The majority leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has blamed the activities of the Nigeria Police Force and magistrate courts for the congestion in the country’s prisons.Speaking after the release of 40 inmates from the Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos, Sunday, Mr. Gbajabiamila said one of the root causes of prison congestion in Nigeria is the attitude of law enforcement agencies.
“Cases are not properly investigated before charges are filed against the accused persons in court and therefore lack the required evidence for the prosecution of such accused persons,” Mr. Gbajabiamila, an All Progressives Congress lawmaker representing Surulere Federal Constituency, and US trained Attoney, said.
“There are cases of some police arresting people on the streets for wandering and I wonder where that is provided in our laws. The results are usually many cases of awaiting trials and prison congestion.”
The release of the 40 inmates from the Kirikiri Medium Security Prison, who were unable to meet their bail conditions, was facilitated by Mr. Gbajabiamila to mark his 55th birthday. Some of the inmates had stayed in the prison for about six months because they were unable to raise a N10,000 fine, Mr. Gbajabiamila said.
“The courts, particularly the magistrate courts, have not been helpful when prison congestion issues are discussed, to me they have contributed more to prison congestion than the police,” Mr. Gbajabiamila continued.
“This is because the mere fact that an accused is brought before a court does not mean the accused must be remanded in prison. There are cases where the court even lacks jurisdiction to hear the matter.
“The proper order to make in the circumstance is to strike out the matter rather than an order remanding the accused person. About 50 per cent of the inmates in our prisons don’t have any business there.”
The lawmaker also accused the courts of focusing only on sentencing criminals and not utilizing other programs like the rehabilitation centres and house arrests.
“In some cases, where the accused are granted bail, it is on a very stringent and outrageous conditions. Why will a person accused of street trading, wandering, public nuisance or breach of peace be granted bail with two sureties who must be civil servants of the levels of directors or Permanent Secretary?
“Or that the surety must have a property with Certificate of Occupancy within jurisdiction for an accused person arrested while selling bean cake (akara)?”
The Kirikiri Medium Security Prison has a capacity for 1,700 inmates but is currently housing 3,553, according to Emmanuel Oluwaniyi, the officer in charge of the prison.
Mr. Gbajabiamila urged the law enforcement agencies and magistrates to adopt a more positive approach in the discharge of their duties.
“Everyone must not be sent to court, if it is a case you can dismiss administratively,” he said.
“The court, being the last hope for the common is a sacred place where justice for all must be assured. The court must not be used by anyone to carry out his selfish ambition.
“Therefore, there should be a revolutionary approach of dealing with accused persons especially with regard to minor offences.”