Ishaq Bello, Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion (PCPRD), has said that 5,000 inmates have so far regained their freedom in 15 states of the federation.
Mr Bello, who is also the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), made the disclosure in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The chairman said, ‘‘In terms of statistics, within the short period of time, we have released almost 5,000 inmates in 15 states visited so far.
‘‘This is bothering on those with option of fines, age factor, some of them beyond 70 years, 80 years and above, ill-health and by reasons of certain errors were made.’’
He said his committee believed that those persons should no longer remain in prison by reason of these fundamental errors.
‘‘For instance, where somebody has been awaiting trial well beyond the imprisonment terms if he were convicted, you will find out that we have no reason to allow such a person to stay in prison.
‘‘If he had been convicted, he would have served his imprisonment terms and since left and became a free citizen.
‘‘We don’t allow such kind of thing to strive once we are confronted with it, there and then we take decisions.
‘‘We met a lot of people with psychiatric issues, some of them we were able to release them upon getting satisfied that we could entrust them into the hands of their relations or persons that genuinely indicated interest to take their custody-ship.
‘‘Others though pathetic, because we found out that it was not wise to release them for lack of any known relation of theirs who could take custody-ship of them,’’ he said.
Mr Bello said even for their own safety, the committee allowed them to remain in prison for their own safety especially in this era of rituals, human trafficking and all sort of evils.
He explained that if the committee allowed such persons into the streets, they would simply be handing them over to such evils.
‘‘Though we have sympathised with the management of the prison authority because managing such kind of person is not easy, they are under great constraints but we had no option but to allow them to remain.
‘‘Some went with the sickness into the prison but a lot of them develop it in the prisons like in Delta and Edo we saw quite a number of them that have developed psychosis in the prison.’’
He said the greatest challenge of the committee was its inability to get them out of prison, adding that the situation was compounded by the absence of psychiatric hospitals close to the prison formations.
Mr Bello, therefore, advocated for the establishment of well-equipped psychiatric hospitals close to prison formations to minimise the burden if not completely eradicated.
He also advised the government to make the hospitals responsive to the needs of the inmates.
The chairman lamented a situation where judges granted orders for remand without bothering to state a return date so much so that the person remained detained in prison for eight or 10 years.
‘‘In one of the states we visited, we found a person with 11 years without seeing the light outside the prison for one day, meaning that he had not been taking to court for all these years, these are serious laps.’’
He said it was a triangular problem that emanated from the prosecutor that sought for the remand and neglected his statutory duty.
He said the problem would endure if the judge or magistrate never bothered to give a return date, while the prison authorities also neglected to make cases for the remanded persons.
NAN reports that in October 2017, the federal government constituted a committee to develop a strategy for the deployment of technology for the decongestion of prisons in Nigeria and the implementation of Virtual Automated Case Management System.
The government said the committee, which will be chaired by Mr Bello, would aid the systematic decongestion of all the prisons in the country, as well as periodically analyse the number of detainees.
The committee is to also advise the government on periodic visits to prisons for effective monitoring of the programme.
Other mandates include, “Liaise with relevant government agencies on the progress of prison decongestion programme. Organise a national summit on prison reform and decongestion in Nigeria.
Mr Bello, other members of the committee are Dayo Akpata, Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice (FMOJ), Salihu Isah, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Pius Oteh, Special Assistant to the President on Coordination and International Affairs.
Others are Sylvester Imhanobe, Special Assistant to the President on Research and Special Projects, Reuben Mathew Jego, Supreme Court of Nigeria, Lieutenant Colonel O.N. Adesuyi (Office of the National Security Adviser) and Olawale Fapohunda of the Legal Resources Consortium.
Others are Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Melissa Omene, Office of the Vice President, Tunde Ikusaga, Legal Aid Council, Titilayo Samuel, National Human Rights Commission and Assistant Commissioner of Police Patrick Enyeting of the Nigerian Police Force.
Others are Barkan Hadi, who is representative of the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation, Sarah H. Daniel, Citizens Rights Department of the FMOJ, Felix Ota-Okojie, Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee (FJSRCC) of FMOJ, representatives of the Nigerian Bar Association and Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) and Leticia Ayoola-Daniels of the FMOJ who serves as secretary.
WATCH: Governor Yahaya Bello's Roadmap to Hope 2023