Following the confirmation of more cases of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) in Nigeria and its rapid spread across the globe, the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action has called on the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to quickly collate data on petty offenders and ensure that such persons are released from Custodial Centres immediately.
On Saturday, 10 new cases of the virus were recorded in Nigeria, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 22 across FCT, Lagos, Ekiti and Ogun States.
Globally, some 276,600 cases have been confirmed with 11,419 deaths recorded and 91,954 recovered.
PRAWA also called for the release of the aged, terminally ill prisoners and maybe pregnant inmates and a complete ban on prison visits, while urging the Nigerian Correctional Service to put measures in place for electronic communication between inmates and family.
The Deputy Director of PRAWA, Ogechi Ogu, who made this call in a statement on Saturday, said people in detention are more vulnerable to the virus and at a higher risk of catching and passing on the virus due to lack of hygiene in crowded cells.
“Availability of soaps and hand sanitizers is also a big issue. Sanitizers may also fall in the category of items that are contraband because of its alcohol content and combustible nature,” she said.
Ogu said this while noting that it is illegal to detain petty offenders in the first place. According to her, part 44 and 45 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) and Part 2 of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act (2019) already made provisions for the utilisation of Non-Custodial measures for petty/minor offences.
She further noted that there is already a rising call for the release of persons in Custodial Centres as currently implemented in some highly infected nations of the world today, but said since Nigeria may argue that the pandemic has not reached that level of sending away Custodial inmates, the suggested steps can be taken in the interim as the government watches the development of things.
Ogu stressed that Persons in detention are still entitled to other human rights notwithstanding the fact that freedom of movement has been taken away from them, disclosing that a high percentage of persons in Nigerian Custodial Centres and other detention facilities today are still awaiting trial and are fully protected by the constitutional provision on a suspect being innocent until proven guilty.
She added: “It is therefore our collective responsibility to protect these persons. No matter what the situation is, their human rights still do count and our duty is to monitor and ensure that these rights, especially the right to life, is protected.
“Social distancing is highly recommended for all. I do not know how much of this is practicable in some Nigerian detention facilities. It is on record that most of these facilities have persons beyond their capacity.
“The virus of course would spread like wildfire and both the innocent, the guilty, the sentenced, awaiting trial, the serious offender and the minor offender would pay the ultimate price for finding themselves at the detention facilities in this trying times.
“Truth remains that detention for infraction of one penal law or the other should not be a death sentence and even where death sentence is pronounced by a court in Nigeria, the medium of execution is not by an infectious disease or diseases.”
Ogu therefore called on the Nigerian Correctional Service to ensure provision of and easy access to sanitary needs of inmates as well as improved diet with fruits and vegetables for them.
She said: “Our criminal justice system must creatively and consciously commit to the safety and survival of persons in conflict with the law as we collectively look forward to overcoming this global tragedy.”
PRAWA is a Non-Governmental Organisation working on reform and capacity building for security and justice institutions in Nigeria.