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Group Tasks Buhari To Check Agonies Of Prison Inmates

By Niyi Adeyi – As the Muslims all over the world round off the year’s Ramadan fasting, the Muslims Right Concern (MURIC) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to pay attention to the state of Nigeria’s prisons and the inmates.

While noting that the country’s prisons were notorious for being overcrowded, dirty and unfit for human habitation, MURIC which observed since Ramadan is a season that evokes humanitarian feelings among mankind, called the attention of present administration to the plight of prison inmates.

The group in a statement issued Thursday in Lagos by its Director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, pointed out “Exempli gratia, Olokuta Prison in Ondo State which has capacity for 160 prisoners now has about 688 inmates. Port Harcourt prison in Rivers State which was designed to take only 804 prisoners currently has about 2,900. Prisoners sleep in turn. Meals served in the prisons are not only too small, they are not even good enough for dogs. The amount allocated for each prisoner for meal per day is unprintable”.

The situation MURIC restated was not only pathetic, but dehumanizing, adding that contrary to international best practices, the Nigerian prison system had become an institution for the devaluation of Allah-given fundamental human rights.

“Most prisons in the country have therefore become recruitment grounds for criminals and people jailed for minor offences or kept in jail while awaiting trial end up graduating as gang leaders or come out of prison as numero uno enemies of society. It is very sad that many inmates spend years awaiting trial. Nigerian prisons have thus become factories for speedy and mass production of criminals. Little wonder, therefore, that crime increases on a daily basis as prison ‘graduates’ besiege society for their pound of flesh.

“MURIC denounces the long delays in trials throughout Nigeria. We believe that speedy trials are possible if the Federal Government can introduce Court-in-prison adjudication method whereby court houses are built inside prison walls. This will eliminate the disturbing incidence of inability to arraign suspects in court due to traffic jam or lack of prison vehicle to move them. Court-in-prison method will also reduce if not totally eliminate the incidence of suspects escaping en route the courts or within the court premises. Prison authorities are advised to ensure that bullion vans used to convey prisoners to court are well ventilated”, the group advised.

The group advised that prisons in hot climates like Bauchi, Sokoto and Maiduguri should be equipped with a central air-conditions system, while the obnoxious practice of transferring prisoners targeted for special punishment to such hot climates, which it alleged, were always politically motivated, should be discontinued forthwith.

In addition, MURIC advised that more prisons should be built, while the old and new ones should be well equipped with good facilities that could befit human existence and grant respect for the dignity of the “homo sapien”.

Similarly, it counseled that additional judges should also be appointed, so as to check bottlenecks in the trial of awaiting-trial inmates, as well as judges to adopt preference for light and affordable fines for lesser offences instead of imprisonment which result in choking the prisons’ capacities.

The organization also offered that judges should consider the pronouncement of suspended sentences for light offences and people who were fined little amounts of money between N3000 and N10000 should be given at least one week respite to pay instead of clamping them in jail because there was nobody in court to assist them, warning that the Nigerian prison system should not be made to look like the rich waging war on the poor.

While advising that Nigerian judges should desist from pronouncing ridiculous judgments, MURIC cited instance, of a judge in Otta, Ogun State, last week who sentenced a man to one month in jail for stealing seven pieces of meat and another jurist who jailed an accused for stealing one tuber of yam. This, the group challenged contradicted the principles of natural justice, especially with respect to a politician who stole billions of naira, yet fined less than ten percent of the amount he stole.

In view of the shortcomings, the group urged FG to embark on aggressive decongestion of prisons as well as advised that the Chief Judges in the states could set up special Task Forces on Prison Congestion (STAFOP).

The statement also stated Judges serving in the STAFOP could routinely visit prisons in the state and administer clemency on a weekly basis until the prisons become habitable and run on normal capacity.

MURIC reminded President Buhari that he would account “before Almighty Allah for every prisoner maltreated during his administration”.

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