By Agnes Igwe
In pursuance to Criminal Justice Release from Custody of Special Provisions Act, the Chief Judge of Ebonyi State, Justice Alloy Nwankwo, has freed a total of thirty eight (38) awaiting trial inmates of both Abakaliki and Afikpo Federal Prisons.
Justice Nwankwo released the inmates on the grounds that despite the long time ranging from a year to even up to five years they stayed in the awaiting trial, they have no case files, no information about them were filed at the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and they have never attended court.
Very pathetic among them was that of a young woman, one Mrs. Victoria Ebenyi held in place of the husband accused of attempted murder and arson and she had spent 1 year and some weeks in the prison, despite the fact that the main suspect, her husband has been apprehended and prosecuted.
Others are those of a septuagenarian and a 49-year-old woman who have spent eleven months and five years respectively for alleged defilement of a minor and murder, along with 23 others awaiting trial in Abakaliki Prisons.
Justice Nwankwo freed the inmates during prison decongestion exercise otherwise referred to as gaol/jail delivery on Monday and Tuesday 10th and 11th June, 2019.
At Abakaliki Federal Prisons, a total of 26 persons were freed in the following categories, sixteen (16) inmates were discharged, 8 were granted bail on conditions while 2 were granted bail on self recognition.
At Afikpo Federal Prisons, total of twelve (12) persons regained their freedom in the following categories; 8 were discharged, 2 granted bail, 2 were granted bail on self recognition.
On his part, Barrister Emeka Anosike, Chairman of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Ebonyi State Chapter, who filed bail application on behalf of the accused, said that the 70-year old inmate, John Nomeh has been on awaiting trial since June 27, 2018.
He informed the court that the accused was detained since a year ago in prisons and has not been arraigned before a court of competent jurisdiction, had no case file adding that information have not been filed by the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) in the case and prayed the CJ to discharge the accused for lack of prosecution or on the alternative grant him bail.
Mr. Israel Alobu, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) said that the offence allegedly committed by the accused was punishable under the Child’s Right Act of Ebonyi state.
“My lord, the offence the accused allegedly committed is punishable under the Child’s Rights act of Ebonyi state. We have not filed information on the case because the police have not made the case file available to us and consequently, we are not opposed to the bail application”, Alaobu said.
The CJ consequently granted the accused bail on ‘self’ recognition.
“The accused who has been on awaiting trial since June 27, 2018, without information filed on the matter and without a case file is hereby granted bail on self-recognition,” the CJ said.
Also granted bail on conditions was Roseline Nwuguru, a 49-year old female inmate accused of murder was detained at the facility since October 16, 2014, and since then has not attended court.
Other suspects; Mr. Chidi Onwe, Solomon Aleke, accused of unlawful possession of a firearm; Sunday Igwe accused of housebreaking on awaiting trial for over 18 months, Uche Nwankwo and Chinonso Igwe among other inmates were released.
Meanwhile, the CJ who addressed newsmen at the end of the exercise said that he carried out the function under the Criminal Justice Release from Prisons Act and urged them to go forth and sin no more.
Justice Nwankwo said, “In doing so, the law under which we are here today is known as the Criminal Justice Release from Custody Special Provisions Act. Under that act, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the Chief Judge of a state has the power to enter the prisons within their jurisdictions to conduct hearings in deserving cases.”
“Under section 11A, the deserving cases are; the detention of the person is manifestly unlawful or that the person detained has been in custody whether on remand or otherwise for a period longer than the maximum period he should have served upon conviction. It is under this section that the Chief Judge can exercise his powers by directing the officer in charge of that prison to release such people.”
“It is not possible for the Chief Judge to release somebody who has been convicted already by a court of competent jurisdiction.”
“It is also not possible for the Chief Judge to come and open the prisons for all inmates to come out; I don’t think it is within his powers, we were very careful in dealing with cases like capital offences. In capital offences, we prefer the people to go to regular courts; capital offences are armed robbery, murder, rape, kidnapping, cultism, among others.”
“Today, a total of 16 inmates have been outrightly discharged, 8 of them were granted bail on condition while 2 inmates were granted bail on self-recognition. So, a total of 26 inmates or accused persons have been released from the Abakaliki prisons today “, Nwankwo added.
The Comptroller of Nigerian Prisons Services, Ebonyi State Command, Mrs. Emilia Oputa, commended the CJ for releasing the inmates, noting that the exercise would decongest the facility which she disclosed was overstretched.
She urged the freed inmates to make good use of their new freedom and shun further indulgence in crime or criminality.
She said, “The exercise will make them feel a heavy relief and it will also make them feel that they are being remembered. I want them to appreciate the gesture, abstain from criminal activities and that they should go and sin no more.”
“The exercise will decongest the prisons which has a capacity of 387 and currently admits 1,179 both convicted and awaiting inmates,” Oputa added.