COVID-19: Buhari writes CJN on decongestion of prisons

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•Canvasses special courts to try armed robbery, kidnapping, banditry cases

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has called for urgent measures towards the speedy trial of cases and decongestion of custodial centres in the country, in view of COVID-19 pandemic.

The President has also suggested to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to consider setting up Special Courts in all states, including the FCT, to try cases of armed robbery, banditry, kidnapping and other serious offences, in order to facilitate speedy trials. This was contained in a statement issued by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, in Abuja yesterday.



President Buhari in a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad,  drew the attention of the CJN to the recent call by the United Nations on all countries “to consciously reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible.”

He said: “From available records, the inmates population at various custodial centres across the country presently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs).

“Most of these custodial centres are currently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general, in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.”

The President further said that in view of the above scenario, “it has become imperative for Your Lordship to request State Chief Judges to embark on immediate visit to all custodial/correctional centres within their respective states to identify and release deserving inmates where that has not been done already.”

He noted that during such visits, “the Chief Judges are enjoined to consider conditional or unconditional release of ATPs who have spent six years or more in custody. ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged.“It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without option of fines and inmates who have less than three years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract five years and above.

“Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines.”

President Buhari said a report on the proposed visits was expected to be forwarded to the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion Secretariat, Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja for compilation and onward transmission to his office.

He also suggested to the CJN to “at this stage, consider taking immediate steps as appropriate to ensure the setting up or designation of Special Courts in all States, including the FCT, to try cases of armed robbery, banditry, kidnapping and other serious offences, in order to facilitate speedy trials

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