In line with his statutory duty and in a bid to further decongest prisons in the state, the Chief Judge of Oyo State, Honourable Justice Munta Ladipo Abimbola, on Thursday freed 84 inmates from the Agodi Prison.
The session presided over by Justice Abimbola assisted by Justice Olajumoke Aiki and which lasted for about eight hours at the chapel of Agodi prisons had in attendance judges, guarantees, lawyers, prosecutors, the Director of Public Prosecution in the Ministry of Justice, the Nigerian Bar Association, non governmental bodies, the Justice Development and Peace Commission, the police and prison officials.
The Agodi prison as at Thursday morning had 1084 inmates, 964 of which are awaiting inmates comprising 956 male and 8 females out of which the prison authorities presented 960 for the process of getting freedom.
In his opening remarks, Justice Abimbola stated that the exercise is part of his statutory duty which is billed to come up frequently but is hindered by other responsibilities.
“The exercise is statutory and is expected to be very frequent but as a result of other official duties and demand of the office, it is coming up now. This provisional visit is an exercise of a statutory provision to get trial inmates speedy trials and get the prison decongested.
“It is important and essential for us to visit the prisons not necessarily to decongest the prison but to ensure inmates are given speedy trials. The exercise of prison visit and release of inmates is not whimsical but is subject to laid down criteria. The exercise of prison visit and power to release is not a power capriciously exercised but they are intended on three grounds of:
“Any inmate that is found to have stayed unduly longer than he would stay if convicted of a charged offence, anyone whose circumstances of arrest is unwarranted or are afflicted by ailments that the prison service cannot afford to manage are those considered,” Justice Abimbola stated.
Out of the 84 that gained their freedom, 67 were released after they were discovered to have stayed longer than expected in custody as well as on compassionate ground; 10 were released on health grounds following recommendations resulting from a collaborative effort between the state chapters of the Nigerian Medical Association and the Nigerian Bar Association; while seven inmates were released on the ground that they had no case to answer based on the recommendations of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP). And all freedom inmates were male.
Those released on health grounds according to the medical personnel of the prison, Dr Adeola Babatunde, suffer from ailments ranging from chronic renal disease, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis which affected three inmates, two suspected renal disease patients, one incarcerate scrotal hernia, one HIV/AIDS patient, one asthma and TB patient, one TB and lobar pneumonia patient while more than four had normal tuberculosis.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the Comptroller of Prison, Oyo state command, Kasali O. Yussuf appreciated the Chief Judge for finding out time to visit the Agodi Prison saying the prison had been waiting all along for the visit as they had been having challenges with the facilities as a result of overstretching of the prison facilities.
He noted that majority of those awaiting trials are those on capital charges and a number of them have communicable diseases, adding that two inmates have been identified to be suffering from drug resistance tuberculosis.
He explained further that he had reported the matter at the state security council meeting for consideration and assistance, adding that the State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice had promised to look into the matter and perfect the conditions of their release.
Commending the CJ, he noted that the visit and subsequent release of some inmates will give hope of becoming better persons to other inmates after their terms.
In her words of advice to the released inmates, Justice Aiki charged the beneficiaries of the Chief Judge’s mercy to appreciate the effort and consider it great favour from God to have received such mercy, asking them to be of good conduct and not commit any crime that would bring them back to the prison, pointing out that such would mean taking the mercy and favour showed them by the Chief Judge for granted and an abuse of privilege.
She pleaded with the released inmate to ensure they find good means of livelihood and ensure they contribute positively to the progress of the society, reiterating that crime is not a solution.
Four of the freed inmates were handed over to NGOs for rehabilitation, two were granted bail while accelerated hearing was ordered in the case of three others.
The exercise continues this morning at Oyo prisons.