From Ben Dunno, Warri
A member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Barr John Aruoture, has appealed to Delta Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to grant clemency to deserving inmates of the five Correctional Centres in the state as part of the measures to decongest the prisons.
Making the plea in a statement made available to newsmen in Warri, Aruoture, a former Secretary of the NBA, Warri branch, noted that the call for inmates clemency had become necessary as there are many people who were currently being detained unjustly based on a lack of legal representation.
He noted that his experience in the advocacy for some indigent persons standing trial for free in some of these Correctional Centre had exposed him to the plights and dilemma of most inmates who were unjustly imprisoned for offences they could have been discharged and acquitted if they were adequately provided legal services.
According to him, ‘as a member of the Warri branch Executive then, part of my practice involves the court-appointed pro bono publico defence of some indigent defendants, being tried for sundry criminal charges. This aspect of my legal practice necessitates visits to some of the five (5) custodial centres of the Nigerian Correctional Service, located in Delta State.
‘By virtue of these visits and resultant interviews of officials and prisoners, the need to decongest the overcrowded prisons and their over-burdened facilities have become pertinent. From available data, all over the nation, there are approximately 74,127 inmates in the nation’s correctional centres. About 52,226 are pre-trial inmates, 21,901 are convicts, with some of these convicts on death row.
‘While the Federal Government has embarked on the exercise of granting pardon/clemency to convicts of federal crimes, our beloved Delta State also needs to carry out a similar exercise for convicts of state crimes. This urgent need necessitated this passionate appeal to Your Excellency, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta State.
‘I appreciate that Your Excellency needs to create a careful balance between ascertaining the befitting inmates of the correctional centres that should be re-integrated into the society and the need to keep the society safe.
‘However, there are inmates that have truly repented and others who have spent so much time in the correctional centres and could be said to have duly paid for their crimes. In addition, there are inmates who have become sources of positive influence/role models in many positive ways in the various correctional centres.
‘Some of these inmates have become pastors and imams etc. in the correctional centre and have dedicated their lives to the service of God and humanity. I humbly opine that such inmates may rightly be given a second chance and a window of opportunity to be re-integrated into society.
‘It is my humble suggestion that when these repentant inmates are released, they should be given a mandate to report to an administrative body for probation for a period of between 6 months to 2 years until they have shown that they have become fully responsible members of the society deserving of the new privileges accorded them.
‘Your Excellency, the benefits of this policy would be immense; Firstly, it would create a favourable impression about the desire/intention of His Excellency to ameliorate the pains of the inmates/convicts that are genuinely repentant.
‘Secondly, it would lead to a decongestion of the various correctional centres. It is a notorious fact, derivable from all the prison visits conducted by the various Honourable Chief Judges of Delta State, which I was privileged to attend and witness in my capacity as Secretary of NBA, Warri and as a legal practitioner, that the correctional centres in Delta State are plagued with congestion and over-usage of facilities.
‘Third, when released, each of these inmates should be handed over to sureties, that are either responsible and respected clergymen and women or other responsible members of the society, who would also report their findings to the administrative body set up to be probation managers of such inmates.
‘Fourth, all such properly integrated inmates would become sources of inspiration and guidance to the youth and members of the society, on the right way to live and the need to avoid all forms of criminal activities.
‘Fifth, the Probation Manager would come up with a streamlined program, to run for many years, in different zones of the state. This program would be designed to properly integrate inmates and ensure that such inmates become positive symbols to the youth and impressionable minds.
‘Suffice to state that your Deputy, His Excellency, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, who is also a highly esteemed legal practitioner, while acting in conjunction with Christ Embassy Church, had done a wonderful job of trying to ensure the inmates of the correctional centres have a paradigm shift in their mental attitude, geared towards steering them away from all forms of criminal activities.
‘His Excellency, the Deputy Governor, thus has a first-hand knowledge and experience of the challenges of the correctional centres, and more importantly of the need to rehabilitate the inmates into the larger society.’