Concerns As Rate of Awaiting Trial Cases Overwhelm Correctional Centres In Akwa Ibom

Concerns As Rate of Awaiting Trial Cases Overwhelm Correctional Centres In Akwa Ibom

Congestion has become one of the factors militating against facilities in correctional centres across Nigeria.

This is not unconnected with the high number of Awaiting Trial Cases which from available records has surpassed the number of convicted cases therein.

The Commander, Nigeria Correctional Service, Akwa Ibom Command, Mr Julius Ezugwu speaking with our correspondent in his office in Uyo admitted that the large number of inmates awaiting trial was responsible for the congestion of the centres noting that the centres were meant to be a place to reform convicts and not to take care of awaiting trial persons.

The number of awaiting trial cases accross the four custodial centres of the state according to the Controller stands at about 2,413 while the total number of inmates presently is 2, 854, that is to say that only 441 inmates should have being in custody accross the state which would have made the issue of prison congestion, illusory.

Nevertheless, there is a significant reduction in the number of awaiting trial cases vis a vis the total number of inmates in the State custodial centres following the prison visit by the State Chief Judge,Justice Ekaete Obot, last year (2023).

It could be recalled that before His Lordship’s visit on March 2023, Akwa Ibom Custodial service had 3,047 inmates, 2,559 were awaiting trial, while 488 were tried and convicted.

Justice Obot had in two consecutive times; precisely in March and December 2023 visited the four custodial centres accross the state and set free a total number of 101 inmates(44 in March visit while 57 in December visit) who were awaiting trials for so many years over alleged minor crimes.

They include Ikot Abasi 4, Eket 6, Ikot Ekpene 14 and Uyo 33 which had the largest number.

Going through the case files, Justice Obot expressed displeasure with the relevant authorities for keeping inmates for up to three years without charging them to Court.

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She decried the cases of missing files of suspects as witnessed during the exercise and urged the police and the Directorate of Public Prosecution, DPP to live up to their responsibilities and ensure safe custody of inmate files and speedy prosecution of cases so that a notorious criminal will not just be set free after staying for some years in custody because of missing case files.

She said, “it is sad that inmates have spent between two to seven years in prison custody for minor offences without trial and the Police say their case files could not be found.

“We can’t be having issue of ‘no case files’, you should not allow files to miss like that and somebody who committed a serious crime goes scot-free? It is wrong that nobody is held accountable, we are dealing with peoples lives and if somebody committed murder he should be prosecuted and convicted.

” What I totally frown at is the issue of unnecessary detention of suspects to the extent of keeping the person upto 11 years, what for?”she queried.

The Chief Judge said the continuous detention of the prisoners without taking them to Courts was a breach of their rights and a clog in the wheel of justice.

She also noted that long detention could even harden some suspects due to bad influence noting that one or two months in custody should be enough to handle some of these matters.

Apart from releasing those with minor offences, the Chief Judge also released those at their terminal stages of immuno suppressions after the doctor in charge of the centre, Dr Christian Etukudo presented their cases.

From the six inmates released on health ground from Ikot Ekpene custodial centre, the chief judge also released Emediong Friday, who had been in the custodial centre for five years without being charged to Court.

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Same, went with other inmates released apart from a 15 year old orphan in Ikot Ekpene custodial centre who was sexually abused several times by her master and was able to escape, but was charged for stealing.

The chief judge released the girl and directed that she should be kept at government home facility for orphans to be empowered educationally or vocationally as the case may be.

 

Encounter With Lifers in Custody

Apart from the beneficiaries of the CJ’s benevolence during her visit, there were scores of inmates who had wished to be given a second chance but were not lucky enough to be captured.

For Essien, one of the inmates serving a life sentence at the Ikot Ekpene custodial centre, he would have been lucky enough to be part of the 57 inmates released by Justice Obot during her last visit at the yuletide, if not that his case is a bad one.

Essien who spoke with our correspondent that approached him at the correctional yard explained that he was convicted of rape for life.

Looking highly depressed, he revealed that he was working towards appealing the judgement and to see if the appellate court would give him a lighter sentence or being lucky someday to be granted pardon.

Another inmate who refused to reveal his name said he was sentenced 27 years in prison for murder.

The convict expressed joy over the number of people released by the Chief Judge especially those released on health grounds but noted that he would want to finish his sentence to serve as a price for his criminal action.

He disclosed that having gone six years in prison term, he has been able to make ends meet through farming saying that he cultivates vegetables such as water leaf, maize and other seasonal crops sell them and have some to eat.

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He said life in detention could be be very traumatic especially if you don’t have visits or someone that comes from time to time to bring food, toiletries and medicals to you but could also be normal if you can fend for yourself within the facility even as he expressed hope that he was not condemned but would somebody regain freedom.

Meanwhile, Controller Ezugwu said the command has begun the process of ensuring that more inmates are pardoned especially those who have served upto 20 to 35 years of their sentence and have turned a new leaf and empowered with some skills.

According to him, Since they have skills I don’t think they will be liability to the state anymore, we have started the process of seeing if they can be pardoned through the office of the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice as well as the council of Prerogative of Mercy.

“We have sent the list of those that deserve mercy, we believe the governor is compassionate and can do it, he is entering all the facets of life in the state and touching the lives of every body including the inmates.”