In national detention centers, the Federal Government has ordered the release of 4,068 detainees condemned to varied terms of imprisonment with the option of a fine and compensation.
Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, the Minister of Interior, released the inmates at the Medium Security Custodial Centre in Kuje, Abuja, on Saturday. He said the goal was to decongest and humanize custodial centres nationwide to reform and rehabilitate offenders.
He regretted that by Friday, November 17, 2023, there were 80,804 inmates in 253 custodial facilities countrywide, with fewer than 50,000 installed capacity.
Tunji-Ojo urged for criminal justice reform to speed up justice, noting that many detainees in detention institutions are awaiting trial.
He claimed the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kuje, where 37 benefit inmates were released, can handle 560 convicts, but 730 are there. He said 565 of the 730 detainees are awaiting trial.
He stated that the result revealed that custodial institutions are overcrowded, demanding the action to address the overcrowding problem and their reformatory duties.
“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 said.
Most of the detainees released are impoverished who cannot pay their penalties and have been in custody, Tunji-Ojo said. He said charitable people, clubs, and corporations collected N585 million to release the convicts.
All convicts in detention centers with penalties or compensation under one million naira qualify for this gesture.
“We are also providing each of them a stipend to enable them to return to their communities,” he added.
Tunji-Ojo advised benefited inmates to steer away from crime and work with President Tinubu to make Nigeria great.
He said the Federal Government gave beneficiary inmates training to improve their lives and prepare them for self-sufficiency after discharge, not just releasing them.
He added that the course covers civic duties and reoffending prevention.
“In line with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s mantra of renewed hope, the benefiting inmates have been given a second chance to get back on track and contribute to our dear nation’s development,” he stated.
The minister reiterated the present administration’s commitment to inmate welfare and said the Federal Government will transform custodial and non-custodial facilities to comply with international human rights standards and effective correctional practices.
He said the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) has protected society by holding deviants, and the government would help the service improve its operations, especially staff and inmate welfare.
He advised against demeaning released prisoners. He urged the community to welcome these returning citizens and not stigmatize them, which could lead them to break the law and damage society.
He also advised offenders to follow their training and be good community ambassadors.
“No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its custodial facilities,” he added.
He thanked all stakeholders who made the great offer as their corporate social responsibility and said they all have a part in reforming, rehabilitating, and reintegrating offenders into their communities.
The Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa, claimed the detainees were released because the Minister of Interior, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, pledged to continue paramilitary reforms.
Overcrowding has been a persistent issue for the NCoS, and he said the federal government gesture would help decongest correctional centers nationwide.
Inmates learned plumbing, building construction, soap-making, artwork, carpentry, fisheries, poultry, and sewing, among other talents, to help them reintegrate into society, according to Nababa.
One beneficiary, Sunday from Anambra State, said he had been in prison for 15 months after being sentenced to two years in prison with a N500,000 fine.
Sunday, like other detainees, thanked the Minister of Interior for helping them get out.
“Thanks to the Minister for freeing us. I promise him and the President we will never commit crimes again. We’re all happy today, Sunday stated.