Anywhere in the world, 100 years is usually marked with fanfare but not so for Nigeria’s oldest prisoner, Pa Celestine Egbunuche, who clocked 100 last Saturday; August 4, within the confines of Enugu Maximum Prison.
The centenarian, who hails from Akokwa in Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, was condemned to death along with his son, Paul and another relation, now 87.
They were said to have been engaged in a fight over a piece of land and in the process, somebody died. With such fate, Pa Egbunuche has for over 17 years lived in desolation and hopelessness.
But all hope is not lost as a non-governmental organisation, Global Society for Anti-corruption (GSAC) is pushing for his release. GSAC has appealed to the Federal Government and Governor Rochas Okorocha to use their board of mercy and release Egbunuche, his 78 years old relation and son from prison.
Zonal Resource Executive of GSAC, Amaka Nweke commended Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Priscilla Emehelu for her recent prison visit where many inmates were granted freedom pleaded with her to look into the case of Pa Egbunuche whom she said their investigation showed might be Africa’s oldest inmate.
According to the NGO, Egbunuche has suffered from diabetes over the years, adding that with his age and failing health, it will be proper to release him to go and possibly die peacefully at home. If eventually released, the organisation would also want the Federal and State Governments to take care of Pa Egbunuche’s rehabilitation.
Experts said that in other jurisdictions, inmates above 65 years are eligible for either parole or state pardon.
Meanwhile, Daily Sun gathered that inmates of Enugu Maximum Prison have not had the luck of receiving Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to perform the usual granting of amnesty during ceremonial occasions like the Independence Day, Democracy Day and yuletide.
During a recent visit by our reporter, some of them claimed that they had turned a new leaf and appealed to the governor to emulate his counterparts in Anambra, Ebonyi, and Abia by granting them amnesty.
Their cries seemed to have attracted the attention of the chief judge, Emehelu, who during the 2018 jail delivery sessions in the three prisons in the state pardoned about 130 inmates.
Breathe of fresh air
A breakdown of the beneficiaries showed that 90 inmates were granted pardon at the Enugu Maximum Prison while 22 benefitted at the Nsukka prison. At the conclusion of the exercise in Oji-River Minimum Security Prison, where about 17 inmates were granted pardon, the chief judge urged the released prisoners to, henceforth, desist from crime and lead a reformed life.
She said the exercise was in accordance with Section 1 (a,b) of the Criminal Justice (Release from Custody) Special Provisions Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2007 and Sections 34 (1), 35 (1) and 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended).
Emehelu lamented the congestion in various prisons in the state and called for immediate measures to address deviant behaviour in the society.
“We, judges are mindful of the onerous challenge of prison congestion and have consistently worked with stakeholders in the justice sector to ensure speedy and sustained case flow management.
“It is part of the commitment to effective justice delivery that necessitates our periodic visit to prisons, to provide bail and the release of inmates who have exceeded required prison term,” she said.
The chief judge pledged commitment of the judiciary to ensuring speedy dispensation of justice and expressed optimism that modern prisons would soon be built across the country, as promised by the Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau (retd).
She applauded the Controller of Prisons in Enugu State, Mr. Ndubuisi Ogbodo, for ensuring that Enugu prisons became a reference point for others while assuring that another session of the exercise would be conducted in December, to further decongest the prisons.
Ogbodo who stated that prison was not punishment but for reformation, appealed to the chief judge for clemency to sick, old and juvenile inmates.
He said inmates recommended for pardon were now reformed and had pledged to desist from any crime that could land them in prison again.
He thanked the chief judge for her cooperation and described as ‘unprecedented’ the number of inmates pardoned during the exercise.
One of the inmates granted amnesty, Ndubuisi Nwabueze, expressed happiness that he would go home after serving two years. He was sentenced in 2016 after being found guilty of attempted murder.
As the lucky ones breathe air of freedom, others like Chukwunonso Nomeh, 38, a condemned inmate who recently made history as the first prisoner in West Africa to bag Master’s Degree and some others urged the authorities to look into their case.