The federal government is making plans to release some prison inmates as part of measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the correctional facilities (prisons), the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, said on Wednesday.
Mr Aregbesola, who was speaking at the Presidential Taskforce briefing on the virus, said this move is to reduce congestion in the prisons and also avert the spread of the virus among a large population.
He said the government is already working with the prisons’ agency to determine the set of people to be released and what measures to ensure that they don’t jeopardise the security of the nation.
He also said over 80 per cent of inmates awaiting trial are from the states, hence the need to work with the state governments.
“We are working with the state government along with our own system to break down the profile, the basis of incarceration, the term of detention and several other factors to ensure that if at all people will be released, they will be released without jeopardising the security of the nation.
“We are careful and sensitive on the steps we take even with the threat of COVID-19,” he said.
As of Wednesday, Nigeria has recorded 174 cases of COVID-19, including two deaths.
The Controller-General of Corrections, Ja’afaru Ahmed, earlier said that the country currently has a total of 244 custodial centres, 139 of which are main custodial centres and 85 as satellite centres.
He said all the facilities have a total 74,127 inmates, among which 1,450 are female, 21,901 convicted and 52,226 awaiting trial.
Mr Ahmed added that overcrowded facilities posed a serious threat to the inmates at this time of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, if adequate steps are not taken to address the situation.
”The personnel in the Nigeria correctional service manage facilities with the highest level of efficiency and professionalism such that I can tell you that yes we have congestion in some of the custodian centres.”
Speaking on the riot at Kaduna prison Tuesday, he said the inmates were anxious to know the outcome of efforts made to decongest some of the centres.
“The mild disturbance in Kaduna centre happened because the inmates in the congested sections were anxious to know the outcome of our efforts to decongest some of the centres and they became agitated.
“Information have gone round the commands to appraise the inmates of the efforts we are making to see that the approval given by the president is effected very soon,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported the pandemonium at the Kaduna custodial centre on Tuesday morning which left two officers of the centre injured.
According to sources at the Nigeria Correctional Service, the inmates, around 11.30 am, protested their continued detention following a suggestion by Mr Aregbesola that the centres should be decongested nationwide to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
The sources, who do not want to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES that the inmates had thrown stones and other dangerous items at the officials of the service who were on duty and who had attempted to calm them down.
Mr Aregbesola commended the efforts of the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, in releasing offenders or suspects that are detained on minor offences.
”That will go a long way in ensuring that social distancing and reduction of detainees in those centres.
”This will ensure the occurrence of COVID-19 infection be reduced in those areas,” he said.