The Federal Government has began implementing the 2020 Presidential Pardon and Clemency to Inmates and Ex-convicts with a view to decongesting the correctional centres across the country.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, activated the process at the Kuje Correctional Centre on Thursday in Abuja.
Malami said his office would continue to finetune the roadmap for the implementation of the comprehensive action plan on ensuring an enduring correctional service reform.
He said: “Out of the 176 persons interviewed, Presidential Pardon has been granted to two inmates.
“President granted clemency to 39 inmates as recommended by the PACPM out of which four inmates are from Kuje Correctional Centre.
“In addition, the president has also graciously granted pardon to five ex-convicts.”
“My office will take necessary steps to publish the names of these beneficiaries in the Federal Gazette in line with extant laws and Regulations.”
The AGF explained that the steps were part of the urgent measures taken by the Federal Government towards the speedy decongestion of correctional/custodial centres in the country in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malami also described the measures as President Muhamadu Buhari’s demonstration of commitment to sincerely decongest the country’s overcrowded correctional centres.
He explained that the process of coming up with the list of beneficiaries commenced two years ago, with the inauguration of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy on August 28, 2018.
He said the President’s pardon and clemency to deserving inmates and ex-convict was strictly hinged on Section 175 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“In carrying out the assignment, the the committee adopted the use of interviews, observations, consultation and relevant documents called for and received from each of the correctional centres across the country,” Malami said.
He explained that the committee visited a number of correctional centres in the six geopolitical zones of the country to interact and identify those eligible for the presidential pardon and clemency.
He said: “Upon conclusion of the assignment, a report of the committee, containing the list of beneficiaries considered and recommended for pardon or clemency was submitted for the information and necessary action by the president.”
Malami further said the President had requested appropriate authorities to embark on visits to all correctional/custodial centres within their respective states to identify and release deserving inmates to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
He said: “During these visits, there should be conditional or unconditional release of ATPs who have spent substantial number of years in custody especially those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody.
“The president has requested that particular attention should be on the aged (especially those with terminal health issues), low risk offenders as well as payment of fines for convicts of lesser offences with option of fines, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines.”
Malami, however, warned all the beneficiaries of the President’s gesture to desist from crime and criminality, adding that they should be of good behaviour to enjoy lasting freedom.
“You must rewrite your individual life stories. You must rebuild broken walls in your dignity by diligently using the experience and various empowerment and training received while in custody positively to better your lots to the fullest,” he said.
The AGF also urged the communities and general public to open their hands of fellowship in receiving the beneficiaries and ensure that they were properly reintegrated into the society without any form of stigmatisation or discrimination.
He said: “I have confidence in their selection process, and if Mr. President has pardoned them, you too can forgive them.
“I urge well-meaning Nigerians to do something positive to better their lots and livelihood including offering them jobs. It is expected that proper reintegration will strengthen their individual resolve to live in line with acceptable social norms and values.”
Malami also reiterated the need to identify new measures to consciously reduce the number of inmates in the country’s custodial centres beyond COVID-19 scourges era.
He said: “We must primarily look into the cases of persons awaiting trial and individuals convicted of minor offences for which fines were the penalty.
“It is particularly worrisome that about 70 per cent of the inmates in Nigerian prisons are persons awaiting trial.”
Malami, therefore, said the authorities should consider the use of non-custodial measures in line with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 respectively.