In its bid to decongest the prisons in the country, the Federal Government has reportedly flagged off the release of 4,068 inmates who are awaiting trials.
Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, performed the symbolic release of the inmates at the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kuje, Abuja, on Saturday.
Ojo said that the aim was to decongest custodial centres across the country and make them humane for proper reformation and rehabilitation of offenders to take place.
He said 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.
According to him, the decongestion will give room to allow speedy dispensation of justice, pointing out that a large number of inmates in custodial centres are awaiting trial.
He said 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 there. He added that out of the 730 inmates, 565 of them are awaiting trial.
Continuing, he said the figure showed that the custodial facilities are overcrowded, necessitating the commencement of the initiative, which is targeted towards addressing the overcrowding conundrum bedevilling custodial centres and their reformatory functions.
“Today, we flagged off the release of a total of 4,068 inmates who are serving different terms of imprisonment in lieu of fines or compensation,” he stated.
Tunji-Ojo explained that most of the inmates granted freedom are indigents who could not afford to pay their fines and have been languishing in custody. He added that N585 million was raised by philanthropic individuals, groups, and corporate bodies for the purpose of releasing the inmates.
“Hence, all inmates in custodial centres who have fines or compensation not exceeding one million naira 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 away from crime and 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.
He warned against stigmatising the inmates released. He called 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.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its custodial facilities,” he said
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.