The Federal Government has flagged off the release of 4,068 inmates sentenced to various terms of imprisonment with the option of a fine and compensation in custodial centres nationwide.
Minister of Interior, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, who performed the symbolic release of the inmates at the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kuje, Abuja, on Saturday, said this was in a bid to decongest custodial centres across the country and make them humane for proper reformation and rehabilitation of offenders to take place.
He lamented that as of Friday, November 17, 2023, there were about 80,804 inmates in 253 custodial facilities nationwide, and the total installed capacity for the 253 custodial centres adds up to less than 50,000.
Tunji-Ojo called for reform in the criminal justice administration to allow for speedy dispensation of justice, pointing out that a large number of inmates in custodial centres are awaiting trial.
According to him, the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kuje, where 37 of the beneficiary inmates were released, has the installed capacity to hold 560 inmates, but currently, a total of 730 inmates are being held in the Custodial Centre. He added that out of the 730 inmates, 565 of them are awaiting trial.
“This shows that our custodial facilities are overcrowded, necessitating this initiative we are flagging off today, which is targeted towards addressing the overcrowding conundrum bedevilling our custodial centres and their reformatory functions.
“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,” he stated.
Tunji-Ojo explained that most of the inmates being granted freedom are indigents who could not afford to pay their fines and have been languishing in custody.
The Minister disclosed that the sum of N585,000,000.00 was raised by philanthropic individuals, groups, and corporate bodies as part of their corporate social responsibility for the purpose of releasing the inmates.
“Hence, all inmates in custodial centres who have fines and/or compensation not exceeding one million naira (N1,000,000.00) are qualified and would benefit from this gesture.
“In addition, we are also providing each of them a stipend to enable them to return to their communities,” he added.
Tunji-Ojo charged the benefiting inmates to see their freedom as a second chance to make things right again, advising them to stay off crime and criminality, saying all must join hands with President Tinubu to make Nigeria a great nation
He disclosed that the Federal Government ensured that the beneficiary inmates were given requisite training aimed at impacting their lives functionally and equipping them with the knowledge for their self-reliance upon discharge, stressing that the government was not just releasing them to their fates.
He noted that the training also covers their civic duties and responsibilities as citizens and strategies for refraining from reoffending.
“In line with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s mantra of renewed hope, the benefiting inmates have been given a second opportunity to get back on track and contribute to the ongoing development of our dear nation,” he said.
While reiterating the commitment of the current administration to the welfare of inmates, the Minister said the Federal Government is poised to transform custodial and non-custodial facilities to ensure compliance with international human rights standards and good correctional practices.
He added that the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) has contributed to national security by ensuring the custody of deviants, thereby protecting society, and promised that the government would support the service in ensuring that it functions effectively and efficiently, especially in the area of upscaling staff and inmates’ welfare.
He warned against stigmatising the inmates being released while calling on the larger community to receive these returning citizens with open arms and refrain from stigmatising them as it could drive them back to offending the law, which would further endanger society.
He further urged the inmates to abide by the instructions and training they had received while in custody and to be good ambassadors in their communities.
He said, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its custodial facilities,” while commending all stakeholders who facilitated the noble gesture as their corporate social responsibility.
He added that they all have a stake in ensuring that offenders are properly reformed, rehabilitated, and reintegrated back into their communities.
The Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa, said the release of the inmates was in line with the commitment of the Minister of Interior, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, to sustain the ongoing reforms in the paramilitary services in the country.
He noted that overcrowding of inmates has been a perennial challenge faced by the NCoS, saying the federal government gesture would go a long way to decongest the custodial centres across the country.
Nababa listed plumbing, building construction, soap-making, artwork, carpentry, fishery, poultry, and tailoring, among others, as some of the skills acquired by the inmates while in the facility, saying this would enable them to reintegrate effectively into society.
One of the beneficiary inmates, who gave his name simply as Sunday from Anambra State, said he has been incarcerated for about 15 months since he was sentenced to two years imprisonment with an option of a N500,000 fine.
Sunday, just like other inmates, was thankful to the Minister of Interior for coming to their aid in securing their release from custody.
“My name is Sunday from Anambra. I have been here for 15 months. I was sentenced to two years of imprisonment with the option of a $5,000 fine. I’m from a poor family, and there is no way they could raise such money.
“I thank the Minister for what he has done to free us. I can assure him and the President that we will not go back to committing crimes any more. All of us are happy today,” Sunday said.