The Need for Decongestion in our Prisons

It is common practice for the Police to arrest suspects, arraign them in court and obtain remand orders against them, thus keeping them in prisons – out of circulation. Some of these suspects turned Defendants end up spending several months and in some unfortunate cases, years in prison awaiting trial.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), in 2018 confirmed that awaiting trial inmates constitute 70 percent of the prison population in the country.

The prison is meant to be a correctional facility, where inmates are led through a process of rehabilitation, before being allowed back into the regular society. However, when such awaiting trial inmates are left to rot in the prison, having direct contacts with hardened criminals or inmates who are serving actual jail terms, the end result is not always palatable. Such awaiting trial inmates when they eventually regain their freedom are not able to live like normal human beings, having been indoctrinated or initiated into deadly gangs, right there in the prison.

On the premise above, GAVEL activated one of its thematic areas in Abuja in the year 2018, by taking up the defence and representing indigent inmates, remanded in Kuje prison, who are awaiting trial. Some of these inmates are being tried in Magistrate’s Court for minor offences and some in the High Court for felonies and capital offences.

The vacuum which GAVEL came to fill is the absence or inability of the Defendants to secure legal counsel. The cases of these Defendants are not going on because of the absence of legal representation. GAVEL took over the defense of seven indigent inmates in this category. And within one month, two of the cases were struck out as a result of GAVEL’s intervention. Efforts are being put in place to facilitate the striking-out of the other cases as well as diligent defense of some which are currently going on.

One of such cases that were struck as a result of GAVEL’s intervention was the case of COP vs OSENI ADAMU with Charge No CR/07/2018, before the Magistrate’s Court at Kwali, Abuja, FCT. Mallam Adamu is a 41 years old peasant farmer from Kebbi State. He is married to Hajia Amina Adamu and they have a child. They live at Old Kutuku, Gwagwalada, Abuja, FCT.

Mallam Adamu was arrested on or about 14/10/2018 and arraigned at the Magistrate Court Kwali, Abuja, FCT on 17/10/2018 for the offense of stealing under S. 79, 287 and 343 of the Penal Code. At the time of his arrest, some of the stolen items were recovered from him and returned to the owner/nominal complainant.

From all indications, the Defendant could not afford to pay for legal representation. So he was ordered to be remanded after his arraignment. This was the point GAVEL came into the case and took over the defense.

We did everything possible to ensure that the case is determined in no distant time. The nominal complainant was contacted with a possibility of withdrawing his complaint, putting into consideration the person of the Defendant and the fact that restitution has been made (indirectly) when the stolen items were recovered and returned. After a few adjourned dates, we prayed the court to strike out the case for want of diligent prosecution, as both the prosecution and the nominal complainant had lost interest in the trial. The Defendant being in prison on remand has to be allowed to live his normal life, outside the walls of the prison. Our prayer was granted and the matter was struck out. Defendant was ordered to be released from prison.

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