Joseph Inokotong, Abuja
Minister of Interior Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has called for the immediate decongestion of all the correctional centres in the country as a measure to ensure that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic does not find its way into any of them.
Aregbesola made the call during an emergency meeting held in his office in Abuja on how to manage the Custodial Centres of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He stated that the meeting was convened in response to the outcome of the Presidential Task Force meeting on COVID-19, noting that the safety of inmates, staff of the Nigeria Correctional Service and all Nigerians was of great concern to the government.
The minister emphasised that the country was in an extraordinary situation which requires all hands to be on deck in order to ensure that the pandemic does not go into any of the custodial centres.
Aregbesola called on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, states chief judges, the governors and other stakeholders in the justice sector to immediately identify measures to be taken for quick decongestion of the custodial centres across the country as a way of preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the Centres.
According to him, the number of those in the custodial centres across the country calls for quick response, particularly in the present situation, as they are more vulnerable to infection, adding that the situation is further compounded by the huge number of Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) which accounts for over 70 per cent of the inmate population in Nigeria’s holding facilities.
He stressed the urgent need to find a way of trial for the cases of the ATPs in the country to overcome the challenge of space in order to reduce the possibility of the virus getting into the facilities.
In a statement, the Director (Press & Public Relations), Mohammed Manga, said earlier in his remarks, the Controller-General of Corrections, Ja’afaru Ahmed, said that the country currently has a total of 244 custodial centres, 139 of which are main custodial centres and 85 as satellite centres with a total of 74,127 inmates, among which 1,450 are female, 21,901 convicted and 52,226 awaiting trial.
The controller-general 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.
Also in his remarks, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, called for proper profiling of all inmates in the various facilities across the country with a view to having a joint arrangement with the governors and states’ chief judges for speedy trial of awaiting trial inmates which constitute the largest number at the custodial centres across the country.
On his part, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Ishaq Bello, called for a constitutional amendment to remove the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCos) from the exclusive legislative list to concurrent list, for easy administration of the criminal justice system and as a necessary measure for decongestion of custodial facilities across the nation.
Part of the resolutions reached a the meeting was a call on President Muhammadu Buhari to request the state governors to visit the custodial centres in their states with the states’ chief judges and attorneys-general in order to consider and grant amnesty to deserving inmates.