I admonish all of you that will be released today to go and sin no more,” she added.
‘STUCK IN PRISON’
Of the 748 inmates at the Maximum Security Prisons, about 401 are on the awaiting trial list.
Olumide Tinuoye, Deputy Controller of Prisons, said that some inmates have been in prison for 13 years “and their case is not moving forward.”
“For those of them who have been sentenced, I can’t believe somebody can be in prison for over 30 years. 30 years in the life of a youth is already wasted,” he added.
Mrs. Philips reiterated her call for the released inmates to “disappear.”
“Go and look for gainful employment,” she said.
“If we keep coming here and releasing the same people, it makes mockery of the whole exercise,” she added.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To place an advert here . Call Willie - +2348098788999