In a bid to address the overcrowding crisis in correctional facilities, the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, recently announced a plan to pay N500 million in fines imposed on over 4,000 convicts across Nigeria.
This initiative garnered attention and commendation from various quarters, but it has also faced scrutiny from human rights lawyer Femi Falana.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB), has called on the Interior Minister to reconsider the N500 million payment plan.
Falana suggested that the allocated funds should be redirected towards improving the welfare of inmates in correctional centers while exploring alternative strategies for decongestion.
In his statement, Falana stated, “While the Interior Minister deserves commendation for the initiative, we are compelled to call for a review of the plan.
The N500 million earmarked for payment of fines should be spent on the welfare of inmates in the correctional centers while alternative decongestion policies are considered.”
Falana proposed an alternative approach to the situation.
He recommended that the Interior Minister should request President Bola Tinubu and state governors to exercise their prerogative of mercy by granting pardon to the 4,000 convicts, facilitating their immediate release from custody.
Notably, Falana reminded the public that the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari had released 7,813 inmates from Nigeria’s correctional centers during the COVID-19 outbreak as a measure to curb the spread of the virus among inmates.
He further suggested that the Minister should seek assistance from the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chief Judges of all states, including the Federal Capital Territory, to visit correctional centers and employ their powers under the Criminal Justice (Release from Custody) (Special Provisions) Act.
This act allows them to order the release of inmates whose detention is either manifestly unlawful or who have been in custody for longer periods than the maximum imprisonment period they could have served if convicted.
Furthermore, Falana brought attention to the plight of scores of inmates at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.
Their case files were destroyed during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020 when Magistrate Court and High Court buildings were burnt.
Falana urged the Interior Minister to facilitate the immediate release of these inmates since the state can no longer prosecute them due to the loss of their case files.
As Nigeria marks the third anniversary of the #EndSARS protests, the call to address the situation of inmates and decongest correctional centers remains a significant concern.
Falana’s appeal raises important questions about the best approach to this issue and the importance of ensuring justice for all, even in challenging circumstances
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