Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, has ordered the Chief Judges of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to take urgent measures towards ensuring speedy trial of cases and decongestion of custodial centres in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CJN urged them to “consider conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent six years or more in custody.” This is contained in a memo with reference number, NJC/CIR/HOC/II/662, dated May 15, 2020, and addressed to the Chief Judges of the various states and the FCT, posted on the National Judicial Council (NJC’s) website yesterday.
He said his directive was in line with the call by the United Nations on countries of the world “to consciously reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions is practically impossible” during the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
The CJN, who is the chairman of the NJC, expressed worry over the overwhelming proportion of awaiting trial inmates in the various prisons across the country. He noted that out of the 74,127 persons held in the prisons, 52,226 of them were awaiting-trial.
He stated: “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.
“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.”