The Federal Government (FG) has flagged off the release of 4,068 inmates sentenced to various terms of imprisonment with the option of a fine and compensation in custodial centres nationwide.
The Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, performed the symbolic release of the inmates at the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kuje, Abuja, on Saturday.
The minister said the aim of the move was to decongest custodial centres across the country as well as make them humane for proper reformation and rehabilitation of the offenders.
“Today, we flagged off the release of a total of 4,068 inmates who are serving different terms of imprisonment in lieu of fines or compensation,” he stated.
According to him, as of Friday, November 17, 2023, there were about 80,804 inmates in 253 custodial facilities nationwide.
He added that the total installed capacity for the 253 custodial centres adds up to less than 50,000.
Tunji-Ojo however called for reform in the criminal justice administration to allow for speedy dispensation of justice, pointing out that a large number of inmates in custodial centres are awaiting trial.
He said the Custodial Centre, Kuje, where 37 of the beneficiary inmates were released, has the capacity to hold 560 inmates, but currently, a total of 730 inmates are being held, of which 565 of them are awaiting trial.
The figure, he said showed that the facilities are overcrowded, necessitating the commencement of the initiative, which is targeted towards addressing the overcrowding bedevilling custodial centres and their reformatory functions.
Tunji-Ojo explained that most of the inmates granted freedom are indigents who could not afford to pay their fines and have been languishing in custody.
He added that N585 million was raised by philanthropic individuals, groups, and corporate bodies for the purpose of releasing the inmates.
“Hence, all inmates in custodial centres who have fines or compensation not exceeding one million naira are qualified and would benefit from this gesture.
“In addition, we are also providing each of them a stipend to enable them to return to their communities,” he added.
The Interior Minister charged the benefiting inmates to see their freedom as a second chance to make things right again, advising them to stay away from crime.
He disclosed that FG ensured that the beneficiary inmates were given requisite training aimed at impacting their lives functionally and equipping them with the knowledge for their self-reliance upon discharge.
“In line with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s mantra of renewed hope, the benefiting inmates have been given a second opportunity to get back on track and contribute to the ongoing development of our dear nation,” he said.
While reiterating the commitment of the current administration to the welfare of inmates, the minister said FG is poised to transform custodial and non-custodial facilities to ensure compliance with international human rights standards and good correctional practices.
One of the beneficiaries, who gave his name simply as Sunday from Anambra State, said he has been incarcerated for about 15 months since he was sentenced to two years imprisonment with the option of a N500,000 fine.
Sunday, just like other inmates, was thankful to the Minister of Interior for coming to their aid in securing their release from custody.
“I thank the Minister for what he has done to free us. I can assure him and the President that we will not go back to committing crimes any more. All of us are happy today,” Sunday said.