The Chairman of Uyo branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, Eno-Obong Akpan Esq, has decried the increasing rate of prison congestion in Akwa Ibom state. The NBA chairman stated her worries when she led the newly elected executive committee members of the NBA to visit the Controller of Prison, Akwa Ibom state command, Mrs Pamela Nyong.
The NBA chairman noted that criminal justice system has to be overhauled in other to ensure the speedy dispensation of justice. She said that as a tier in the criminal justice system, the prison service has a very important role to play in the quick trial of accused persons.
Barr Akpan further stated that the “Nigerian Prison service is the third tier of the criminal justice system with the police and the judiciary as the complimentary component. We actually want to see how these three components can work together for a better service delivery. I also want to make a comment on prison decongestion. It is actually been a worrisome issue for lawyers, especially lawyers in the human rights field. When you have the human rights bias or inclination it is always a very pitiable thing to see people locked up for very long and most often for very minor offences and sometimes very frivolous offences for God-knows-how many years. And it appears as if society doesn’t actually care. When these inmates stay for such long time, when they are eventually released, they found it difficult to fit again into the society”.
The NBA chairman called on her host to take a critical look at the bottleneck usually experienced by lawyers and relatives of prison inmates, while visiting inmates, with a view to ensuring that the process becomes smoother. She noted that it is the right of the inmate to have their lawyers and relatives visit them. She appealed to the Controller to explore the possibility of extending the visiting hours, especially for lawyers, who are usually disadvantaged because the visiting hours are usually the hours the lawyers are still in the court. She urged the Controller to assist by extending the hours to 4 pm and even longer at weekends.
“I want to appeal to you to help extend the period of visitation for lawyers. Most of the time lawyers come out of the courts late and by the time they want to access their clients in the prison, the time for visits will have elapsed. It will be good to consider extending the time for lawyers to 4pm, because, when lawyers go out of Uyo to do their matters, they come back late and are because of that unable to meet with their clients”, she said.
Barr Akpan, who herself is a human rights activist, drew the attention of the Prison boss to the ugly situation where lawyers are sometimes subjected to ill treatment by prison officials while performing their duties. She called attention to a recent incident where a lawyer was subjected to some harassment by officials and said such actions would not further the mutual interests of both parties.
She said that “We want to see a smooth process in the prisons. As lawyers, we want to be able to access our clients in the prisons. We are aware that it is not always easy for lawyers and the public to access prison inmates. In Uyo prison, you see a situation where a lawyer gets there to see his client and then there is a lot of antagonism. I would like you to please look into such matters. We are not just speaking for lawyers alone; we are saying the same thing for every Nigerian who comes to access inmates. So please you have to help us look into that area”.
In her response, the Controller of Prison, Akwa Ibom state Command, Mrs Pamela Nyong, thanked the NBA chairman for the visit and promised that lawyers and the prison authorities would continue to complement each other for the good of the society. She said that the Prison service does not tolerate any act of indiscipline and apologized for the lapses that led to the faceoff between the lawyer and the prison officials.
She promised to ensure that all the failings observed would be remedied as both parties must work together to ensure the smooth and speedy dispensation of justice.
Mrs. Nyong said that the current inmates’ population in the state stands at 2102 inmates. She said that out of this number only 418 have been convicted, while the rest 1684 are awaiting trial inmates. She lamented the increasing number of female inmates, where 108 are female inmates, with only 23 as convicted prisoners, while 105 are awaiting trial female inmates.
She revealed that “Most of the prisons lock above their installed capacity”, and noted that “Uyo prison has an installed capacity for 613, but lock 937, Ikot Ekpene prison has installed capacity for 400 , but locks 724, while Eket, with a capacity for 123 inmates locks 724 inmates”. She noted that it was only the Ikot Abasi prison that currently locks below its installed capacity, with its installed capacity standing at 230, while it locks 95 inmates.
She appealed for “The adoption of non-custodial sentencing options in line with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 will reduce inmate population, recidivism and financial burden on the state”.
07 July, 2017