Bauchi govt gets 5 days ultimatum from FG to decongest prison or face legal action

April 15, 2020
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Following the directive of the Federal Government on the need to decongest Correctional Centers across the country to check the spread of COVID-19 among the inmates, a 5-day ultimatum has been given to Bauchi State Government to carry out the directive or face mass protest.

The ultimatum was issued by a human rights group known as Lawyers Alert in conjunction with Prison Inmate Development Initiative (PIDI-NIGERIA) declaring that the implementation of the Federal government’s directive on prison decongestion is not a negotiable failure of which may lead to legal fireworks.

The ultimatum was contained in an open letter addressed to the State Attorney -General and Commissioner of Justice signed by the Executive Director of PIDI-Nigeria, Mbami Sabka in Bauchi copies of which were made available to Journalists in Bauchi.

The letter titled, ‘Re: Federal Government Directive on Decongestion of Correctional Facilities, Need for Activation’ the two organizations wrote, “We would, however, be compelled to approach the courts to compel you to carry out this noble directive in the event of your failure to activate the process within 5 days from your receipt of this letter”.

It further contained, “without doubt, we are all aware of COVID-19 Pandemic, the consequences and the science of its infection which without a doubt makes the correctional service centres (prisons) a place of high-risk infection”.

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The organizations also stated that “with over 72,000 inmates in congested and largely unhygienic places, infections can be an inferno within this context if interventions are not quickly carried out”.

The group which said that the intervention includes decongesting the Correctional Service Centres of inmates awaiting trial and other groups of inmates expressed confidence that was what informed the recent approval given by President Muhammadu Buhari on the urgent need to decongest Nigeria’s correctional service centres.

“The president equally directed that urgent steps be taken to decongest the facilities to prevent fatalities arising from any likely outbreak of the virus”, the two groups recalled.

The two groups further explained that the Presidential Committee on the decongestion of Correctional Facilities subsequently met on the steps to actualize the directive of the President which includes, The Federal Ministry of Justice, the Correctional Service Formations, State Governors, Attorney-Generals of States intensify actions to reduce inmates amid the health challenges associated with COVID-19.

Also, The State Governors, Chief Judges and State Attorneys-General consider the use of their powers of prerogatives of mercy in speeding up of decongestion and to visit correctional service formations for the decongestion.

The state governments are encouraged to consider payment of fines in respect to minor offences for those categories of inmates that could not afford to pay the same in respect of offences that attracts fines arising from the convictions.

Other classes of prisoners include those in Correctional Service Centres for a period above ten years and inmates for a longer period without any documentation and those on holding charges on magistrate orders.

That the correctional service should consider the possibility of moving inmates from congested correctional service formations to centres that are less congested and have space for the accommodation of inmates, among others.

The rights groups while noting that the deadly virus has continued to cause more destruction by shutting down the whole world, lamented that no active steps have been taken so far by the Nigerian government to save the lives of over 50,000 awaiting trial inmates in its Correctional formations.

The groups declared that “We must admit that we are not unaware of the bureaucratic bottlenecks that usually accompany exercises of this nature in Nigeria. We, however, believed this must be treated differently as it is a matter of life and death. We cannot afford to have the Coronavirus disease make entry into our congested correctional facilities”.

They further said that: “This is to inform you of the willingness of Lawyers Alert in partnership with PIDI Bauchi state and several human rights groups to assist you in activating this noble objective given the well-deserved urgency required in whatever we can”.

The groups then expressed confidence that within 5 working days from the date of the service of the letter, it will be possible for the office of Bauchi State Attorney-General to facilitate the release of inmates that are qualified for the gesture by carrying out an enumeration of all of them following the accompanying guidelines and file same in court for appropriate releasing orders.

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