Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has adviced the Interior Minister Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo to reconside plan to allocate N500 million for paying court fines for 4,000 inmates.
Instead, Falana suggests that the funds be used to improve the welfare of inmates in correctional facilities across the country.
Furthermore, he proposes that Tunji-Ojo approach President Bola Tinubu and the 36 state governors, encouraging them to exercise their prerogative of mercy to pardon these convicts, ultimately alleviating congestion in correctional centres.
Falana, a prominent human right lawyer conveyed these recommendations in a statement issued in his capacity as the Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB) on Sunday.
According to him, it’s important to focuse on the inmates’ well-being.
Falana also suggested that the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chief Judges of all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory visit these centres to review cases and release inmates detained unlawfully or for extended periods beyond their potential sentences.
Finally, he drew attention to the plight of inmates affected by the destruction of case files during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, urging their immediate release.
The statement partly read: “The Minister of Interior, Honourable Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has announced his immediate plan to decongest the correctional centres in the country by ensuring the payment of the fines imposed on not less than 4,000 convicts by various courts in the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT H.
“Having concluded the arrangement, the Minister disclosed that the total fines of N500 million would be paid within the next four weeks. 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 centres while alternative decongestion policies are considered.
“Specifically, the Minister should request the President and the various state Governors to exercise their prerogative of mercy by granting pardon to the 4,000 convicts on grounds of impecuniosity to facilitate their immediate release from custody. It is on record that the Federal Government had released 7,813 inmates from the Nigeria Correctional Centres across the country during the outbreak of COVID-19 to curb the spread of the virus among inmates.
“The convicts and awaiting trial inmates were granted amnesty and released on the orders of former President Muhammadu Buhari as part of the prison decongestion policy of the Federal Government.
“However, it is pertinent to draw the attention of the Interior Minister to the plight of the scores of inmates who are languishing in the Ikoyi Correctional Centre as their case files were destroyed when the Magistrate Court and High Court buildings were burnt during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020.
“As the nation marks the third year anniversary of the #EndSARS protests, we urge the Interior Minister to ensure the immediate release of such inmates since the State can no longer prosecute them as their cases have been burnt.”