16th May, 2018
DECLARE EMERGENCY IN THE PRISON SECTOR
Nigerian Muslims will join their counterparts in other parts of the world as they start the annual Ramadan fasting within the next 48 hours. The Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, has directed Nigerian Muslims to look out for the Ramadan crescent after sunset on Wednesday, 16th May, 2018.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) thanks Almighty Allah for preserving the lives of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Sultan of Sokoto and all Nigerians to enable them witness this year’s Ramadan.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “The beginning of Ramadan is for special care, its middle is forgiveness while its end is freedom”.
MURIC calls on President Buhari, all state governors, the Chief Justice of the Federation and all state Chief Judges to reflect on the above statement in relation to the condition of inmates of Nigerian prisons nationwide during this Ramadan. We must think of how they too can benefit from the special qualities of Ramadan.
Buhari must borrow a leaf from his United Arab Emirate (UAE) counterpart, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who ordered the release of 935 prisoners ahead of the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan. He issued the order on Monday 14th May, 2018. We urge Mr. President to declare an emergency in the prison sector and use his prerogative of mercy to release thousands of prison inmates. This is in view of the terrible condition of the nations’ prisons where inmates sleep in turns, diseases spread like wild fire on a daily basis.
This will not be a strange development and Buhari will not be the first president of an African nation to release a large number of prison inmates. Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, released 7,000 prison inmates in October 2016 to make room for corruption offenders.
We charge Mr. President to walk his talk on the predicament of Nigerian prisoners and people who are awaiting trial. It will be recalled that Buhari on October 5, 2017 described the situation in Nigeria’s prisons as a ‘national scandal’. Buhari must muster the political will to turn around this horrible situation. The time for the ‘change’ he has been brandishing is now.
MURIC makes a special case for the 54 soldiers serving a ten year jail term for refusing to fight Boko Haram with poor weapons. We regard those 54 soldiers as heroes in the present war against corruption because their action exposed the massive corruption in the armed forces. Their present predicament is a miscarriage of justice.
We also request that Shaykh Al-Zakzaky be set free if the following conditions can be met, namely, dialogue involving the Nigerian Muslim leadership, leaders of Al-Zakyzaky group and the Minister of Interior, an assurance of respect for peace, law and order by the Al-Zakzaky group, a written commitment that members of the group will stop intimidating their neighbours and a halt to the group’s endless long-distance walks on express ways which cause hardship to innocent citizens.
The Minister of Interior, Abdul Rahman Danbazau, said in June 2017 that 70 percent of Nigerian prisoners are awaiting trial. Many of these awaiting trial inmates have stayed beyond the likely jail term for their alleged offences. For instance, 34 years old Kazeem Sani, a motorcyclist was arrested and detained in 2006 for stealing a mobile phone. He could not have bagged more than six months for petty stealing but he spent ten years in the Kirikiri Medium Prison without trial before he was set free in July 2016. Emeka Arum who was accused of armed robbery spent eight years awaiting trial in an Enugu prison. Chukwujekwu Ifejika, spent seven years in Onitsha prison also without trial.
The presence of awaiting trial inmates has caused a general congestion of prisons nationwide. Enugu prison which was built for 638 inmates holds 1,800. 1,574 inmates out of 1,761 prisoners in Anambra are awaiting trial. In Aba, only 113 inmates are prisoners serving full sentences out of 600 and expectedly, 80 of them are now insane.
Owerri Prison houses 2,500 instead of 550. Even the Minister of Interior confirmed that Port-Harcourt Prison which was built for 804 prisoners accommodates 4204 inmates. Lagos prisons which have a capacity for 3,927 prisoners contain 7,396. There are 2,116 inmates in Kano prison instead of 4,183. In Rivers the space designed for 1,354 prisoners is being used by 4,424 inmates. In Ekiti, 585 prisoners jostle for 400 spaces. Bayelsa’s 200 inmate capacity is being used by 444.
Overcongestion must also be blamed on arbitrary and ridiculous judgements. Exempli gratia, the Kano Senior Magisterate Court sentenced 22 years old Rabiu Sani to 30 months for stealing just a pair of slippers. Worse still, there was no option of fine. A Magistrates’ Court in Evbouriaria , Benin City, sentenced Sylvester Livinus, 22, to four months imprisonment for stealing 10 cat fish. A Pankshin Magistrates’ Court in Plateau jailed a man for two years for stealing one goat. An Ibadan court sentenced 4 men to death for stealing a phone worth N10,000 while a JSS 2 student was docked for stealing his classmate’s N200 only!
In summary, we appeal to President Buhari to declare an emergency in the prison sector, free the 54 soldiers, Shaykh Al-Zakzaky (with conditions), all awaiting trial inmates in Nigerian prisons whose offences are not related to violent crime in the spirit of ‘special care, forgiveness and freedom’ which the period of Ramadan stands for. We urge the Chief Justice of Nigeria, state governors and State Chief Judges to free hundreds of inmates within their states. We also call for the establishment of special courts inside prison premises all over the country to ease prison congestion.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)