The Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, on Thursday, freed from Abuja prisons 33-year-old Abdullahi Musa, who was first sentenced to death some years ago.
Apart from Musa, some 126 other convicts regained their freedom after the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Capital Territory as well as others paid the fines imposed on them as options to imprisonment upon their convictions.
Musa, who was convicted for culpable homicide but later had his death penalty commuted to life sentence, had spent 17 years in detention before his freedom on Thursday.
The Chief Judge of FCT, on Thursday, visited the Kuje Medium Security Prisons in Abuja, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Stakeholders Committee on Prison Reform and Decongestion.
The committee was inaugurated by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), on October 31, 2017, upon an earlier directive by the Federal Executive Council, headed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
With the Chief Judge at the Kuje Prison on Thursday were Malami; representatives of the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau; the Minister of the FCT, Mohammed Bello; the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. Umar Muhammed; and members of the committee.
While Dambazzau was represented by the Controller General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja’afaru, Bello was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of the FCT, Mr. Chinyeaka Ohaa.
Musa, the lifer, who was released on Thursday, was said to have stabbed a person to death with scissors.
The deceased was said to have been stabbed to death while trying to separate Musa from another person with whom the convict was fighting.
In his blue convict’s dress, Musa bowed with his forehead touching the ground in front of the high table as the Chief Judge announced that he was discharged.
Giving a breakdown of the number of the released 126 convicts, Justice Ishaq said 114 of them had their fines paid by the FCT minister while 10 others had theirs paid by the AGF.
He said Hajiya Najatu Muhmmad and Esther Uzoma of the Proactive Gender Initiative paid for one convict each.
In his goodwill message, the AGF noted that prison congestion “affects the quality of our justice delivery system and also impacts adversely on the human rights of inmates.”
He added, “This is why it becomes necessary to prioritise today’s exercise which will be replicated across various prisons in the country.
“The payment of fines for convicts with options of fines but unable to pay, kick-starts the process which will be replicated in prisons across the nation.
“A review of cases of inmates awaiting trial of upwards of five years will also be conducted across the prisons.”
He noted that Buhari had communicated to the various state governors “the need to review cases with a view to decongesting the prisons; he has further demonstrated keen interest by the recent release of over 500 prisoners during his visit to Kurmawa Prison in Kano on December 6, 2017.”
The Chief Judge stated that the FCT minister had committed to the establishment and construction of facilities with the Children and Young Family Court, the Bolster Institute as well as the Rehabilitation Centre in Abuja.
“With this facility, those who are sleeping under the bridge, afflicted by drugs and often used to commit crimes, can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into their families,” Jutice Ishaq said.
While responding to concerns of Esther Uzoma of Proactive Gender Initiative, Justice Ishaq said courts could not strike out criminal cases whenever prosecutors were absent from court as stipulated by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act because of what he termed “judicial tolerance.”
Speaking earlier, the Controller of Prisons, FCT Command, Sylvester Nwakuche, said the Kuje Prisons, established on August 14, 1989, housed 601 inmates out of whom only 222 were convicted and the rest were awaiting trial inmates.
He said of the convicted inmates, 25 were condemned, 14 lifers, two convicted for terrorism offences and 181 for other offences.
He said of the awaiting trial inmates, 69 were being prosecuted for terrorism offences, 65 drugs-related offences and125 capital offences.