The Federal Government on Saturday flagged off gradual release of 4,068 indigent prison inmates across the country.
The inmates are those sentenced to various terms of imprisonment with option of fine and compensation in Custodial Centres nationwide.
The Minister of Interior, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo flagged off the intiative on Saturday with the release of 37 inmates from Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre, Abuja.
Tunji-Ojo said the move was : “in our bid to decongest Custodial Centres and make them humane for proper reformation and rehabilitation of offenders to take place.
“As at yesterday, the 17th day of November, 2023, there were about 80,804 inmates in 253 custodial facilities nationwide, with total installed capacity for the 253 Custodial Centres adds up to less than 50,000.
“This shows that our Custodial facilities are over-crowded; necessitating this initiative we are flagging off today, which is targeted towards addressing the overcrowding conundrum bedevilling our Custodial Centres and their reformatory function.
“Today, we flag off the release of a total of 4,068 inmates who are serving different terms of imprisonment in lieu of fines and/or compensation.
“Most of the benefitting inmates at the verge of their freedom are indigents who cannot afford to pay their fines, and are languishing in custody.”
The Minister said the project was his own initiative, saying that he was being supported by friends and corporate organisations spread across the country.
Tunji-Ojo said N585 million was raised by philanthropic individuals, groups and corporate bodies, as part of their corporate social responsibility, for this purpose.
He disclosed that all inmates in Custodial Centres who have fines and/or compensation not exceeding N1 million are qualified, and would benefit from the gesture.
He said : “In addition, we are also providing each of them a stipend to enable them return to their communities.
“Suffice it to mention at this point that we are not just releasing them to their fates; we have given them requisite training aimed at impacting their lives functionally and equipping them with the knowledge for their self-reliance upon discharge.
“The training also covers their civic duties and responsibilities as citizens, and strategies of refraining from re-offending.
“In line with the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu mantra of Renewed Hope, the benefitting inmates have been given a second opportunity to get back to track and contribute to the ongoing development of our dear nation.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its custodial facilities.
“It is based on this premise that this administration is poised to transform custodial and non-custodial facilities to ensure compliance with international human rights standards and good correctional practices.”
He pleaded with Nigerians to receive the returning citizens with open arms, warning that : “they should refrain from stigmatizing against them as it can drive them back to offending the law, which will further endanger the society.
“To the benefitting inmates, I implore you to see this as a second chance to make things right again.
“You are therefore advised to stay off crime and criminality, and all join hands with our father, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR, to make Nigeria a great nation.
“Abide by the instructions and training you have received while in custody, and be a good ambassador in your communities.”
Speaking earlier, the Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa said: “Today’s event is significant and quite admirable, as it emphasizes the Minister’s zeal and commitment to sustain the ongoing reforms in the Service, in line with the present administration’s renewed hope agenda.”
He noted that this sole initiative of the Ministry of Interior has set a very laudable pace for individuals, corporate entities and other stakeholders to take after.
He said: “Overcrowding in most of our Custodial Centres, especially those in metropolitan areas has been a perennial challenge to the Service.
“The payment of fine/compensation for indigent inmates with such options, is not only philanthropic but strategic in reducing the number of persons in custody.
“The emergence of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) Act, 2019 brought a very huge sigh of relief to the Service as it encapsulates a good number of provisions geared towards decongesting our custodial facilities, so as to create ample opportunity for humane containment of inmates in line with global best practice. Sections 37 (1) and 12(4-12) of the NCoS Act, 2019 which authorizes non-custodial measures and rejection of inmates where a facility has exceeded its capacity respectively, are key among the available windows for ameliorating congestion.”. (vitalnewsngr.com)