28th March, 2020
COVID-19: MURIC BACKS AREGBESOLA ON PRISON DECONGESTION
The media yesterday widely reported the Minister of Internal Affairs, Rauf Aregbesola, as calling for decongestion of correctional centres in order to prevent the dreaded Covid-19 from spreading into them. The minister’s call has been backed by an Islamic human rights group, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC). This was revealed in a statement circulated to pressmen by the director of the organization, Professor Ishaq Akintola, on Saturday, 28th March, 2020.
According to MURIC, “Inmates of correctional centers are complete human beings and Allah gave them fundamental human rights. They have the right to live, except those that have been condemned to death. Therefore the Nigerian government has no moral right to keep them in correctional centers where they are gravely exposed to Corona virus.
“In the face of Covid-19’s palpable threat, the Federal Government will be running foul of Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees right to life if it fails to free inmates who have not been sentenced to death.
“We all know what is happening around the world today regarding the devastating power of this virus. It is killing people in their thousands on a daily basis. The United States now has more than 100,000 cases as at Saturday 28th March, 2020. Death toll in Italy is now 9,134. There are now 579,892 infections in the world with 26,504 deaths. We also know the poor state of our correctional centres. They are not conducive to human habitation. They are over-congested. Is it right to continue to keep people in jail in such a situation?
“In particular, there are 54 Nigerian soldiers serving a ten-year sentence in some of the centres. These 54 gallant soldiers were ordered to confront Boko Haram fighters who were armed to the teeth. But our soldiers had very poor weapons. They asked for better equipment and for that they were promptly rounded up, prosecuted and sentenced to death. Their death sentence was later commuted to ten years in jail. Yet it was their demand for better weapons which exposed the $2.1 billion armsgate.
“MURIC regards this as a miscarriage of justice. We have made several appeals on the issue of the 54 soldiers to President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and even the present Minister of Internal Affairs, Rauf Aregbesola. Last month, we sent a petition to the National Assembly for the intervention of our lawmakers. We are still waiting for the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to act on the petition.
“The interest shown by Aregbesola raises our hope. Inmates do not deserve to die like chicken inside correctional centres over this marauding virus, Covid-19. Something must be done urgently. We urge governors, chief judges, etc to pay urgent visits to correctional centres with a view to releasing inmates in large numbers before this virus invades their poorly equipped abodes.
“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to exercise his prerogative of mercy to free all Nigerian prisoners except those on the death row. Nigeria has 74,927 inmates in 244 centres spread around the country. They are Nigerians and they have the right to live. Covid-19 is death sentence for them because they have little or no access to testing equipment or any form of medication.
“Already, 19 prisoners in 10 prisons have tested positive in British jails. We do not know exactly if the virus is already in our jails because we do not have the capacity to test our inmates yet. Nigeria must emulate other countries of the world which have taken proactive measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 by decongesting their prisons.
“New York is already warming up to release hundreds of inmates for fear of the virus spreading among them. Iran took the lead a few days ago by setting 80,000 prisoners free. Poland freed 12,000 inmates yesterday. Nigeria should act now before it is too late. Let my people go. Set the 54 soldiers free.
“If Iran can loosen the chains around the waists of 80,000 prisoners, if Poland can free 12,000 inmates, Nigeria should allow its 74,297 to go home instead of tying them up for corona virus to swallow them (except those who have been sentenced to death). The time to act is now. It is dreadful already to be in any Nigerian jail. But it becomes worse when subjected to thanatophobia courtesy of the dreaded Covid-19. Nigerian inmates were coping with the horror of poor jail conditions but now it is compounded by the fear of Corona virus. It is capable of resulting in riots in our correctional centres.”
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)