From Mohammed Ibrahim, Kaduna
Prison congestion arises when the number of inmates at a given period of time exceeds the actual capacity originally meant for that prison thereby over stretching the facilities available at that given time. The number of awaiting trial male (A.T.M) and awaiting trial female (A.T.F) varies from day to day dependent from social, legal and constitutional problems. It is even growing out of hands as many prisons across the country are begging for refurbishment given the number of inmates they are housing.
However, prisons all over the world are setup to serve as correctional centre for social deviants, to punish them as well as to reform them to be good, loyal and responsible citizens of the society.
Most inmates in developed countries are trained in different skill acquisitions and some after serving their prison terms end up becoming useful to their communities and country by putting some of the skills acquired while serving their terms into use to help themselves and their countries. They end up turning a new leaf and contribute favorably to the development of the country and humanity in general.
Moreover, the idea behind imprisonment all over the world, is meant for positive purpose and not for the purpose of victimization or incarcerating somebody for no just reason as the law is interested in the culprit changing for the better.
But it could be argued that in developing countries like Nigeria, those released from prisons don’t usually exhibit traits of being reformed, rather end up getting mixed up with particular characters, found amongst prisoners making them to get more involved in crime after they completed their jailed terms.
Apart from that, most of the prisons in the country are over populated or rather congested with inmates some harden criminals while some are not and they end up in same cells.
In fact, the issue of over congestion of Nigerian prisons has dominated pages of newspapers with the government doing very little about it to decongest the prisons.
Investigation by various media organization for the past few years have showed how bad the situation is. It was even gathered from different individuals who served various jailed terms how bad the situation is in different part of the country.
It was learn that up to 50 inmates most times share a single room in some of the prisons and their condition of living so bad that they end up contacting various skin diseases while in the jail.
The situation is bad to the extent that human rights organizations talk on the need to decongest some of the prisons since majority of the inmates are even people awaiting trials and those who committed minor offences such as stealing tuber(s) of yam, mobile phone, sheep among others. It was Senator representing Borno South in the nation’s upper legislative chamber, Senator Ali Ndume that once said that is unfurtunate that some one who stole chicken will be reminded in prison for 10 years
There are also those inmates facing capital punishment who were kept in the prison for many years without been executed and the government continued to feed them. In fact, the painful aspect of it all is the fact that some of these prisons were built during colonial era and are still in use in this 21 century.
In view of these glaring testimonies, Kaduna State Government under the leadership of Alhaji Muktar Ramalan Yero seemed to have risen to the challenge of trying to decongest the state prisons by releasing a total number of 547 inmates, among them one life imprisonment but was released on health ground.
It was gathered that the issue of high rates of awaiting trial inmates in various prisons within Kaduna state alone posed various security challenges to the government and society which was why the government discussed the issue at several security council meetings.
It was at the state security council that the governor directed the Attorney-General to work out modalities towards solving the menace of the high number of awaiting trial inmates.
To fast track the release process, a committee was formed with the Attorney- General and commissioner for justice, Barrister Garba Uba Shehu as chairman. State Controller of Prisons, Alhaji Abubakar Garba
as member, Justice Ministry representative Justice D-H Khobo member.
Others are ASP Bawa representing the State Police Command, member and Daris Bayero from Ministry of Justice who served as Secretary of the committee.
The committee visited all prisons and satellite prisons across the state from January to September,2014 where a total of 547 awaiting trials inmates with minor offences were released while over 600 cases terminated including those who were granted bail but who by nature of their cases ought not to be in the prison in the first place.
As for those serving capital punishment, the Attorney-General sought and obtained the approval of the governor that the ministry of justice shall engage the services of private legal Practitioners to defend those whose charges are to be filed in high court of justice.
This according to him, it will make the accused persons to have access to lawyers which ordinarily they would not have had and they will have the charges against them expeditiously tried and their fate determined.
Apart from that, the committee liaised with police to have a comprehensive list of those to benefit from the government largesse and were selected according to the severity of their offences and character of evidence.
It is clear that section 212 of the constitution gave the state governor the power to grant any person concerned with or convicted of any offence created by any law of the state pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions.
It was in its compliance with section 212(1) and after due consultation with state committee on prerogative of Mercy, that the governor granted Amnesty to four inmates who were convicted and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment and above with six months recently.
Some who were ordered to be released having attained the age of 60 years and above whose conduct are found to have changed for the better are Nuhu Yusuf, Danjuma Adamu, Hardo Barau, Abdullahi Adamu, Aliyu Muhammad, Muntari Hassana, Ali Hassan, Lawal Alhaji Bature and Salisu Ya’u.
While Abdullahi Ibrahim and Chukwuma Eze who were convicted and sentenced to 21 years and served 12 years and 12 years and 7 months respectively regained their freedom for good conduct. Usman Salahuddeen who was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging has his sentence reduced to life imprisonment.
There are also nine inmates who were released on age ground and another inmate with the name Aminu Adamu who was convicted for life imprisonment was released on health ground as well.
All the inmates that regained their freedom from the amnesty given to them by the state governor were cautioned against committing any offense that will make them return to prison as they all felt happy walking out of the four walls of the prison having spent years with no hope of being freed.
However, government at all levels were called upon to rise up to the challenge by not only decongesting the prisons but also to reconstruct them to international standards so that they serve the purpose they
were built and not to serve as centre for breeding criminals and dehumanizing inmates.