The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has called for the quick decongestion of correctional centres in Nigeria to avert the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) to the facilities.
According to a statement signed by the ministry’s spokesperson, Mohammed Manga, on Thursday, Aregbesola made the call during an emergency meeting held in his office in Abuja.
The meeting deliberated on how to manage the custodial centres of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He said the meeting was conveyed 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 government,” the statement said.
“He emphasised that the nation 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,” it added.
Aregbesola, therefore, 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.
He said the number of those in the centres across the country calls for quick response particularly in the present situation, as they are more vulnerable to infection.
He added that the situation is further compounded by the huge number of awaiting trial persons (ATPs) which accounts for over 70 per cent of the national inmates’ population in the nation’s holding facilities.
He said there is an urgent need to find a way of trying 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.
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. He said all the facilities have 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.
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 chief judges for speedy trial of awaiting trial inmates which constitute the largest population at the Custodial Centres across the country.
On his own part, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Ishaq Bello, called for constitutional amendment to remove the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCos) from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list, for easy administration of Criminal Justice System and as a necessary measure for decongestion of custodial facilities across the nation.
“Part of the resolutions of the meeting was a call on President Muhammadu Buhari to request the state governors to visit the custodial centres in their states with the Chief Judges and state Attorneys-General, so as to consider and grant amnesty to deserving inmates,” the statement said.