A human rights lawyer, Chief Gabriel Giwa-Amu, said Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s initiatives when he was Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State saved many inmates at various correctional centres in the state.
Giwa-Amu, who is also CEO of Stephen and Solomon Foundation, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) that offers free legal services to indigents awaiting trials, disclosed this on Sunday in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos while reacting to frequent jailbreak .
He said that Prof. Osinbajo as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos took the issue of decongession of correctional centres seriously.
NAN reports that three major jailbreaks had happened between April 5 and Oct. 23, 2021, in Owerri, Imo, Kabba in Kogi and Ibadan, Oyo, where about 995 inmates, mostly those awaiting trial, were set free by unknown gunmen.
Some of the inmates have since been rearrested and returned to the correctional centres.
According to Giwa-Amu, under the watch of Osinbajo Lagos State also took the Administration of criminal Justice system seriously, when it started amending criminal procedures and the criminal laws itself.
“Lagos State took the war of decongestion of prisons seriously when it started buying vehicles and providing facilities towards bringing the inmates to court.
“Prior to his work as Attorney-General in Lagos State, we have cases when inmates will be in prison for nine months a year, and they will not be taken to court.
“We at Stephens and Solomon Foundation also donated vehicles to prisons to enable them take inmates that are awaiting trial to court.
“We donated Ambulance and furniture to Ikoyi Correctional centre. We renovated the clinics at correctional centre, Sagamu in Ogun. We found out that most of the inmates suffered when these things are not provided,” he noted
Giwa-Amu commended the Lagos State government for providing logistics for correctional centres, stressing that the gesture has helped many inmates to see to the conclusion of their court cases.
He said his foundation was instrumental to setting over 8,000 persons of both sexes free from different correctional centres across the nation between 2013 and date, stressing that most of them were persons awaiting trial, abandoned by lawyers due to no money and at the point of conviction.
On decriminalisation of petty offences, the lawyer said that was the way to go if Nigeria’s Correctional centres must be decongested, pointing out that restitution and community service should be encouraged by Magistrates, rather than granting bail with stringent conditions.
Giwa-Amu alleged that the police, Magistrates and lawyers are those behind the congestion of correctional centres in Nigeria.
He cited the case of two women who exchanged words at the market place. There was no physical fight, the police took them to the station, charged them for Affray, fighting in public. The Magistrate, who has the power for preliminary investigation, did not ask questions, but granted them stringent bail conditions.
“If they are unable to meet the conditions, they are remanded. When the bail conditions would have been met, the Magistrate will be absent, either, we will be told the Magistrate father died, or has gone for one conference. So long as the Magistrate is not present, the defendant remains in custody. That is how our correctional centres became over congested.
Giwa-Amu said under the Lagos State law, Magistrate may remand a suspect, while awaiting Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) advice, but after three months, if there was no advice from DPP, Magistrates have the power to revoke the remand of the suspect; wondering how many Magistrates in Lagos State were doing that.
He said police also contributed to congesting the correctional centres, stressing that Police officers, who are justice of peace, need to always look at ways to resolve cases amicably, except armed robbery, murder, kidnapping and treasonable felony, before thinking of going to court.
Giwa-Amu noted that the dangerous one was that lawyers are encouraging congestion of correctional centres by their activities, stressing that many lawyers are only concerned about the money from their clients, not the persons.
He said there were lawyers who watched their clients languish in jail for years because they were not paid.
The CEO said many lawyers were the ones suggesting bail money to police even when the officer has not requested for such money.
Giwa-Amu said the greatest challenge his foundation have today as an organisation offering free legal services was lawyers who only care about money.
“The police are more accommodating, courts are even more accommodating than lawyers due to greed,” he said.
On jail break, the rights lawyer said congestion was responsible, stressing if a large number of people are kept in a confinement, there will be jail break.
Giwa-Amu wondered why the governments continue to keep condemned inmates at Correctional centres, instead of executing them as ordered by the court.
“My argument is if the law says execute offender, don’t hold back once the convict has exhausted his rights of appeal. If today, the law is amended, says armed robbery to be given life imprisonment, I will support it.
“As at today, the law says death by hanging or firing squad, why should I advice a government to refuse to apply the law. Particularly, at this stage of insecurity in the land. In the USA, condemned criminals are still being executed.