‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja

Hope brights for 53,000 awaiting trial inmates in Nigerian Correctional Centers as a human rights non-governmental organisation, Legend Golden Care Foundation, has commenced a strategic campaign with other stakeholders to address their plight.

Data from the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) shows that out of the 76,189 inmates in Nigerian prisons, a staggering 53,710 (70%) are awaiting trial with many incarcerated in harrowing situation for years for minor offences

In furtherance of its campaign, the NGO organised a strategic Stakeholders Dialogue Meeting on Awaiting Trial Syndrome with the Nigerian Correctional Service, the National Assembly, the Nigeria Bar Association, the Legal Aid Council, media and other stakeholders to seek further ways to tackle the challenge.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting in Abuja on Thursday, executive director of the NGO, Mrs. Kanayo Olisa-Metuh, lamented the “heartbreaking and helpless situation being faced by thousands of Nigerians awaiting trial in correctional centers across the country.”

The executive director who stated that her NGO has been reaching out to prison inmates including provision of basic needs as well as pro-bono legal services, bewailed that thousands of Nigerians facing minor offence charges were languishing in detention for years.

She lamented that such individuals “are serving jail terms for offences they did not commit, with many held for years exceeding the maximum terms for the crimes they were charged.”

Olisa-Metuh, who commended the Correctional Service for its efforts, however, called for a concerted effort by all stakeholders to eliminate all bottlenecks and ensure faster judicial process as a major step to checking awaiting trial debacle and congestion in the nation’s prisons.

She narrated that her NGO became concerned about the plight of inmates in Nigerian Prisons while visiting her husband, a former PDP spokesperson, Chief Olisa Metuh, during his 10-month incarceration at Kuje Correctional facility.

“Legend Golden Care Foundation has been engaged in a lot of interventions to ameliorate the challenges being faced by Nigerians in our correctional centers. This Dialogue meeting is aimed at further converging stakeholders to create more awareness and seek further solutions to the challenges of awaiting trial and congestion in our prisons.

“That is why we have brought the government agencies, the National Assembly, the NBA and other stakeholders together today for this important dialogue on the plight of awaiting trial inmates in our prisons,” she said.

Delivering an address at the meeting, the chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Reformatory Institution, Hon. Anayo Edwin, expressed concern on the issues of overcrowding and lack of adequate facilities in Correctional Centers.

He commended the Foundation for it’s efforts and assured that “the National Assembly is working hard to ensure adequate funding and oversight of correctional service is the country.”

Speaking also, the chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Hon. Onofiok Luke, also advocated for accelerated judicial processes and adequate funding for the correctional service.

In his own submission, the assistant controller-general of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Mustapha Iliyasu Attah, who represented the Controller General, noted that the challenge of awaiting trial mostly stem from slow judicial process.

He called for acceleration of judicial processes as well as adequate funding of Correctional Services in the country.

In his remarks, the director of Criminal Justice, Legal Aid Council, Barr. Tunde Ikusagba, pledged to support the Foundation towards providing more pro-bono legal services to accelerate judicial process related to the inmates.

The dialogue meeting later held a plenary session anchored by a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka, after which it presented a pledge of commitment geared to finding succour for awaiting trial inmates and general wellbeing of inmates in the correctional facilities.