By TOM CHIAHEMEN (Abuja) and ALEX EHIME (Lagos) –
President Muhammadu Buhari has granted a presidential pardon to second republic governor of the old Bendel State, late Prof. Ambrose Ali, frontline politician, late Chief Anthony Enahoro and other notable ex-convicts in the country.
Interior Minister, Rauf Aregbesola, who announce the President’s gesture at a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, named other beneficiaries as ex-Lieutenant Colonel Moses Effiong, Majority EJ Olanrewaju, and Ajayi Olusola Babalola.
He explained that the president had also approved the release of 2,600 inmates across various custodial centres in the country in a move to decongest the custodial centres.
Prof. Ali was elected governor of the old Bendel State on the platform of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), led by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and was in office from 1978-1983.
On his part, Chief Enahoro was a foremost nationalist, is remembered for his role in moving the motion for Nigeria’s independence.
The minister however, said the President’s amnesty will not apply to inmates sentenced for violent extreme offences such as terrorism, kidnapping, armed banditry, rape, human trafficking, culpable homicide, among others.
He disclosed that part of the issues that necessitated the freeing of the inmates include old age, terminal illness, convicts serving three years and above, but have less than six months to serve, and inmates with options of fines not exceeding N50,000, but have no pending case.
“Using these criteria, a total number of 2,600 inmates spread across our various custodial centres qualify to benefit from the amnesty. These include 885 convicts who could not pay their fines totalling N21.4 million which the government will pay on their behalf to enable them get their freedom. From this number, 41 inmates are federal convicts, two of which have been granted pardon,” he added.
Speaking at the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) Headquarters in Abuja, Aregbesola, stated that about 250 correctional facilities are inadequate to house the over 74,000 inmates in our custody presently.
He added that with the construction of a 3,000-capacity custodial centre in Abuja, and the 3,000-Capacity Maximum Security Custodial Centre sited at Janguza in Kano State, which are awaiting completion, the Ministry is gradually solving the problem poor accommodation.
According to the former Osun State Governor, a bigger issue that will positively affect accommodation at the correctional centres is the review of criminal justice administration with regards to the inmates.
He said the last audit conducted by the Interior Ministry, showed that a disproportionate number of inmates are awaiting trial persons (ATPs).
Said Aregbesola: “Some of the ATPs have spent 10 years or more in custody. Some have no confirmed criminal case against them. Others have had their cases determined, but could not pay the fines imposed on them by the courts. We have some that are already old and weak; while some of them are very sick and infirm.”
The Minister added that the Ministry had set in motion the machinery for the decongestion of correctional facilities, which had even become imperative owing to the outbreak and continued spread of COVID-19.
He appealed to the beneficiaries of the amnesty to repent and turn a new life so as to justify the confidence the government has reposed in them.
The Minister who was accompanied by the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Jaafaru Ahmed, thereafter visited the Kuje Custodial Centre, where 41 inmates were released from the incarceration.
It was that about 2,559 freed inmates are spread across the 36 states of the Federation.
(With additional report from PRNigeria)